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Crime: British Victims Abroad

Volume 744: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they give to British citizens, and their families, who are victims of serious violent crime abroad.

My Lords, the FCO will assist any British national who gets into serious difficulty overseas. The victims of violent crime are especially vulnerable and get urgent and priority attention. We offer support to help to address both the immediate effects of violent crime and the longer-term needs of the victims and their next of kin. We also work closely with partners who can provide specialist long-term support and advise us on our services.

My Lords, British citizens and their families who are the victims of serious violent crime abroad face considerable difficulties getting criminals brought to justice and in dealing with the aftermath of the crimes that have been committed against them. Language, cultural, judicial and other differences make the situations they find themselves in all the more difficult. Will the noble Baroness agree to meet me and Maggie Hughes, the mother of Robbie Hughes, who was the victim of such an assault, to hear at first hand the difficulties that this and other families have experienced with a view to improving the situation for victims and their families?

The noble Lord makes an important point. It is always when British citizens travel overseas and find themselves in these distressing circumstances that expectations are at their highest. Some 56 million people from this country travel overseas, but only tens of thousands require consular assistance, and within those the number of very serious cases is around 60. It is important that we are quite open about what help we can provide and what support we can give. That usually takes the form of providing information about the local police and legal services, while sometimes we will attend first appointments with a list of local lawyers and victim support services. We work with local NGOs to provide support for families on the ground, but we have to be honest about what we are obliged to provide and what it is that we can provide. We have to be clear and transparent about that when providing information about travelling overseas.

My Lords, does the same position apply in relation to British citizens who are dual nationals?

That is an interesting issue which we face regularly, most often in relation to the case of forced marriages where young girls are taken overseas. They are, by default, dual nationals because of their heritage and the origins of their parents. Thankfully, we have quite good relations with many countries where our citizens would be considered to be dual nationals, but strictly, when that national is in a country for which they also hold the nationality, they are citizens of that country and that provides us with great challenges.

My Lords, I appreciate the difficulty in helping victims in some jurisdictions. For good reason, we do not have missions and consular services everywhere. However, this gives little comfort to individuals in frightening circumstances where there are language barriers or to their families. Can the Minister give them more comfort? What targets do we ask other Governments to observe in notifying us of violent crimes committed against our citizens abroad? What are our consular services’ targets for responding to those individuals and will the Government publish, country by country, the numbers of violent crimes committed against our citizens?

The figure in relation to the number of murders and violent deaths that have occurred in the past year is 60. I am not sure whether that is broken down by country. It probably is, and if so, I will certainly make it available to the noble Lord. There are some very clear guidelines under the Vienna Convention as to the obligations that states have about notifying us and doing so within a specific timeframe when our citizens are caught up in these matters. Going back to the main issue, it is important that we are very clear about what support we can give. We are very clear about the travel advice we give to people when they go to many places where we may not, for example, have embassies or high commissions and that we then support those who are the most vulnerable.

My Lords, further to the question of my noble friend Lord Dholakia, is it not correct to say that the Vienna Convention on consular relations prohibits our consuls, or the consuls of any other country for that matter, from making representations on behalf of their citizens who are also citizens of some other country?

It is a real issue, but I can also inform the noble Lord that there are many occasions where citizens are dual nationals, but we still make representations to those Governments, even though they happen to be dual nationals within that country.

My Lords, is it not the case that the murder of a citizen of the United Kingdom is triable in the United Kingdom wherever that murder occurs? What efforts are made in such cases to bring the perpetrators of such offences before British courts?

The view of the Government and indeed of successive Governments has been that a crime has to be tried in accordance with the law of the land in which that crime was committed. It would be just as unusual for countries to make a request to us to have their nationals who commit murder in this country to be tried back in their home country. Therefore, it is right that nationals are tried in the country in which they are caught.