HL Deb 14 June 1988 vol 498 cc188-93

5.23 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General. The Statement is as follows:

"Warrants were issued at Bow Street Magistrates' Court on 13th May 1988 for the arrest of Patrick McVeigh on charges of conspiracy to cause an explosion and of possession of explosive substances. I duly sent to the Irish Attorney-General on 16th May, following the procedure recently agreed between us for the purposes of the Irish Extradition (Amendment) Act 1987, a note confirming that the Crown Prosecution Service had the clear intention to bring a prosecution, and that they had satisfied themselves that there was sufficient admissible evidence to found a prosecution. I also sent to him a statement of facts and a statement of the relevant law.

"The Irish Attorney-General, in accordance with the new Irish legislation, satisfied himself on the basis of this material that there was indeed an intention to prosecute, based on a sufficiency of admissible evidence. The warrants, with the authority of the Irish Attorney-General, were accordingly endorsed by a Garda commissioner, and Patrick McVeigh was arrested on foot of those warrants on 18th May, upon the occasion of his release from Portlaoise Prison, where he had been serving a sentence of imprisonment.

"Applications for the return of fugitive offenders to the United Kingdom are made by the Irish state solicitor, on behalf of the Irish state. Following McVeigh's arrest discussions accordingly took place between the Crown Prosecution Service and the Irish state solicitor. At the end of a conference with counsel for the Irish state in Dublin on 7th June, the central question remained as to whether the Irish state intended to call English witnesses to establish that the prisoner before the court was the person whose arrest was sought in the warrants. On 9th June the Crown Prosecution Service wrote to the chief state solicitor stating that it was vital that they should hear from him forthwith as to whether English witnesses (and, if so, which) were required to attend the hearing on 13th June.

"The following day a reply was received in writing from the state solicitor that counsel had advised that the evidence already available was sufficient in law to establish the identity of McVeigh for the purpose of the district court hearing and that it was proposed to act on his advice. Accordingly, the evidence of witnesses from Britain to prove his identity would not be required. It was made clear that the Irish Attorney-General had personally considered and concurred in this advice.

"Yesterday the Portlaoise district court considered the Irish state's application for the return of McVeigh to the United Kingdom. The unchallenged evidence led by the Irish state established that the prisoner before the Irish court was Patrick McVeigh, who had been released from Portlaoise Prison on 18th May, and had formerly lived at 18 Forest Street, Belfast. The English warrants expressly related to Patrick McVeigh of Portlaoise prison, formerly of 18 Forest Street, Belfast. The district judge, however, held against the Irish state on the issue of identification. He concluded that the state had not established that the person before the court was the person to whom the English warrants related. He accordingly ordered the release of McVeigh, which duly occurred.

"This result is deeply dismaying. The Crown Prosecution Service have at every stage of these proceedings asked the Irish authorities what evidence the Irish state would require in order to meet the requirements of Irish law. They have meticulously complied with the advice they received. That advice did not occasion surprise, because it was consistent with the requirements previously made by Irish courts, which have never required evidence linking the person named in a warrant to the commission by that person of a specific offence.

"Shortly after yesterday's hearing the Irish Attorney-General telephoned me to express his own disappointment with the result. I expressed to him my own feeling of profound frustration and surprise. We have agreed to consult urgently in the light of yesterday's judgment as to the next steps the Irish state might take in the case of McVeigh, and as to the implications of this decision for the effective machinery for extradition that we both desire."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for repeating the Statement made in another place by the Attorney-General. We are all deeply concerned about the deplorable (and I adopt the word "dismaying") outcome of the proceedings in the case of Patrick McVeigh. However, what is reassuring about the Statement which the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, has read is that all the evidence required of the relevant British authorities had been provided for the purposes of the proceedings and was indeed available to the Irish court. Therefore, I am in the rare position of having to say that I have no criticism of the actions taken by British Government or British officials in this matter. Nevertheless it is right that it should be said.

The Irish Minister of Justice made a statement today in the Dail. It may well be that the noble and learned Lord has a copy of that. He said: The evidence tendered to the Court to identify Patrick McVeigh as the person named in the warrant was in accordance with established norms. It was for this reason that the British prosecuting authorities were informed that further evidence of identification was not required". Therefore it would seem clear that no fault can be placed at the door of the British authorities in regard to this deplorable matter.

As I understand it, it is the case that since the decision was taken both Attorney-Generals—that is, of this country and of Ireland—have been in touch with one another. Indeed, in his statement the Irish Minister said: The British Attorney-General expressed deepest concern at the result of the application. He agreed that the decision not to call evidence of British police officers"— that fact has been criticised on the grounds that they should have remained there until the bitter end— was, in the circumstances of this case, entirely as he would have expected, in the light of experience in previous extradition cases. Both the Attorney-General and the British Attorney-General have agreed to consult one another on the implications of the decision". I take it that the noble and learned Lord can confirm that that intention will be carried out. It is most important that fresh thought should be given to the matter, as I understand that there are further extradition proceedings pending which arise from allegations of commissions of grave offences by various persons now in custody in Northern Ireland, who are awaiting the outcome of future extradition proceedings.

The House will be relieved to learn from the statement of the Minister of Justice that: The Government"— that is the Irish Government— are very deeply concerned that the issue which has arisen as a result of yesterday's court proceedings should be resolved. I wish to inform the House that the most effective action open to the State is being taken immediately. An appeal by way of case stated will be taken to the High Court against the decision of the District Justice". If I may say so, that decision is both right and reassuring. The seriousness with which the Irish authorities are dealing with the grave matter bodes well for the future relations between our two countries.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for repeating the Attorney-General's Statement in which he described a situation which I think that all of us will recognise as being deplorable. I should like to ask him two specific questions. First, will he confirm—as I am quite sure he will—that police officers from the United Kingdom were in fact available to give evidence but that—as he indicated—on the advice of the Irish authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service was told that such evidence would not be required?

Secondly, is he aware that we much welcome, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, said, the decision of the Irish Attorney-General to appeal against the decision of the district court judge? Thirdly, is he further aware that the only people who will be delighted by the outcome of yesterday's decision will be the gunmen of the IRA?

Does the noble and learned Lord know that what happened yesterday will unhappily damage confidence in the Anglo-Irish Agreement—although I hope that will soon be restored—and will also give renewed hope to all those who have been involved in a sustained campaign of terrorist violence both in this country and in Ireland?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for what they have said about the Statement. The noble and learned Lord has found himself in rather a unique position—but for me a most important one—in that he has no criticism to offer of my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General, nor of his officials, in the matter. It is quite clear that they have meticulously followed what they were asked to do.

I confirm that it was agreed between both Attorney-Generals that they should urgently consult and that the action which has been intimated by the Minister of Justice in the Dail is a consequence of that urgent consultation. Further, the Irish state has agreed to take the most urgent and best action open to it to raise the matter. Of course it must be remembered that in Ireland, as in this country, the judiciary is quite distinct from the Government and the Government have plainly shown their attitude to the matter—as both noble Lords pointed out.

I can also confirm, as indeed does the statement, that there were officers available if it had been thought necessary to give evidence on the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, mentioned. However, as stated in the Attorney-General's Statement, the advice given was that the evidence available, and actually used, was sufficient without the necessity of calling anyone else. Moreover, that evidence was in accordance with the experience of the requirements of the Irish courts in previous applications.

The result of the case stated is one which must await the outcome of the appeal. Therefore it would be quite inappropriate for me to say anything in relation to what is a matter for the Irish judiciary. As regards the Anglo-Irish Agreement—referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich—it is fair to say that in this case the attitude displayed by the Irish Government has been shown to be one of the closest co-operation with my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General in seeking the extradition. It seems to me that that fact underlines their desire in this matter that alleged terrorists should be brought to justice. It would not be right for me to say anything more at this juncture. The matter will now proceed to the Superior Court in Ireland and we must await the outcome of its consideration of the matter.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I should like to applaud, if he will allow me to do so, the reticence which my noble and learned friend has shown at this stage in the matter. It would of course be quite inappropriate for someone who sits in his position to criticise any particular member of the independent judiciary of an independent country. However, perhaps I am not quite so constrained as he appropriately is.

Of course we must await, with interest, the result of the pending appeal. However, speaking for myself, I must say that I heard the decision of the district court judge with something approaching incredulity. If it had been in his mind to give effect to what is a pure pedantic technicality—I do not think it was really open to him to do so—he should at least have given the Irish state authorities the opportunity to call the defective evidence which was available. A total failure of natural justice has taken place.

Neither my noble and learned friend nor my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General nor, so far as I can see, the Irish state authorities are to blame; the blame lies where it stands—with the judge who made this deplorable decision.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I rise to share with other noble Lords the serious concerns which they have expressed about this breakdown of agreed law-enforcement procedures between the two sovereign governments; namely, the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland. We have heard the Statement of Her Majesty's Government and the position that they have taken about the incident.

Today we have also heard from my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones about the debate in the Dail, the Parliament of the Irish Republic. It will be generally recognised throughout the whole of Ireland, as well as the United Kingdom, that it is in the best interests of everyone that those laws be upheld by all peace loving people in all parts of these islands.

I urge everyone not to attempt to level or apportion blame until we know all the facts. This was a district court, and people have to live in certain districts. Perhaps I may say no more at present. We cannot allow such things to happen and so I warmly support the Government's decision. I think that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that urgent discussions were to take place. I hope that they will repair the breakdown and clarify and strengthen the necessary extradition procedural arrangements, and perhaps get at the real problem that lay behind the breakdown on this occasion.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone recognised, it is not for me to offer any comment on the judical decision. I have of course told the House that the Attorney-General said that the result was deeply dismaying. I am sure that we can all agree with that. I also mentioned, just to confirm the point, that out of the urgent consultations has come the decision taken on behalf of the Irish state to appeal that decision. We look forward with expectation to the disposal of that matter. It is right for me to emphasise once again the appreciation of my right honourable and learned friend of the action taken by the Irish state in the circumstances with which it was faced by that judicial decision.