HL Deb 12 March 2001 vol 623 cc70-1WA
Lord Dubs

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they intend to publish the review of extradition they announced on 2 March 2000. [HL1185]

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has today published a consultation document entitledThe Law on Extradition: A Review, and copies have been placed in the Library.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced the review to Parliament on 2 March last year in the course of his statement on Senator Pinochet. It is the outcome of an exercise started in 1997 to consider the legislative requirements of two European Union conventions on extradition. However, it developed into a much more extensive inquiry, following the adoption at Tampere in October 1999 of the principle of mutual recognition of judicial decisions by the member states of the European Union.

The consultation document makes far-reaching proposals in relation to all aspects of current extradition law and practice. The greatest changes are proposed in respect of the United Kingdom's procedures for dealing with extradition requests received from member states of the European Union and Schengen states. Our present procedures for dealing with extradition requests from these states contain cumbersome controls and outdated requirements, some of them derived from 19th century extradition legislation. Such procedures are no longer necessary, nor do they provide an efficient means to deal with the growing difficulties caused by organised and international crime.

For these extradition partners a simple backing of warrants procedure is proposed. This would replace the current multi-staged system, in which all extradition requests are examined by both the Secretary of State and the courts, with a single, streamlined hearing before a district judge (Sheriff in Scotland). The documentation required to support an extradition request would also be significantly simplified, to reduce the current burdens placed on our European partners in their efforts to bring fugitives to justice. The proposals retain a statutory right of appeal, in order to ensure that fugitives' rights are protected; but also propose that the grounds for appeal be tightened to eliminate time-consuming delays where fugitives appeal on grounds which are not relevant or are more properly for consideration by the court of trial.

The simplified requirements of a backing of warrants scheme would put the mutual recognition principle into practice in the field of extradition. Mutual recognition may be defined as the judicial decisions of one jurisdiction being recognised as valid in another, with the minimum of formality.

The review recognises that, while major reforms are required to our extradition procedures in respect of out closest neighbours, there is also a clear operational need to reform the procedures for dealing with requests from our extradition partners outside the European Union. Here, a final decision in the case by the Secretary of State would be retained, but there would be a significant reduction in the present duplication of my role and that of the courts in deciding cases, with the aim of making extradition quicker and simpler, while protecting fugitives' fundamental human rights.

The consultation period for the review proposals is three months. Copies are being made widely available to people and organisations with a professional interest in the subject. Members of the public will be able to apply for a copy from the Home Office, or obtain one from the Home Office website at www.homeoffice.gov.uk/oicd/jcu/jcu.htm.

Many of the proposals in the document will require primary legislation to implement, which would take place when the legislative timetable allows.

We welcome comments on the proposals.