HL Deb 23 July 1869 vol 198 cc554-9

My Lords, I rise to put a Question to the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. In 1843 an extradition treaty was entered into between this country and France, and, in the same year, an Act of Parliament was passed giving effect to that treaty. The offences named in the treaty were not numerous. They consisted of murder, attempt to murder, forgery, and fraudulent bankruptcy. The treaty was in existence from 1843 till 1865; but, so far as any action on our side was concerned, it remained a dead letter during the whole of that period, because not a single criminal was delivered up by us to France. That arose from the view the chief police magistrate took as to the course which he ought to pursue when persons were brought before him for extradition under the treaty. He thought it his bounden duty not to give up an accused person unless he were satisfied on the evidence before him that there would be a conviction if that person were put upon his trial. I think that view of the matter was hardly in accordance with the terms of the treaty. I believe that what was intended by the treaty was this—that an accused person should be given upsupposing the evidence brought before the magistrate were such that, if the offence were committed in this country, the accused would be committed for trial. There was also a misapprehension as to the effect of a judgment par contumace; the chief magistrate being of opinion that such a judgment put a person out of the category of an accused person. Therefore, when it was found that a person had been condemned par contumace in his absence, the chief magistrate said—"This is a convicted and not an accused person, and, therefore, I must discharge him." Now the magistrate was entirely in error with regard to the French law in this respect, because, in point of fact, a person who has been convicted par contumace is, on being apprehended or delivered up, tried in exactly the same way as any other accused person, the previous judgment par contumace having no effect whatever upon the proceedings. Then the French Government had another ground of dissatisfaction, in regard to the proof required of the documents which were transmitted from France. The depositions which were certified by the Juge d' instruction, and authenticated by the signature and official seal of the Minister of Justice, were not admitted as evidence in this country, unless the person producing it proved that it was a true copy of the original depositions. These various sources of dissatisfaction induced the Government of France to give notice, in 1865, that, under the terms of the treaty, they would put an end to it within six months. The noble Earl, who was then, as he is now, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (the Earl of Clarendon), sent Sir Thomas Henry, the chief magistrate at Bow Street, over to France to negotiate on the subject with the French Government. I must admit that the noble Earl could not have selected a person better fitted to conduct the negotiations. The noble Earl stated, on a former occasion, that it was mainly owing to his ability and to the zeal with which he conducted the negotiations that we were extricated from a position of some embarrassment. On Sir Thomas Henry's return the noble Earl had a Bill prepared, which would have removed many of the causes of dissatisfaction, and which applied generally to the proof required in all cases under the extradition treaties. I am much surprised that there should have been the least disposition in any quarter to prevent that Bill passing into law. Soon afterwards, however, the then Government went out of Office, and Lord Derby's Administration was formed. The Bill framed by the noble Earl (the Earl of Clarendon) was then found at the Foreign Office, and I, having at that time the honour to hold the Great Seal, was charged with the introduction into your Lordships' House of that measure, which I entirely approved. That measure of course received the cordial support of the noble Earl, and the simple object of it was to enact that when the documents and depositions transmitted from France in reference to the extradition of offenders were certified by the Judge or the magistrate to be true copies, and when that fact was further authenticated by signature and seal of the department of the Minister of Justice, they should be taken without further proof to be evidence in all our courts of justice. Of course, the Bill was easily passed through this House with the concurrence of the noble Earl, and was sent down to the House of Commons, where, to my infinite surprise, great jealousy existed in certain quarters as to the objects which the French Government had in view in desiring the continuance of a treaty; because they thought the design of the French Government was to lay hold of political offenders, under the pretence of preferring some criminal charge against them. There was not, however, the slightest ground for any such imputation. It is expressly laid down in the law, as to extradition, of France, and it is made a point of honour, never to deliver up or to demand any political offender, and if a person who is a political offender is given up under an extradition treaty for another offence, he is, if acquitted, or in the event of his conviction after the expiration of his sentence, warned that he must leave the country within a certain period, and it is only when he neglects to do so that he can be apprehended and tried for the political offence. So strict, indeed, were the French on this point, that when a person had committed several criminal offences, and was delivered up under an extradition treaty for one of them, he could not be tried for the other offences without a fresh application being made for the extradition of the offender. The feeling, however, which prevailed in the House of Commons induced them to determine that the Bill should not be in force for a longer period than twelve months. Accordingly the Bill passed, its duration being limited to that term. In 1867, it was found necessary to continue that Bill for another year; and, in 1868, the same course was pursued; but, on each occasion, it was necessary for the Government to apply to the French Government to continue the treaty, and I must say that the French Government, though somewhat dissatisfied, had acted with the greatest courtesy and forbearance, and yielded to the application. In 1868, a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to inquire into the whole law and practice of extradition. I should, however, state that the French Government were so desirous of removing any jealousy which might exist with regard to their supposed anxiety to get hold of political offenders, that they expressed their willingness to have a clause introduced into the Bill to the effect that the magistrate in this country should himself decide whether the offence with which a person might be charged was of a political character, and if he came to the conclusion that it was, he might at once discharge the accused. Well, the Select Committee, to which I just referred, drew up a Report, on which was founded a Bill. That Bill, which is now, in all probability, in the Foreign Office, was prepared in 1868. We have now nearly arrived at the end of the Session of 1869, but still that Bill has not been introduced into Parliament. There is undoubtedly a very strong feeling in France of annoyance and dissatisfaction at the delay which has occurred; and a Minister has said publicly that it seemed rather surprising that the Government of England had taken three years to decide whether they would agree to an extradition treaty precisely similar to the fifty-six treaties which France has entered into with other countries. In conclusion, I beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether it was his intention to bring in a Bill this Session to enable Her Majesty to conclude an extradition treaty with the Emperor of the French?


I understand perfectly the feeling which has induced my noble and learned Friend to bring forward this subject, and I am much obliged to him for having dealt with it in so conciliatory a manner. It is not my intention, nor have I, indeed, the power, to bring forward a Bill of Extradition this year. The noble and learned Lord has, I think, himself indicated the extreme difficulties which stand in the way of dealing with this question. As he remarked, there was considerable opposition to the very simple Bill which was brought forward by himself, so great was the jealousy and fear entertained by the House of Commons lest political offenders should be delivered up. I think, however,- it is of very great importance that we should have an extradition treaty, not only with France, but also with other countries; for it is a great disgrace — particularly now that the means of intercommunication between different countries have been so much improved—that this kingdom should be a harbour and asylum for all the rogues in the world. The Bill which had been prepared laid down the principles on which extradition treaties were to be concluded not with France only, but with all the countries of Europe. The Foreign Office and the Home Office have been in communication on the subject, and the Bill has been ready for upwards of two months; but it has fallen, like many others, a victim to the exigencies of measures of greater magnitude and importance—as, for example, the Irish Church Bill and the Bankruptcy Bill, by which so much of the time of the Session has been occupied. It was really found impossible to bring it forward; and I am quite sure that the noble and learned Lord, with his great Parliamentary experience, must feel that it would be extremely inconvenient to introduce Bills of this character, on which great difference of opinion exists, and protracted discussions are likely to arise, unless there is a reasonable prospect of passing them. As far, however, as the Foreign Office is concerned, I engage that this shall be one of the first Bills which shall be brought in by that Department next year. I hope that no injury will result from the delay thus occasioned, because we have already received the assent of the French Government to a satisfactory arrangement on this matter.