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Extradition/Arrest Warrant

14th July 2004

Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2004

I agree that the Extradition Act 2003 (Repeals) Order 2004 is uncontentious and is, in effect, consequential to existing policy that has been laid before Parliament, so we shall not oppose it. In relation to the Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2004, if I may start at the back of the order, we see nothing objectionable per se in relation to article 3. ON the extension from 90 to 95 days, I was going to ask the Minister if there had been some recent event in our relationship with Chile since the 2003 order that could have predated the more famous extradition order that we had our hands on, but clearly that was a mistake and I thank the Minister for her clarification.

However, the problems that we identified start with article 2 of the order, which amends the Extradition Act 2003 (Designation of Part 1 Territories) Order 2003 and the Extradition Act 2003 (Designation of Part 2 Terroritories) Order 2004. The territories listed in article 2(3) became category 1 territories and accordingly, part 1 of the Act applies to them. The Extradition Act 2003 provides for new extradition procedures. Sicne the implementation of the Act at the beginning of the year, each of the UK's extradition partners is in one of two categories. Which category a country is in depends on the extradition procedures that have been decided upon by the UK and its extradition partner.

Category 1 is a simpler system than category 2, and does not require the intervention of Ministers. The reason for that redesignation is that the territories in question have recently implemented the framework decision on the European arrest warrant. The framework decision was set up - or one could say rushed through - after 11 September, and allows an arrest warrant to be issued in a member state to be speedily executed in another member state. The person arrested can then be transported to the originating member state without the added burden or safeguards of having to comply with the ordinary extradition procedure of investigation and trial for the offence charged. The system requires little evidence about the offence that is supposed to have been committed.

This order will allow the UK to operate the European arrest warrant with those new territories. However, I remain deeply sceptical about the lack of safeguards in a system where arrest for deportation without the usual extradition procedures being adhered to is allowed, especially as the European arrest warrant applies to a variety of offences, not just those relating to terrorism. In particualar, there are the vague offences of racism and xenophobia, which could easily be interpreted differently depending on the culture of the country in question. I am concerned that the order allows people to be arrested in this country when their actions would not amount to an arrestable offence. That is because a member state will have to extradite a person accused of an offence, even if that offence is not punishable under its own criminal law. Is not that another attempt by the Government surreptitiously to enlarge the EU at the expense of our country's sovereignty and legal system?

I remain particularly concerned that the order may lead to injustices. It is essential that, to maintain confidence in the system in our country, individual rights must be adequately protected and the risk of miscarriages of justice must be insignificant. When the Extradition Bill was introduced, the Law Society supported the modernisation of extradition laws, but was dubious about the lack of protection afforded to category 1 territories. At the same time, it stated that the extradition procedures proposed for tier 1 and tier 2 states are very different.

The tier 1 procedure implements the European arrest warrant and requires little information about the allegation or evidence available. There is, instead, a reliance on the fairness of each requesting state's criminal justice system in issuing such a request, and on dealing with the suspect once they have been transferred. It is important that tier 1 procedures should be available only to states whose criminal justice systems are known to comply with recognised standards. Can the Minister honestly say that we can give such authority to the criminal justice systems of ex-communist countries such as Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovenia? Liberty, too, has declared its deep concerns that the category 1 territories would result in injustices. In its response to the consultation on the draft Extradition Bill, it said:

"the Eurowarrant is based upon the presumption that EU countries all have fair systems of justice which should remove the need for any country to scrutinise the fairness of extradition to such a country. This presumption is seriously open to question.

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