HC Deb 01 December 1988 vol 142 cc875-84 3.31 pm
Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

(by private notice): To ask the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the action taken by Her Majesty's Government to seek the extradition of Patrick Ryan to the United Kingdom.

The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

The Government have sought the extradition of Patrick Ryan from Belgium and the Metropolitan police sought it latterly from the Republic of Ireland.

In the Belgian proceedings, which followed Patrick Ryan's arrest in Belgium on 30 June 1988, extradition was sought in respect of the following offences: (1) conspiracy to murder; (2) conspiracy to cause explosions; (3) possession of explosives with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury to property; (4) possession of explosive substances without a lawful object.

Our own prosecuting authorities consulted the Belgian prosecuting authority before initiating the extradition proceedings and were given no reason by the Belgian authority to suppose that the request might fail to satisfy Belgian legal requirements. The extradition of Patrick Ryan was authorised by the Belgian court of first instance on 26 September, subject to the approval of the Minister of Justice, and by the Belgian Court of Appeal of Brussels on 12 October in respect of the two conspiracy charges.

As I understand it, Patrick Ryan's case then fell to be considered by the Belgian Minister of Justice. On 25 November—Friday—the Belgian Government refused to order extradition and ordered Patrick Ryan's repatriation to the Irish Republic. On learning on Friday afternoon of the Belgian decision and that Patrick Ryan was expected to arrive in Dublin that evening, an immediate application was made by the Crown prosecution service at Bow street magistrates' court for fresh warrants for Patrick Ryan's arrest, as was necessary to comply with Irish requirements. Warrants were issued in the late afternoon and facsimiles at once transmitted to the Irish authorities in Dublin at 6.20 pm. Facsimiles of the documentation, which the Irish Attorney-General requires under the provisions of the Irish Extradition (Amendment) Act 1987, were transmitted to his Department between 4.30 pm and 6.30 pm that evening.

That documentation contained a full statement of the facts upon which the allegations were founded, a statement setting out the relevant English law, and a certificate by me that it is the Crown prosecution service's clear intention to bring a prosecution and that that prosecuting authority has satisfied itself that there is sufficient admissible evidence to found a prosecution. The documentation with which I provided the Irish Attorney-General last Friday fulfilled the requirements of the legislation.

On Friday the Metropolitan police had requested the Gardai to obtain provisional warrants for the arrest of Patrick Ryan pending the arrival in Dublin of the warrants just issued at Bow street, which in the event were delivered to the Irish authorities in Dublin in the early hours of Saturday. No provisional warrants, however, were sought.

My Department was in touch with its counterpart in Dublin late on Friday night with a view to enabling me to speak to the Irish Attorney-General, Mr. Murray. That was because we had learnt that the Metropolitan police had been told by the Gardai that no action was to be taken on any warrant until the two Attornies-General had spoken. In the event, I spoke to Mr. Murray for the first time when he telephoned me at 10.30 am on Monday. He informed me that he was still considering the documentation. I drew attention to the risk that Ryan might discharge himself from the clinic where he was undergoing treatment, and asked him to make an early decision.

Mr. Murray acknowledged that risk. I told him that if there were any problem with the documentation or any other question I would be immediately available. No question about the adequacy of any of the documentation sent to him for the purpose of the 1987 Act has been raised with me. I understand that Mr. Murray is still considering the application.

Before the effective warrants were obtained on Friday, warrants in draft form were submitted to the Irish Attorney-General's Office on Wednesday 23 November. That followed a helpful practice, for which I am grateful and which has been developed between the two Departments, the law and practice in relation to warrants being different in the Republic of Ireland from that in England. Those documents were sent on a contingency basis lest the Belgians should decide to repatriate Patrick Ryan. The draft warrants did not constitute the sending of a request for extradition: the very purpose of sending drafts to the Irish is to allow them to comment on the form of the warrant. I mention that because of certain misleading publicity.

Irish officials, apart from drawing attention to two minor details and to certain purely presentational matters, expressed themselves content with the form of the proposed warrants. The Bow street warrants took account of those comments on Friday. On Saturday 26 November, the Irish authorities alerted us to the omission by the Bow street chief clerk of a date in the certificates accompaning the warrants. That omission, which we were advised was not a serious matter, was immediately rectified the same day.

We believe that this matter affected neither the Gardai's statutory power to seek provisional warrants from Friday evening nor the statutory power to back the effective warrants on their arrival in Dublin early on Saturday morning.

Mr. Morris

How far have future applications been assisted by the Prime Minister's hysterical outburst on Tuesday, and in particular by her endorsement of the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates)? Does not the Attorney-General agree that Belgium and Ireland are sovereign states and cannot be treated as erring Cabinet Ministers? As the Attorney-General has acknowledged today that there is a difference in practice in each country, should not—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. These are matters about which the whole House wishes to hear.

Mr. Morris

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker.

Should not the Attorney-General have first advised the House? Surely he should not have allowed the Crown prosecution service on his behalf to brief the press, given the danger of prejudicing a fair trial. The Attorney-General knows of my support for him in extradition matters—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] He knows of it and he would be the first to acknowledge it, but why can he not get his act right? What has become of the Home Secretary's promise that the Director of Public Prosecutions would ensure personally that warrants were checked for accuracy and sufficiency?

Will the Attorney-General confirm that on Wednesday, when draft warrants arrived, Irish Government lawyers pointed out a number of serious flaws—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."]—and that on Thursday the Irish Attorney-General's officials telephoned urging that the correct material be sent over; that on Friday new flaws were discovered, and some of the supporting documents were unintelligible; and that only on Saturday were correct certificates faxed through? If Ryan had been wrongfully arrested, could not that, or future extradition proceedings, he at risk? In any event, he would have had to be released late on Sunday, if arrested on a provisional warrant on Friday.

Will the Attorney-General confirm reports that it was the Irish Government who suggested the possibility of advance warrants and material if things went wrong in Belgium? Why were steps not taken earlier to give them ample time to consider a complicated matter? The Irish seem to have been at fault for five days. The Belgians had five months. What, since Tuesday, is the status of the "close and personal relationship" between the Attorney-General and his opposite number in the Republic, about which he was pleased to tell the House as late as 14 June of this year?

The Attorney-General

If I may deal with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's first question, he knows perfectly well, from his own extensive and distinguished practice in the law, that there is no value in answering a question that is based on a false premise. However, I utterly reject the premise on which he founds his question: that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's observations on Tuesday are in any way to be criticised.

As to future applications for extradition from the Republic of Ireland, I hope that lessons will be learnt from this application which may facilitate what I trust and believe to be the object of both Governments: to bring persons who are suspected of serious offences to justice in the courts of the country where the offences are alleged to have occurred.

I am asked whether I ought to have advised the House first. I do not think that I can be accused of being backward in coming forward with statements. I have volunteered more statements in this House in a shorter time than any other Attorney-General in living memory. [Laughter.] However regrettable it is, the situation today is that I have made an application for the extradition of Patrick Ryan and I am waiting for the response of the Irish Attorney-General.

I was asked whether I should get my "act right." I emphasise what is said in the statement—a copy of which is before the right hon. and learned Gentleman—that no complaint or even query has been raised as to the sufficiency or propriety of any of the documentation that is before the Irish Attorney-General. I believe that I have set out, in what I hope is helpful detail, the whole history of the matter.

Much misleading publicity has been given to what took place in connection with draft warrants, sent on a contingency basis, during the earlier part of the last week. They were sent for the specific purpose of their being commented upon by the Irish Government. The comments that were made were incorporated in the effective warrants that were issued on Friday at Bow street. It is true, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, that provisional warrants—for which there is statutory authority in Irish law, as he knows—can be issued before the original warrants arrive in the Irish Republic for backing. That is possible. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, and rightly has mentioned it, that such warrants have a three-day life. Somebody who is arrested under them has to be released by the end of three days, unless a substantial warrant has been backed.

This case, in which my colleague, the Irish Attorney-General, has already taken five and a half days to consider these matters, gives point to the objections that the British Government raised at the end of last year when the new unilateral legislation was put forward by the Irish Government, giving the Irish Attorney-General the duty to satisfy himself that there is a sufficiency of evidence and a settled intention to prosecute. There will be many cases —and this is not one of them because the Irish Government say that they know where Mr. Ryan is—in which somebody is suddenly arrested and there are three days for the whole of the procedure to be gone through. It is plain that in this case, which has required five and a half days, the procedure is gravely flawed, as we said it would be.

I was asked why, if the Belgians had taken five months, the Irish should be expected to do it more quickly. That is a thoroughly bad point. The Belgian Government requested that we should initiate extradition proceedings. The police then had to investigate the evidence. When the evidence was found to be sufficient to support four charges, the advice of the Belgian authorities was sought, given, and followed through. It was only then, much later, that the proceedings took place in the two courts which authorised the extradition of Patrick Ryan on the conspiracy charges subject to the approval of the Belgian Minister, as I have informed the House today.

Finally, I was asked about my relationship with Mr. Murray. I stand by every word of the description of that relationship that I gave on an earlier occasion. I have a close relationship with Mr. Murray, I trust one of friendship. We each have our duty to perform. I have performed mine and I am quite certain that Mr. Murray will perform his. I just wish that we could reach a decision rather quickly.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend surprised at the attitude of the Irish Government? To put it bluntly, have we not been double-crossed by them? Did they not promise in the Anglo-Irish Agreement to deprive wanted terrorists of immunity from extradition? When they did so deprive them, did they not at the same time give their Attorney-General the power to delay or to veto any warrant—provisional or otherwise—and has not the Irish Attorney-General used that power to the great disadvantage of justice?

The Attorney-General

I appreciate the depth of feeling that lies behind my hon. Friend's question. However, I do not subscribe to the verb he has applied to the Irish Goverment. The power given to the Irish Attorney-General to direct that there shall be no endorsement of an English warrant was given to him in consequence, so it was said by the Irish Government, of the fact that the Irish Government were to ratify the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. Whatever the reason for giving it, we pointed out at the time that it would act as an obstacle to extradition. I very much regret to say that it is so proving.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

While recognising that the Prime Minister's remarks expressing surprise about what happened in Belgium were wholly understandable in the circumstances, particularly in the light of what the Attorney-General said about the advice tendered by the Belgian Government, does he accept that comment about proceedings in Ireland does not help when the matter has not been concluded, and advancing arguments about the adequacy or otherwise of what the Government or the Irish Government are doing can be only for partisan advantage and not to further the course of justice?

The Attorney-General

What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on Tuesday was that the failure to secure the arrest of Patrick Ryan was a matter of very great concern to the British Government. The hon. Gentleman must surely realise that it is a matter of great concern because proceedings are now in train and warrants have been issued. It is not for me to talk about the facts behind the charges that we wish to bring against Patrick Ryan, but the hon. Gentleman knows from the very nature of those charges which I have read out today, how serious the matter is. Of course it is a matter of great concern and every Member of the House, whether Prime Minister or not, is entitled to express his view.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Is it not clear that the decision of the Belgian Minister of Justice not to accede to our request for extradition was taken not on legal grounds but on political grounds? Did not the Belgian Government add to their shame by sending Mr. Ryan to Dublin from Brussels in a Belgian military aircraft? Does my right hon. and learned Friend understand the increasing concern of people within and without Northern Ireland that we should continue to confer upon a Government who harbour suspected terrorists a position of special privilege in relation to that part of this kingdom which has been afflicted most grievously by terrorism?

The Attorney-General

I am afraid that it seems to be the case that the Belgian Government's decision was taken on political grounds. I say that it seems to be the case, because their procedure requires that the Belgian Minister of Justice shall consult the Appeal Court and ask for its recommendation. I have already told the House that we understand that the court of first instance and the Appeal Court had authorised extradition on two conspiracy charges. Therefore, it would seem unlikely that the recommendation of the Court of Appeal would differ from that authorisation. But that is secret, and we do not know whether or not it is so. All that I can say is that it has been reported in the Belgian press, so I understand, that the recommendation was to authorise extradition. If that is the case, it is a very regrettable matter for all who are concerned with the fight against international terrorism, as we have always understood the Belgian Government to be, along with their allies.

It is the case that Patrick Ryan was put into a military aircraft. It is perhaps even more significant that, although we had received several informal assurances that we would have 24 hours' notice between the decision of the Belgian Government and the deportation of Patrick Ryan, we were given no notice at all. That is why, when the warrants were obtained at Bow street, the very greatest haste was necessitated, because he might have been in the air at that time.

I hope that my hon. Friend will excuse me from answering the last part of his question, which he will recognise falls outside my own responsibilities.

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

The Attorney-General has confirmed that, for whatever reasons, the Irish authorities are still considering the application. As that consideration is a judicial process concerned with the assessment of evidence, I again ask the Attorney-General whether the Prime Minister's immoderate attempt to apply pressure was unconstitutional, counter-productive and prejudicial to any prospect of a fair trial.

The Attorney-General

No, Sir.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it was deeply regrettable that the Belgian authorities left so little time for the matter to be properly considered? Does he agree that it was an even greater pity that it took so long between Friday and Monday for the matter to be given the consideration that it required on both sides? Furthermore, does he agree that justice is to be found in the interstices of procedure and that, at bottom, we in this country and those in the Irish Republic are both concerned about the repression of terrorism? Is it not the case that, if these matters are not sorted out within the context of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, both countries have an enormous amount to lose?

The Attorney-General

I believe that we must secure between our two countries a more effective procedure for obtaining what we both want, which is the bringing of those suspected of serious offences to justice in the country in which such offences are alleged to have occurred. I have said all that I need to say about the Belgian decision, the reasons why it was taken, and the manner in which it was communicated to the British Government.

As to the procedure that is now going on in the Republic, I have to await the decision of my counterpart, but I draw attention to the fact that, in spite of having asked to be told if there was any difficulty or problem, and having told my counterpart that I would be immediately available if that was of any help, I have heard no word. Therefore, I can only hope that a speedy and favourable decision will be reached.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

As anti-terrorist co-operation from the Dublin Government was the only quid pro quo for the British humiliation of Unionists, is there not an obligation on the Dublin Government to co-operate freely and in a civilised fashion and to make that co-operation on an unconditional and unreserved basis?

The Attorney-General

I believe that no reason can legitimately be given for any failure to co-operate in the fight against terrorism, to which both Governments are committed.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that yesterday, as chairman of the Anglo-Belgian parliamentary group, I saw the Belgian ambassador to tell him of the strength of feeling among hon. Members of this House about what has happened? Can he enlarge on the strength of the evidence about Ryan that was available to the Belgian authorities in this episode, which is all the more distressing following, as it does, the impressive life-saving rescue exercise by the Belgians when the ferry sank off Zeebrugge?

The Attorney-General

I note what my hon. Friend says. I thought it right to send a letter to the Belgian ambassador three or four days before Friday drawing attention to the seriousness of the matters for which we desire to place Patrick Ryan on trial. I cannot talk about the strength of the evidence because, following the issue of the warrant, technically, criminal proceedings are in train.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Is it not important that those against whom there are allegations of being involved in terrorism, whether in Ireland or anywhere else, should be brought to trial promptly? Is it not also true that, whether anyone in the House likes it or not, all the inquiries that I have made in the south of Ireland show that people who do not support the Provisional IRA believe passionately that a fair trial is not obtainable here?

Does the Attorney-General recall that following an agreement made with the Government of the right hon. Member for Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), the Irish Government asked for the Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Act 1975, under which people may be brought to trial in the country where they are at the time? Would it not be worth considering using that Act? Unless something is done, the man—who has not yet been proved guilty—will not he brought for questioning or for trial.

The Attorney-General

I do not believe there is the slightest justification for any feeling in the Republic of Ireland that there is no prospect of a fair trial in England. We are in no need of lessons on how to devise and implement fair judicial procedures.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the Irish Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Act. But that cannot be a substitute for extradition under the terms of the extradition arrangements between the two countries. In some cases it is proper to use provisions of that Act and, in appropriate cases. I am delighted to make the necessary request. I did so only last week in the case of Sloan. The Irish Attorney-General has accepted that request and matters are proceeding. Although the use of the Act has not been raised with me as a possibility by the Irish Attorney-General, it would not be appropriate in this case because there is good reason to doubt whether the Irish courts would have jurisdiction under the terms of that Act in respect of two of the four charges.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

The IRA terrorists must be chuckling with delight at the attacks made on the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General—who fills his office with distinction—and his officials who have been seeking the extradition of Patrick Ryan to the United Kingdom. Sadly, such remarks will be quoted in support of the IRA throughout the world. Will the Attorney-General consider extending another invitation to his counterpart in Dublin to get together to resolve the problems that have arisen frequently in the past? Perhaps he might also be able to refute the allegation that has been made in the House this afternoon, time after time in the media, and all over the world, that an Irishman cannot get justice in a British court. If that is so, why do tens of thousands of Irish people from the Republic emigrate to Britain?

The Attorney-General

While I am grateful for those personal remarks, I know it not to be the opinion of the Irish Government that there is no fair trial to be had for an Irishman in this country, and if it were otherwise, how could we explain the amendment to the Irish Extradition Act in 1987? Why not abrogate it completely? I know that that is not the view of the Irish Government, and no shred of justification for it could exist. I am always ready to talk to my opposite number. I put in train attempts to speak to him late on Friday night, but unfortunately he was not able to speak to me until 10.30 on Monday. I have told the House what transpired then. I hope that we shall continue to have a close and sensible relationship. Before I came to the House, I made arrangements for the answer that I was proposing to give to the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) to be faxed to him, although not long before, and I trust that we shall be able to move forward.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

The Crown prosecution service told us that there were mistakes in two of the warrants that were sent to Dublin. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The Irish Government have said that there were two mistakes in those warrants. I tend to take the view of the Crown prosecution service, because it has been making those mistakes consistently for a number of years, and seems to be the expert on it. It is his duty to clarify that question, and I ask the Attorney-General to do so. Has he realised the damage that was done to the opinion of moderate people in Ireland when the incompetence of the Crown prosecution service degenerated into prime ministerial vindictiveness? Will he try to get his colleague the Prime Minister to retract the insults that she made against the Irish Government?

The Attorney-General

If the Crown prosecution service was guilty of as much inaccuracy as was revealed in the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks, there would indeed be cause for anxiety. I made it clear, I hope, in my answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon that, on a contingent basis, draft warrants were submitted to the Irish authorities in the early part of last week. I drew attention to the comments that were made by the Irish in respect of those. Perhaps I can amplify them to a small extent, and without wasting time. Of the two minor details that I mentioned, one consisted of a form of description of the charge that had been settled by leading counsel in this country. The other consisted of one superfluous word in the draft court clerk's certificate. The most significant of the presentational matters that I mentioned consisted of a form previously accepted by the Irish authorities in the recent case of McVeigh.

Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

What my right hon. and learned Friend has said, the manner in which he has said it, and the frequency with which he comes to discuss these issues in the House is wholly acceptable, as is the way in which he discharges his onerous responsibilities. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Will he take note, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office will take particular note, that there can be no progress in the fight against terrorism without complete international co-operation? As there have been these difficulties over the technicalities of expressions on documentation, or over the acceptance on either side of the Attorney-General's fence that quick action should be taken, the overall result is a decline in the effectiveness of anti-terrorist measures throughout Ireland, the United Kingdom and the European Community. Will my right hon. and learned Friend make it clear to the Attorney-General in the Irish Republic that if this is the way that things will proceed, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister cannot maintain the commitment that we have so far shown?

The Attorney-General

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. I agree, as I think will every hon. Member, with what he went on to say. There is no doubt that the attack upon international terrorism calls for sophisticated co-operation, and there is no doubt that vociferous and sometimes powerful minorities will resent such cooperation. I hope that it is agreed on all sides that they must not be allowed to impede that co-operation. There will be no shortcoming in the co-operation that I and Her Majesty's Government offer to our friends, and we hope for no more than the same in return.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Instead of throwing a fit of tantrums last Tuesday afternoon and whipping up the anti-Irish feelings of some of her Back Benchers—notoriously the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates)—the Prime Minister should have shown a greater awareness of the extradition procedures of other nations. Why is it that those two faulty details of last weekend's extradition warrants, which the Attorney-General seeks to dismiss so lightly, have been a feature of a majority of the extradition warrants that have been directed across the Irish sea during the past three years?

The Attorney-General

I do not accept the last part of the hon. Gentleman's observations.

Mr. Duffy

It is true.

The Attorney-General

Certainly not. I would have thought that he would have welcomed the helpful practice that has grown up between our two Departments, which I mentioned, whereby whenever there is time and it is practicable, draft warrants are submitted on a contingent basis for the very reason that the law and practice of the courts in Ireland relating to warrants is different from that in this country.

Mr. Duffy

Why not get it right?

The Attorney-General

I might suggest that the hon. Gentleman gets it right himself.

Mr. Duffy

I have got it right.

Mr. Speaker


The Attorney-General

The hon. Gentleman has asked me a question. I assume in his favour that he would like to hear the answer that I am endeavouring to give. He speaks of defects in the warrant of last weekend. There were no defects. No problem has been raised with me by the Irish Attorney-General. It has not been suggested that there was anything wrong with the warrant of last weekend. There was a problem about the omission of a date in the chief clerk's certificate. We were told that it was not serious and could be corrected on Monday, and it was corrected on Saturday. It has had no effect.

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) only makes himself more ridiculous by those remarks? If I were to be criticised by some of my hon. Friends, it would be for having been the most ardent supporter on the Government Benches of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated quite clearly that there is no sign from the Irish Government that any of the warrants are defective, and as my right hon. and learned Friend has made that abundantly clear, both in his statement and in his answers, and as the Irish authorities allege that they know where Ryan is, is there any reason why he should not now be detained, pending a decision?

The Attorney-General

The crucial distinction of this case is that Patrick Ryan, according to the Irish Government, is in a place the whereabouts of which is known to them. Therefore, presumably it is possible for a warrant, if it is backed for execution, to lead to his arrest.

It is quite true that no problem has been raised with me. If there is one, I remain available to do what I can to help, but I cannot help feeling that, as five and a half days have gone by, any insufficiency would have been drawn to my attention by now, if one had been perceived.

I did not deal fully with what was said about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's intervention last Tuesday. I have read it and have it before me now. I really cannot see that any objection can be taken to her view, expressed no doubt with feeling, that it is a matter of very grave concern"—[Official Report, 29 November 1988; Vol. 142, c. 574.] that the arrest has not been authorised.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Read on.

The Attorney-General

I believe that some rather offensive and highly coloured interpretations have today been placed upon her comments.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that this is a private notice question and that we have had more than double the length of time that I would normally allow for it.