David’s contributions with Hansard links below:
“Let me correct the record. The Americans may not have refused any British applications for extradition, but they have refused to provide witnesses in other countries’ cases, which has led to broken trials.”
“It is a particular pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett). He and I crossed swords many times when he was Home Secretary. I am not remotely surprised to hear his reasonable tone in this debate or to hear of his compassionate action on Gary McKinnon, as both are entirely in line with his character. What is more, I can understand only too clearly why he took the stance that he did in the early 2000s, because at that time the extradition situation around Europe and elsewhere was a mess, and it was sometimes very difficult to get people extradited from other countries. It is therefore wholly unsurprising that after 9/11 he took the action that he did. That does not mean that I agree with him about that action, but it is entirely understandable that it was taken. The House will not be surprised that I think it went too far because of, in my view, the pre-eminence of justice in this matter. There is a balance between justice and security, but security without justice is a very fragile security. It is our job to defend our lives and way of life, and in this respect I do not think that we have done so.
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), I do not speak as a criminal lawyer. What I am about to say is no doubt obvious to all criminal lawyers, but not necessarily so to the rest of us who are laymen. Let me make a simple point. In this country, we presume innocence. That has all sorts of implications that we do not think about most of the time. For example, it means that unless there is a threat to a jury, an ongoing threat to the public, or a risk of absconding, we generally give bail—we do not imprison people who are awaiting trial if we can avoid it.
If we do imprison someone, we put them on remand, where they are treated as innocent. They wear their own clothes; they are not made to work; they are called “Sir”: all sorts of things apply to prisoners on remand that do not apply to other prisoners, either in this country or, indeed, abroad. The presumption of innocence has a distinct effect on how we treat people.
Let us compare that with people who are extradited. They feel as though they have been deported. They are in a foreign prison, often with lower standards; my hon. Friend referred to that in terms of Greece. They are not only in a different culture, but often surrounded by people speaking a different language. They are, in effect, in psychological isolation; one might think of it as psychological solitary. They are often thousands of miles away from their family. They are viewed as an alien in the institution in which they are held. That, of itself, is a very serious punishment of people we are presuming innocent at this stage of the process.
In addition, such people face a different justice system; I will describe it only as lightly as that. As was alluded to in the context of the NatWest three, this is a justice system that is not above saying, “Here is a plea bargain. Either you plead guilty or you’re going to stay in this nasty Texan jail for the next two years while we think up the case against you.” That is different from what they face here—and, frankly, I do not think that it is justice. As worst, it is a justice system that is actually corrupt, as we have seen in Greece. Although I understand the ex-Home Secretary’s point of view, this was not new to us even when the EAW was created. I had a constituent who was one of the plane spotters and who was locked up, in effect, for political reasons and not given what I would judge to be anything like a fair trial—and, of course, he was tried for doing something that was not illegal in this country. That is, at this stage, how we treat people who are presumed innocent under our system”.
“I entirely agree. That is very much the thrust of what I will say in the next few minutes.
Let me come back to the thought process behind this—the intent behind what the then Home Secretary was trying to achieve, with which, as I said, I sympathise. The EAW, the extradition treaty and the 2003 Act were all aimed at dealing with terrorism. What has been the consequence of that? A parliamentary answer told us that between 2003 and 2009 there were 63 extraditions to the USA, of which precisely one involved a terrorist. A number of the others involved serious crimes—although I have to wonder about the two people who were extradited for “satellite signal theft”; Rupert Murdoch’s reach is obviously longer than I thought—but there was only one terrorist extradition. When I looked at it the other way around—extraditions from the Americans to us—I was unable to find any record of terrorists being extradited here. I asked people in the Library to look at it for me. They searched through all the available records and could not find any examples.
We should keep in mind that the rather draconian process that we have, which was put in place to defend us against terrorism, does not appear to have had much impact in that respect. In practice, the outcome is much more mundane. The truth of the matter is that we will have far more Gary McKinnons extradited than Osama bin Ladens.
Because of the terrorist problem, the international crime problem, and the pressure for a fast agreement, we have left out some proper protections in the agreements that we have made, particularly with America. Debating this when he was in opposition, the current Attorney-General said that
“we chose in the 2003 Act, bizarrely, to get rid of the protection that existed in article 7(1) of the 1957 convention on extradition, which allowed an extradition to be prevented if the person was being sent to an inappropriate forum for the trial…Every other country has that safeguard. The Irish, who regard themselves as close partners and friends of the United States, and who have an extradition arrangement, have a forum clause in their treaty, which enables the question of the appropriate forum to be considered.”—[Official Report, 12 July 2006; Vol. 448, c. 1419.]
He is right. Not only the Irish, but Norway, Switzerland, Holland, France and Germany all have such provision. In fact, the Germans’ law will not allow the extradition of any of their citizens outside their country. Similarly, two Commonwealth countries—Australia and New Zealand, two of America’s closest allies in the war on terror—have total discretion over who among their own nationals they allow to be extradited. The idea that we are somehow at odds with the accepted—and, indeed, acceptable—approach among the western nations in their battle with terrorism is nonsense”.
“I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is right. My point is that we are dealing with the situation as it is now and what is acceptable among the anti-terrorist community, if I might put it in those terms, and I am afraid that what is acceptable is something far tougher than we have been claiming.
Let me look at the other side—American reciprocity. Much of this is about reciprocity, so how have the Americans behaved? My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), who is the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, asked how many cases have been refused. I have worked in the murky world of international relations in the Foreign Office, and I know that the number of requests refused is zero—but of course it does not work like that. If one wants to turn something down, one rings up one’s ally and says, “Would you mind withdrawing it?” The US subsequently withdrew 5% of its applications, whereas we withdrew 20% of ours. I wonder why. I do not think that the Americans can claim a very great moral high ground in terms of reciprocity. Indeed, the attitude taken to that by many countries, including Canada, Spain, France, Germany and Italy, has traditionally been much more robust than ours.
So what should we do? My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton has made this point in some detail, so I will be quick. We should change the forum arrangements.
They should pay proper attention to not accidentally punishing the innocent or over-punishing those guilty of minor crimes. I do not know why the Americans should think it better for Gary McKinnon to spend two years in an American prison than for two American witnesses to spend two weeks in a hotel in Britain while the case is tried. We should have prima facie evidence requirements so that we do not repeat the Symeou experience of somebody spending a year in a foreign prison before eventually being proven innocent. Finally, we should introduce a filter for cases that are acceptable using dual criminality, seriousness and timeliness, so that justice does not become so heavy handed that it tips over into being injustice”.