HL Deb 21 January 1965 vol 262 cc1043-54

4.50 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Its main purpose is to modernise and put on a more satisfactory footing the arrangements under which persons who are alleged to have committed offences in the Irish Republic, and have come to this country, can be returned to the Republic to stand trial there. Although the Bill widens existing arrangements to the extent of making them apply to Northern Ireland (as they have not done effectively since about 1930), it also affords some protection for the liberty of the subject by introducing safeguards and restrictions which have not previously existed.

The arrangements under which we now operate depend on the Indictable Offences Act, 1848, and the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851. Under these Acts a warrant of arrest issued in the Irish Republic, as well as in Northern Ireland, can be executed in this country, and vice versa, once it has been endorsed by a magistrate in the country to which it is sent. We have always proceeded on the basis that the magistrate who endorses the warrant does not have to satisfy himself, as he does under the Extradition and Fugitive Offenders Acts, that a prima facie case has been made out; and the offender, once he has been arrested, is returned to the country where the warrant was issued, without any court hearing.

This procedure was laid down at a time when the whole of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, but it has continued since the establishment of the Irish Free State and the subsequent departure of the Irish Republic from the Commonwealth. In view of the close proximity of the two countries and the lack of immigration controls, it is clearly essential that a quick and comparatively simple procedure of this sort should be available, so that offenders shall not escape from justice merely by crossing the Irish Sea. At present about 100 warrants issued in the Irish Republic are executed in Great Britain each year, and a slightly larger number of British warrants are executed in the Republic.

In the case last year, however, Regina v. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police: ex parte Hammond, these arrangements came under scrutiny by the Divisional Court and by the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House, which discovered a technical defect in the warrant which had been sent over for Mr. Hammond's arrest. This was that the Irish warrant had not been endorsed in the Republic, for execution in England, strictly in accordance with Section 27 (3) of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851, which requires that, before being dispatched from Ireland, the warrant shall be endorsed by a senior officer of the Royal Irish Constabulary. The Royal Irish Constabulary, of course, ceased to exist in 1922, and was in due course replaced in the Irish Free State by the Garda Siochana. An Order in Council, made in 1923, under Section 6 of the Irish Free State (Consequential Provisions) Act, 1922, provided that the requirements of the law relating to the backing and execution of warrants should continue to operate after the establishment of the Irish Free State, but unfortunately no adaptation was made to take account of the abolition of the Royal Irish Constabulary. This omission had never, before the Hammond case, led to any doubt being cast on Irish warrants. But the effect of the decision of the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House was that it became impossible to return offenders to the Irish Republic, though it was still possible to return them to Northern Ireland, and for offenders to be returned from the Republic to Great Britain.

The previous Government therefore decided to remedy this defect, and last summer, as a stop gap, the Republic of Ireland (Consequential Adaptation of Enactment) Order, 1964, was made. This dealt with the immediate difficulty arising from the decision in the Hammond case, and made it possible once again to return offenders to the Irish Republic.

But, apart from the technical difficulty, the courts gave much consideration to the propriety of arrangements under which persons can be arrested in this country on an Irish warrant and returned to the Republic without there being any necessity for a court hearing; and both the Divisional Court and the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House expressed concern about the lack of safeguards in the present arrangements. I might mention that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reid, in particular, said that it would be necessary to give urgent consideration to the whole matter of sending accusal persons from this country to the Republic. These observations clearly necessitated careful consideration, and Mr. Henry Brooke, when announcing in another place on July 29 last year that he intended to remedy the technical difficulty which had arisen in the Hammond case, pointed out that wider questions arose and that more comprehensive legislation was being prepared for introduction this Session. When the present Government came into office we thus inherited a draft Bill which, in the light of further consultation with the Irish authorities, we have further amended, and, I hope, improved.

The main point which arises is whether the arrangements for returning offenders to the Republic should be similar to those governing return to Commonwealth and foreign countries under the Fugitive Offenders and Extradition Acts, or whether some simpler machinery and procedure would be appropriate. As your Lordships will be aware, the Fugitive Offenders Act and the Extradition Act both require that, before a fugitive can be surrendered, he must be brought before a Metropolitan magistrate, whose duty it is to satisfy himself that a prima facie case has been made out. The fugitive is explicitly given the opportunity of exercising his right to apply for a writ of habeas corpus against his detention under the magistrate's order, and the final decision on whether to surrender him is made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, exercising his statutory discretion.

My Lords, the Government consider that if arrangements similar to those provided for by the Fugitive Offenders and Extradition Acts were to be made to govern the return of offenders to the Irish Republic, a situation would soon arise in which criminals were avoiding justice simply by travelling to this country or to Northern Ireland. There are, as your Lordships are well aware, No 1mmigration or travel restrictions between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. It is nearly as easy to go from the Republic to London as it is to travel from London to Scotland. If. every time an offender came here from the Republic, the Irish authorities had to send over all the documents and evidence necessary to establish a prima facie case, the result would almost certainly be that they would do so only in the most serious cases, and this country would thus become a haven for petty criminals from Ireland. To make the point more emphatically, I would point out that whereas, as I have said, about 100 offenders a year are returned to the Irish Republic under the present arrangements, in 1964 only one offender was returned to a foreign country under the Extradition Act, and one to a Commonwealth country under the Fugitive Offenders Act.

Moreover, the common source of Irish and British law, and the closely comparable nature of its administration and enforcement in the two countries, make it unnecessary, in the Government's view, to insist that a prima facie case should be made out. There is also the fact that under the Fugitive Offenders and Extradition Acts we may be returning persons to countries thousands of miles away, and it is therefore only right that the basic requirement of a prima facie case should be established before we return them. But it is quite a different situation, with the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic in such close proximity.

Nevertheless the Government are convinced that arrangements which were appropriate when the whole of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom are no longer wholly satisfactory in the changed constitutional circumstances of to-day. It is, in our view, essential that certain additional safeguards should be introduced, and they are contained in this Bill. At a later stage your Lordships will doubtless be considering the Bill in detail, and will not wish me to make any prolonged examination of it now. It may, however, be helpful if I refer briefly to its main provisions, and in particular to the safeguards it contains.

At present, any Irish warrant for any offence, however trivial, may be endorsed and executed here. Under Clause 1 of this Bill, however, the application of the Bill is confined to offences against the laws of the Republic which are either indictable or are punishable on summary conviction with imprisonment for six months. Thus, warrants for trivial summary offences will not come within the scope of the Bill. Under Clause 1 we should proceed in this way. When a police officer in whose area an offender is believed to be receives a warrant from Ireland for his arrest, the warrant will be taken to a magistrate who, if satisfied that the offence specified in the warrant comes within the scope of the Bill, will endorse it for execution. Under subsection (2) of Clause 1, if the warrant is for a summary offence it cannot be executed unless the offender has had the summons, or a notice of issue of the summons, served on him previously, and has failed to appear, or if he has entered into a recognisance, or has already appeared before a court, in respect of the offence in question and has failed to reappear on the due date. Subsection (3) of Clause 1 deals with warrants for the arrest of convicted persons: for example, escaped prisoners, or persons who have jumped their bail while awaiting appeal after conviction. But the subsection also provides that no convicted person may be arrested on an Irish warrant for the purpose of serving imprisonment in default of payment of a fine or other sum of money.

Clause 2 provides, for the first time, that a person arrested under the provisions of Clause 1 must be brought before a magistrates' court; in other words, a repetition of the Hammond case would be quite impossible. This court will not order his return to the Republic if the offence specified in the warrant is an offence of a political character, or an offence under military law which is not also an offence under the general criminal law, or an offence under an enactment relating to taxes, duties or exchange control; nor will the return of the offender be ordered if it is shown that there are substantial grounds for believing that the person named in the warrant will, if taken to the Republic, be prosecuted or detained for another offence, being an offence of a political character or an offence under military law which is not also an offence under the general criminal law. Moreover, subsection (2) of Clause 2 provides that an order for the return of an offender shall not be made if it appears that the offence specified in the warrant does not correspond with an offence under British law which is an indictable offence or is punishable on summary conviction with imprisonment for six months.

I hope your Lordships will agree that these new safeguards introduced in Clause 2 are both desirable and necessary. The present position is that, generally speaking, acts which are offences against the law of the Republic would, if committed here, also be offences against British law. But we must have regard to possible future developments and to any divergencies which may arise between the criminal law of our two countries. The Government consider that it is right that Irish warrants for offences which are acknowledged to be offences in both countries should be executed, but that it would not be right to return to the Republic a person who was alleged to have done something which was unlawful in the Republic but not unlawful in this country. As to the provision regarding political offences, this is customary in arrangements for extradition and is clearly appropriate as between two independent States. Similarly, military and fiscal offences have not been extraditable in our arrangements with foreign countries.

I have discussed Clauses 1 and 2 in some detail because they contain the most important of the new safeguards which the Bill contains. I would add briefly that under Clause 3 a person ordered to be returned to the Republic shall not be delivered up for fifteen days, unless he consents to surrender in a shorter period. This delay would allow time for an appeal to be made, under Clause 3 of the Bill, to the High Court against the decision of the magistrates' court. Another important safeguard is in Clause 5, which provides that the magistrates' court may, at any stage, including the period after the rnakinig of an order for return, remand an arrested person on bail.

At this point I should like to refer briefly to one important matter arising out of the Hammond case. Your Lordships may recall that a feature of that case which caused especial concern was that Hammond was arrested on an Irish warrant for the alleged neglect of his children, who were then in Dublin. In fact, they had been taken away from this country without his consent. The poor man had been over to Ireland and tried to effect a reconciliation. He had sent money regularly, without having had an acknowledgment of it. Then suddenly, years after, Hammond found himself arrested in this country on an Irish warrant for this alleged neglect, although he had, in fact, never lived in the Irish Republic and had made only one short visit there—the visit when he tried to effect a reconciliation. The authorities of the Republic have now given us an assurance that no outgoing warrant in a child-neglect case will in future be sent to the United Kingdom for execution where the matrimonial home is not in the Republic. The Government of the Irish Republic have most helpfully agreed that this assurance should be conveyed publicly to Parliament here.

I hope your Lordships will agree that with these improvements over the existing arrangements the Bill provides a reasonable and sensible compromise between the claims of justice and the rights of the individual. But, of course, this Bill is only one half of the story. There must be a quid pro quo. It is essential that we should, for our part, be able to obtain the return to this country to stand trial of persons who commit offences here and then flee to the Republic.

Until recently, British (but not Northern Irish) warrants have been executed in the Republic under the provisions of the Indictable Offences Act, 1848, and the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851. But just as these arrangements came under the scrutiny of our courts in the Hammond case, so they were critically considered by the Trish courts last summer in the case of a man named Quinn. In that case, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that the present arrangements were contrary to the Constitution of the Republic, and as a result of this judgment we are unable to obtain the surrender of persons wanted here who have gone to the Republic. I am glad to be able to inform your Lordships, therefore, that the Government of the Irish Republic have before the Dail an Extradition Bill with which they propose to proceed shortly, and Part III of which will provide for British warrants (including Northern Irish warrants) to be executed in the Republic.

The provisions of the Irish Bill will be, broadly speaking, reciprocal to those contained in the Bill now before your Lordships, and we and the Irish authorities have been in close consultation over both Bills. Thus, once the Dail have enacted the Irish Extradition Bill a warrant issued here will be capable of execution in the Republic, subject of course, to certain restrictions and safeguards, which we may expect will be on the lines of those contained in our Bill.

When both Bills have been enacted and brought into operation there will be in existence a reciprocal scheme which will ensure that, subject to the necessary safeguards, persons who are alleged to have committed offences in one country will not be able to evade justice by taking advantage of the geographical proximity of our two countries and of the ease of travel between them. I would emphasise that these provisions represent a very considerable increase in the safeguards of the liberty of the subject, while preserving, so far as is proper, the speed and efficiency of the present arrangements. I therefore hope that this Bill will commend itself to your Lordships as both essential and desirable, and that you will agree to give it a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.——(Lord Stonham.)

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome this Bill, and I think your Lordships should be exceptionally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for the care with which he has explained it, because it means that I shall have to speak for only two or three minutes.

As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, told your Lordships, in somewhat different words—but, after all, he is now a Minister—the Republic of Ireland and ourselves have been suddenly found by your Lordships, sitting in your Judicial capacity, to have been living in sin together for something over 40 years without knowing it—and this is one of the occasions when living in sin was not only reprehensible but even undesirable. This finding by your Lordships' House came as something of a surprise, and it was necessary to do something at once. The last Government tried to do something temporarily, on an Order in Council basis, and they at once started the drafting of the necessary legislation; and I am very glad that the present Government have gone ahead with that legislation, making a few alterations which were obviously necessary after discussions with the Irish Government.

The only word of criticism I have (if it is a word of criticism) is that this is a matter of considerable urgency—because anything that strengthens either our hands or the hands of the Irish Government in dealing with criminals is an extremely urgent matter—and I might have hoped that the Second Reading of this Bill could have been introduced before Christmas. It is not a serious criticism, but one does not like to see any unavoidable delay.

As regards the reciprocal legislation which the Irish Government are bringing in, I wonder whether it would be possible for Her Majesty's Government to ask the Irish Government, through the usual channels (which means behind the scenes), whether they will bring their part of the legislation into law at the earliest possible moment. Perhaps it is not a suitable thing for me to say in your Lordships' House, but if Her Majesty's Government could have a word which might hurry things up I believe that it would be very advantageous, because I do not like to think of the present position, in which our criminals can easily escape to Ireland without much risk of being returned.

My Lords, I will not say anything further about the Bill. The noble Lord has explained it in great detail. If there are any minor details, we can deal with them on the Committee stage. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will get this Bill through all its stages in Parliament as quickly as they can, and I, too, hope that your Lordships will now give this Bill a Second Reading.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, if, with your permission, I may reply very briefly to what the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. has said, I would first of all thank him for his warm and kindly welcome to this Bill. I look forward to receiving his further support in removing another injustice to Ireland, and at the same time removing an injustice to ourselves. We agree that this is a matter of considerable urgency, but I can tell the noble Lord that, despite the anxiety in my Department that this Bill should go forward as soon as possible, it was quite literally out of the question to bring it forward before Christmas since we should not then have been able to come forward with the complete agreement which we now have.

The noble Lord suggested that we should ask the Irish Government, tactfully, to bring this matter to fruition at the earliest possible moment. I can tell him that they are as anxious as we are that it should be concluded satisfactorily, and that the consultations are amicable and continuing. We have a common objective in all respects. Their Bill may not take precisely the same form as ours, but the arrangements will be reciprocal.

I would, however, remind the noble Lord, Lord Derwent (although I am sure he is well aware of this), that the Irish Extradition Bill—a much wider Bill than the one we now have under consideration—was introduced into the Irish Parliament at the end of 1963. It went through its Committee stage in February, 1964, when its progress was suspended owing to the repercussions of the Hammond case. Obviously, Ministers over there have to agree and approve, and I cannot anticipate anything they may have to say. Nevertheless, it seems likely that, with all that has gone before, and with the good will which exists there, as it does here, the matter will now go forward in the Dail just as expeditiously as I hope it will go forward here.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole louse.