HL Deb 19 July 1866 vol 184 cc1054-9

(The Lord Chancellor.)



My Lords, I venture to engage your attention for a short time while I propose for your consent a Bill which is of very great importance, and of urgent necessity. It is a Bill for the Amendment of the Law relating to Treaties of Extradition. Your Lordships are no doubt aware that we have had for some years a treaty of this description with France, and you have probably heard that in consequence of some dissatisfaction which has been felt by the French Government as to the mode in which this treaty has been dealt with by this country, notice was given by them in the month of December last, under the stipulations of the treaty, for its discontinuance at the expiration of a period of six months. Her Majesty's late Government were alive to the importance of this treaty; and accordingly they entered into communications with the French Government upon the subject. I believe they were met in the most friendly and cordial spirit, and the French Government agreed to extend the notice for six months longer—so that the notice would not expire until the 4th of December—while, at the same time, they intimated pretty plainly that unless some alteration of the law were made by which effect would be given to the treaty, which they considered had been almost a dead letter, they should feel themselves compelled to abandon it at the end of that extended time. The noble Earl the late Secretary for Foreign Affairs immediately directed a Bill to be prepared, which I believe, but for the change of Government, would have passed through both Houses of Parliament by this time. That Bill was found in the office, and was approved of by the present Government; and I am now introducing it to your Lordships' attention, it being considered by us to be one which will exactly meet the exigencies of the case. I will briefly explain to your Lordships the circumstances under which legislation becomes necessary upon this im- portant subject. The law of extradition in this country only dates from the year 1843. In that year two treaties were entered into—one with France and the other with the United States—and Acts of Parliament were passed to give effect to them. It certainly is an extraordinary circumstance, considering the importance of treaties of this description to a commercial country, that these should be the only ones into which we entered until the year 1862, when a similar treaty was concluded with Denmark. But these three treaties—with France, with the United States, and with Denmark—are the only Extradition Treaties in existence between this country and foreign nations; while France has no less than fifty-three treaties of this description, and I believe she has found no difficulty whatever in carrying them into effect with other countries. But with respect to this country, it is a most remarkable thing that for twenty years—from 1843 to 1863—not a single criminal has been delivered up when demanded by France. This has arisen partly from the view which was taken of his duty upon these questions by the magistrate who then presided at the Bow Street Police Court. He thought that he ought to inquire into the guilt or innocence of the party who was accused, instead of confining himself strictly to the question, whether there was on the depositions a sufficient case to warrant the sending of the accused to be tried. The French Government having been repeatedly baffled and disappointed in their attempts to obtain their fugitives, it is much less to be wondered at that they should have given notice of the discontinuance of the treaty, than that they should have borne disappointment so patiently. They had another ground of complaint with regard to the interpretation put upon the Extradition Treaty, as to the proof required of the different documents transmitted for the purpose of establishing the case. The Legislature felt that it would be most inconvenient, and would occasion considerable delay, if the foreign Government were compelled to send over witnesses for the purpose of establishing the case against the party accused; and therefore, by the provisions of the Act of Parliament, copies of the depositions certified by the Judge who issued the warrant were to be admitted as evidence of the criminality of the accused. If the provisions had stopped there no complaint could have arisen; but in addition to that proof, the Act of the 6th and 7th of the Queen provides that those depositions shall be proved to be true copies by the witnesses who brought them over. Now, the way in which documents of this kind are transmitted from France is this:—The depositions are sent over accompanied by a certificate authenticated by the official seal and signature of the Minister of Justice; and undoubtedly that proof ought to be sufficient to warrant the reception of the document. The French Government naturally feel that it is a great indignity to require them, in addition to this solemn verification, to send over a witness for the purpose of proving that he had examined the copies with the originals, and that they were true copies. It is most extraordinary that this should be required, because under the law with regard to proving documents from foreign countries in our Courts of Justice, any judicial proceedings, or any documents emanating from a Court of Justice, can be proved by the production of copies of those documents purporting to be sealed with the seal of the Court, or with the signature of the Judge of the Court accompanied by a statement to the effect that the Court had no seal, without any proof whatever of the authenticity of the signature or of the seal, or of the judicial character of the person who affixed the seal or the signature, or of the truth of the statements contained in the documents. If, therefore, those documents were produced in a Court of Law, verified in the way I have stated, there is no doubt whatever that they would be perfectly good evidence; and there can be no reason why a difference should be made in the mode of proof with regard to the transmission of documents from France under the Treaty of Extradition. The present Bill, which was prepared by the late Government, proposes to amend the law in this respect, and to allow documents in cases under the Extradition Treaty to be verified in the way that is customary in the Courts of Law. I believe that if this Amendment of the law is adopted—though it should not be entirely satisfactory to the French Government—it will go a very considerable way to reconcile them to our law upon this subject, and to induce them to abandon their intention of discontinuing the treaty.

My Lords, I wish to take this opportunity of removing a misapprehension which appears to prevail upon this subject with regard to the objects of the French Government. It has been supposed that they are extremely desirous upon political grounds of continuing the treaty in order that they may, by charging criminal offences against particular individuals, get possession of these criminals, and then try them for political offences. Now, there cannot be a greater mistake than the notion that any such law prevails in France. On the contrary, the French law is so strict upon that subject that where a person is delivered up under an Extradition Treaty, he can only be tried for the offence stated in the extradition warrant; and, if he is acquitted of that offence, although he may be charged with twenty other offences, he is allowed to quit France and to return to the place from which he was sent, and he cannot be put upon his trial on any other charge. A striking instance of this was furnished in the case of the Extradition Treaty between France and Belgium. A man was charged with a rape; he escaped to Belgium; he was delivered up by the Belgian authorities; he was tried for the offence and acquitted. It was then proposed that he should be tried for an indecent assault, which of course was included in the greater offence; but so strict were the French authorities in the interpretation of their law that they refused to try the man for that offence, and he was discharged and sent back to Belgium. There is one other matter to which I wish to advert. It is supposed that the French Government are extremely anxious to have their fugitive criminals, who have been convicted, delivered up. Now that must be explained. There are two modes of conviction in France—one after trial in the presence of the accused, and the other par contumace. Persons who have escaped and are convicted par contumace, as it is called, if they are delivered up to France, are not sentenced upon that conviction, but are again put upon their trial, and they are then of course exactly in the same position as a person who has merely had a charge preferred against him, and has fled from justice, and the conviction par contumace has no effect whatever. Treaties of this kind are of the greatest possible importance to a commercial country; and 1 think it is very much to be regretted that the offences comprehended in our Extradition Treaty with France should be so limited. They only extend to murder, attempt to murder, forgery, and fraudulent bankruptcy. It would be very important indeed to the commercial world if the treaty were extended to other offences which are of frequent occurrence, and which at present easily escape punishment from our facility of communication with France. But these are matters for future consideration. At present all I ask your Lordships is to assent to this Bill, which will amend the law in a slight particular, apparently, but in one which will give effect to the intentions of the Legislature when it passed the Act of 1843. The measure will, I think, conciliate the French Government, with regard to that treaty; it will show our desire to carry that treaty faithfully into effect, and to meet them in the same fair and just spirit in which they have always met us upon these subjects. Under these circumstances I ask your Lordships to give a first reading to the Bill.


It is unnecessary for me to trouble your Lordships at any length after the very full and clear statement of the noble and learned Lord in presenting the Bill; but I wish to say a few words on this subject. Her Majesty's late Government thought the intimation of the French Government, given in the month of December last, not to renew the treaty, was rather a hasty proceeding; but, at the same time, it did not much surprise me, because not a single person had ever been delivered up to them under the treaty. This result was brought about, not because the English magistrates were unwilling to give effect to the treaty, but because the evidence adduced was considered by them to be insufficient. Nevertheless, I thought it would be much better to have kept the treaty in existence, for though it might not be in active operation, still it hung in terrorem over the heads of offenders, none of whom could be absolutely certain that he would not be delivered up under its provisions. It is quite right that there should be such a treaty between two great countries like England and France, which are only separated from each other by a few miles of sea. I am aware that a jealousy exists on this subject, and that we have only concluded three treaties of this kind. For my own part I thought it was preferable to retain the Treaty of 1843, making it operative, instead of asking Parliament to sanction a new treaty; and therefore, I had recourse to Sir Thomas Henry, the chief magistrate at Bow Street. I mention his name because it is mainly owing to his intelligence and ability, and the zeal with which he conducted the negotiations which took place, that we are saved from a position of some embarrassment and some discredit; for the French Government have always attributed what they considered our indifference to the working of the treaty and our supposed indisposition to amend our law to our mistrust of their good faith, and our fear lest they should misuse the treaty for political purposes. Now, there was not the slightest cause for any such apprehension. Lord Cowley was able to confer on the subject with the legal authorities in Paris, and to state to them what were the intentions of Her Majesty's Government, and what concessions they were disposed to make with the view of making the treaty operative. Sir Thomas Henry subsequently went to Paris, and was received with great goodwill by the French authorities. The result of those negotiations was that I was enabled to prepare the Bill which has now been introduced by the noble and learned Lord. Its object simply is to admit, under abundant safeguards, public documents, and authorized copies of them, as evidence in cases arising under the treaty. I think there is every reason to believe that this will satisfy the French Government, because it will make the treaty operative, and go far to conciliate them. If it is sanctioned by Parliament and found to work well, I hope that the category of crimes will be extended in the way suggested by the noble and learned Lord.

Motion agreed to.

Bill for the Amendment of the Law relating to Treaties of Extradition read 1a; to be printed; and to be read 2a Tomorrow. (No. 200.)

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