The following MPs spoke during the debate in favour of the motion. Those who raised Babar Ahmad’s case are indicated by an asterisk:
Steven Baker (Wycombe, Conservative) *
David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, Labour)
Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton, Conservative)
Robert Buckland (South Swindon, Conservative)
Conor Burns (Bournemouth West, Conservative)
David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate, Conservative)
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour) *
Michael Crockart (Edinburgh West, Liberal Democrat) *
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden, Conservative)
Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)
Richard Drax (South Dorset, Conservative)
Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative)
Hywel Francis (Aberavon, Labour)
Richard Fuller (Bedford, Conservative) *
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley, Liberal Democrat)
Lindsay Hoyle (Deputy Speaker; Chorley, Labour)
Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West, Conservative)
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green) *
Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak, Labour) *
Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire, Conservative)
Richard Ottaway (Croydon South, Conservative)
Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative) *
Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative)
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset, Conservative)
Andrew Smith (Oxford East, Labour) *
Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative)
Stephen Timms (East Ham, Labour) *
The following MPs spoke against the motion:
Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour) *
Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife, Labour)
Michael Ellis (Northampton North, Conservative)
Damian Green (Minister of State (Immigration), Home Office; Ashford, Conservative) *
The debate was also attended by:
Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South, Labour)
Mike Gapes (Ilford South, Labour)
Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
Dawn Primarolo (Deputy Speaker; Bristol South, Labour)
George Young (Leader of the House of Commons, House of Commons; North West Hampshire, Conservative)
Highlights from the Debate
That this House
calls upon the Government to reform the UK’s extradition arrangements to strengthen the protection of British citizens by introducing as a matter of urgency a Bill to enact the safeguards recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its Fifteenth Report, HC 767, and by pursuing such amendments to the UK-US Extradition Treaty 2003 and the EU Council Framework Decision 2002 on the European Arrest Warrant as are necessary in order to give effect to such recommendations.
Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak, Labour) I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his efforts to secure the debate. Does he agree that whatever the outcome of the debate tonight, it would be helpful if the Government Front-Bench team gave us an update on the Gary McKinnon and Babar Ahmad cases, given that they have been so closely involved in them in the past?
Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative) I thank the hon. Gentleman. It would certainly be useful to have an update on the cases that have attracted so much limelight and controversy. More generally, we ought to have some discretion in this country to prosecute such cross-border cases here. Jurisdiction ought to be decided transparently, by independent courts, according to clear legal rules, not by prosecutors haggling behind closed doors. That is why the idea of guidelines for prosecutors does not go far enough. Of course, the legislation is already in place under the Police and Justice Act 2006. Let us bring it into force and take the political heat out of these cases, which I respectfully suggest would be in the interests of both countries. The previous Government enacted that legislation, so it is difficult to understand why Labour Front Benchers might seek to block it by opposing the motion.
Stephen Timms (East Ham, Labour) Many constituents have raised with me the Babar Ahmad case, which my hon. Friend Steve McCabe mentioned. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify what effect he understands his motion, if agreed to, will have on pending cases, as opposed to future cases?
Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative) I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. The short answer is that it is not clear. There has been talk about whether it might have some impact on the Babar Ahmad case, and indeed the Gary McKinnon case, but the truth is that it is not clear, and from this position I cannot give legal advice on individual cases.
Steven Baker (Wycombe, Conservative) My hon. Friend makes his case with great erudition and I have every admiration for him, but I would like to return to something he said earlier about the practical import of the matter. Does he agree that, whatever the measure’s impact, it is essential that never again must anyone spend seven years in prison awaiting extradition?
Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative) My hon. Friend is of course right. That must be a point of principle, even when serious allegations have been laid. The proposed change in the law might not even necessitate amendment of the treaty. Nevertheless, given its disproportionate value to our American friends, it is inconceivable that they would refuse if pressed to change the treaty. I also note that in the US’s extradition treaties with Brazil, Mexico and Australia, to name a few, those countries retain the right to decline extradition in those and far wider circumstances as it affects their nationals. Is it so unreasonable for Britain, a stalwart ally, to ask for that rather modest adjustment?
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green) With regard to an earlier intervention, it might be helpful to the House if I explained that the legal advice I have received—I know that there is plenty of legal advice on all sides—indicates that if it can be demonstrated that there were original flaws in the Babar Ahmad case, as I believe it can, the outcome of the vote could be particularly relevant to that case.
David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, Labour) On the American issue, however, I shall talk about not just balance, but the rule of law, because we must have sensible arrangements that do not rest on whether we think an individual’s case is a good one. The Americans quite rightly put to me, “What about Abu Hamza? Whose hands are going up for a type 1 diabetic who is a double amputee, and for his associate, who is alleged to be bipolar? Who feels they ought to run such campaigns on their behalf to stop extradition?” How do the United States see the issue when they are trying to ensure that principles are applied and a precedent not set which would then create complete havoc in the justice system? The rule of law has to apply equally and sensitively, but it has to include rules to which we can all adhere.
The NatWest three, or the Enron three as the Americans prefer to call them, were totally innocent according to their campaigns, and even I began to be convinced that they were, until of course they reached the United States and pleaded guilty.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley, Liberal Democrat) The Enron three told me that if they pleaded not guilty in America and were found guilty they would get 35 years, but that if they pleaded guilty they would get five years. They were concerned about being forced into pleading guilty in America.
David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, Labour) With an agreement between prosecuting authorities, it would be perfectly feasible to use video conferencing so that the accused could not only take part in the trial and be questioned, but view the trial and, if found guilty, serve their sentence in a friendly state, where everyone agreed that conditions were acceptable. Let us have the further review on the back of Scott Baker. We have had the review that people wanted, and they do not like it. By all means let us keep reviewing it, but let us do so with a degree of common sense and balance, in the spirit of this debate.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden, Conservative) There is a balance between justice and security, but security without justice is a very fragile security. It is our job to defend our lives and way of life, and in this respect I do not think that we have done so…
Let me make a simple point. In this country, we presume innocence. That has all sorts of implications that we do not think about most of the time. For example, it means that unless there is a threat to a jury, an ongoing threat to the public, or a risk of absconding, we generally give bail—we do not imprison people who are awaiting trial if we can avoid it. If we do imprison someone, we put them on remand, where they are treated as innocent. They wear their own clothes; they are not made to work; they are called “Sir”: all sorts of things apply to prisoners on remand that do not apply to other prisoners, either in this country or, indeed, abroad. The presumption of innocence has a distinct effect on how we treat people.
Let us compare that with people who are extradited. They feel as though they have been deported. They are in a foreign prison, often with lower standards; my hon. Friend referred to that in terms of Greece. They are not only in a different culture, but often surrounded by people speaking a different language. They are, in effect, in psychological isolation; one might think of it as psychological solitary. They are often thousands of miles away from their family. They are viewed as an alien in the institution in which they are held. That, of itself, is a very serious punishment of people we are presuming innocent at this stage of the process.
In addition, such people face a different justice system; I will describe it only as lightly as that. As was alluded to in the context of the NatWest three, this is a justice system that is not above saying, “Here is a plea bargain. Either you plead guilty or you’re going to stay in this nasty Texan jail for the next two years while we think up the case against you.” That is different from what they face here—and, frankly, I do not think that it is justice. As worst, it is a justice system that is actually corrupt, as we have seen in Greece. Although I understand the ex-Home Secretary’s point of view, this was not new to us even when the EAW was created. I had a constituent who was one of the plane spotters and who was locked up, in effect, for political reasons and not given what I would judge to be anything like a fair trial—and, of course, he was tried for doing something that was not illegal in this country. That is, at this stage, how we treat people who are presumed innocent under our system.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley, Liberal Democrat) I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that that supports a strong argument that, where possible, any prosecutions where there are alternative forums should be in the home forum?
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden, Conservative) I entirely agree. That is very much the thrust of what I will say in the next few minutes.
Because of the terrorist problem, the international crime problem, and the pressure for a fast agreement, we have left out some proper protections in the agreements that we have made, particularly with America. Debating this when he was in opposition, the current Attorney-General said that “we chose in the 2003 Act, bizarrely, to get rid of the protection that existed in article 7(1) of the 1957 convention on extradition, which allowed an extradition to be prevented if the person was being sent to an inappropriate forum for the trial…Every other country has that safeguard. The Irish, who regard themselves as close partners and friends of the United States, and who have an extradition arrangement, have a forum clause in their treaty, which enables the question of the appropriate forum to be considered.”—[Hansard, 12 July 2006; Vol. 448, c. 1419.]
He is right. Not only the Irish, but Norway, Switzerland, Holland, France and Germany all have such provision. In fact, the Germans’ law will not allow the extradition of any of their citizens outside their country. Similarly, two Commonwealth countries—Australia and New Zealand, two of America’s closest allies in the war on terror—have total discretion over who among their own nationals they allow to be extradited. The idea that we are somehow at odds with the accepted—and, indeed, acceptable—approach among the western nations in their battle with terrorism is nonsense…
Let me look at the other side—American reciprocity. Much of this is about reciprocity, so how have the Americans behaved? My hon. Friend Richard Ottaway, who is the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, asked how many cases have been refused. I have worked in the murky world of international relations in the Foreign Office, and I know that the number of requests refused is zero—but of course it does not work like that. If one wants to turn something down, one rings up one’s ally and says, “Would you mind withdrawing it?” The US subsequently withdrew 5% of its applications, whereas we withdrew 20% of ours. I wonder why. I do not think that the Americans can claim a very great moral high ground in terms of reciprocity. Indeed, the attitude taken to that by many countries, including Canada, Spain, France, Germany and Italy, has traditionally been much more robust than ours.
So what should we do? My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton has made this point in some detail, so I will be quick. We should change the forum arrangements. They should pay proper attention to not accidentally punishing the innocent or over-punishing those guilty of minor crimes. I do not know why the Americans should think it better for Gary McKinnon to spend two years in an American prison than for two American witnesses to spend two weeks in a hotel in Britain while the case is tried. We should have prima facie evidence requirements so that we do not repeat the Symeou experience of somebody spending a year in a foreign prison before eventually being proven innocent. Finally, we should introduce a filter for cases that are acceptable using dual criminality, seriousness and timeliness, so that justice does not become so heavy handed that it tips over into being injustice.
Hywel Francis (Aberavon, Labour) I remind Members that this debate is about human rights. My purpose is simple: it is to give the motion my full support as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I do so officially on behalf of the Joint Committee. I confirm that the motion embraces all the key recommendations of the Committee’s report, which was adopted unanimously. I got the sense that the two previous contributions endorsed the recommendations of my Committee…
Beyond that, the Government should look carefully at the big fairness and human rights issues on which my Committee is more unequivocal and forthright, such as rebalancing the US-UK treaty, mistaken identity and the use—or, as I would say, the misuse—of the European arrest warrant as an aid to investigation, which is sometimes a travesty of justice…
I cannot recall a time in the decade since I entered the House when there has been such unanimity across the Back Benches. For that unanimity to be achieved on such a major policy area as the human rights of our citizens is gratifying to me as the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, particularly given that extradition engages so many fundamental human rights, such as the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to liberty and security, the prohibition of discrimination, the right to respect for private and family life and, most fundamentally of all, the right to a fair trial. I believe that all Members are united in striving to achieve those fundamental human rights and long may that continue, throughout the length of this Parliament and beyond. I will end, Madam Deputy Speaker, by paraphrasing one of your great heroes and a fellow feminist, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a great champion of human rights. She asked: if we do not defend human rights in our own back yard, how on earth can we fight for human rights universally?
Andrew Smith (Oxford East, Labour) I also wish to add my voice to those of Members who have raised the case of Babar Ahmad. It cannot be acceptable that someone is held without trial for as long as he has been. To pick up on a point that was made earlier, it is encouraging that if there is a change to the law, it will affect pending cases, so he will no longer face the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen to him, or even when he will find out what will happen to him.
Michael Crockart (Edinburgh West, Liberal Democrat) Some 140,538 individuals have added their signature to the “Free Babar Ahmad” e-petition, which is rightly the catalyst for this debate, although the problem is much wider, as has been shown. I am glad that such cross-party support exists—even the Daily Mail, which I do not normally read,supports the campaign—but it was not always so. The Liberal Democrats have been vocal in our criticism of the lopsided extradition arrangements between Britain and the US for many years. Indeed, my hon. Friends the Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) and for Southport (John Pugh) were the only Members to vote against it in a scrutiny Committee. In 2006, we proposed amendments to the Extradition Act 2003 to protect the freedom and fair judicial treatment of British citizens, but, sadly, the previous Government refused to accept them. I am pleased that the Liberal Democrats are acting on this issue in government and that my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Menzies Campbell will lead a Liberal Democrat review of UK-US extradition arrangements. I await the findings of his report with interest.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green) The motion calls on the Government to introduce “as a matter of urgency” a Bill to enact the safeguards recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its recent report. The motion calls for urgent legislation rather than simply legislation because a number of British citizens face the risk of extradition at any moment—this is an urgent issue. Babar Ahmad’s father started a grass-roots e-petition with no formal organisation and no big newspaper backing, but none the less it garnered more than 140,000 signatures.
People signed the petition because they were horrified by the plight of Babar Ahmad, a British citizen who was detained in the UK for more than seven years without charge or trial. He faces extradition to the US with the prospect of solitary confinement for life in super-max conditions, which arguably amount to torture. Babar is not alone in his ordeal. The poet, Talha Ahsan, another UK citizen, is also being held—his case is related to Babar’s—without charge or trial under our shocking extradition arrangements. He is entering his sixth year of imprisonment.
Of course, such asymmetric extradition arrangements do not apply only in terrorism cases, and I put on record my deep concern about the Gary McKinnon case, but I want to focus on the case of Babar Ahmad. I pay tribute to the courage and bravery of the families of Babar and Talha in fighting for justice for their sons, and to their MP, Sadiq Khan, who has worked to support them since their ordeal began.
I have long lobbied for the closure of Guantanamo Bay. As we approach its 10th anniversary, the cases of Talha and Babar remind us that one of the most fearful things about Guantanamo Bay—people being held without charge or trial—is happening on UK soil, right now, at the behest of the US.
In a debate in Westminster Hall last month, Members heard of the appalling circumstances of Babar Ahmad’s arrest in 2003 and the fact that he sustained at least 73 injuries for which he was awarded £60,000 compensation by the High Court in 2009. He is now in his eighth year at a top-security prison without charge. The allegations against him are serious. The US has alleged that Babar was running a website that solicited funds for terrorist organisations, including al-Qaeda and Chechen rebels. That is a grave accusation and there should of course be a trial. Indeed Babar and his family desperately want the case to come to trial so that they can clear his name. They want it to take place in the UK and not in the US partly because Babar is a British citizen and is accused of committing crimes in the UK.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour) I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking up this case and on what she is saying. Does she agree that if Babar Ahmad were to face trial in this country, it is likely that the case would collapse because of the way he has been treated, the conditions under which he has been held and the nature of the accusations that have been made against him throughout?
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green) I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was explaining that Babar wants to stand trial here partly because he is a British citizen and partly because going to the US would separate him from his family, friends, and legal representatives, which would seriously undermine his ability to mount a strong defence.
Interestingly, I have seen extracts from the European Court interim decision on the cases of Babar and Talha. In paragraph 175, it is clear that the European Court has had from the UK Government an acknowledgement that they could be tried here, which runs counter to what is generally asserted. Moreover, Babar’s lawyers also point out that other comparable prosecutions are proceeding in the UK. Nevertheless, in July 2004 and December 2006, the CPS and the Attorney-General declared that there was insufficient evident to charge Babar Ahmad with any criminal offence under UK law and that he should therefore be extradited.
If it is agreed today that there should be a Bill and a new approach, it would be even more essential for there to be new prosecutorial decisions in these very disturbing cases. In Babar Ahmad’s case, it is my understanding that his lawyers are requesting a new prosecutorial decision on the basis that there has not been a proper one to date. That should mean that the changes that we are calling for today need not be retrospective but, rather, current in relation to these new prosecutorial decisions. Those decisions are needed because of these very disturbing cases in which it is clear that things have gone wrong.
The night before the debate on extradition in Westminster Hall, there was a shocking turn of events. Babar’s lawyers received a letter from the CPS that admitted for the first time that it was never given the evidence that was sent to the US, apart from a few documents. The bulk of the evidence was shipped straight to the US by the police. Astoundingly, although we had previously been led to believe that the CPS had viewed all the evidence and judged it insufficient to bring the case to trial in the UK, we now have a confession that it had not even seen all the evidence let alone investigated it properly. Quite simply, a proper decision has not been made on whether a prosecution can go ahead in the UK. That is shocking and it raises serious questions about why evidence that should have been given to the CPS was not and why Babar was not told about it. Who directed and authorised that circumvention of the CPS, apparently in deference to and at the behest of the US? Given the seriousness of what the CPS has told Babar Ahmad’s lawyers, we need not just new prosecutorial decisions but a full public inquiry into what has gone on in this case.
The second major failure of prosecutors relates to human rights. Decisions to prosecute or not to prosecute here should not be relinquished so easily in favour of the US. There are grave human rights implications that have not been properly taken into account. In these cases over whether and where to prosecute and whether to extradite, it is incredibly important for us to understand that the police, the CPS, the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Attorney-General’s office are all bound to consider the implications of the Human Rights Act 1998 in relation to every one of their decisions. That means that it is extremely relevant that concern has already been expressed, both by the courts here and now by the European Court, that the human rights issues that lie at the heart of the ongoing consideration in Strasbourg clearly never even formed part of the CPS’s original decision in Babar’s case and that the evidence was almost immediately conveyed to the US.
That in itself demonstrates that there has been a failure in the fundamental duty of prosecutors, which has not been adequately addressed to date. We cannot and should not tell the CPS who to prosecute, but we can and we should tell it to do its job properly and to insist on it receiving and properly reviewing all the UK evidence.
Let me say a little more about the significance of the current role of the European Court in Babar’s case. The European Court of Human Rights has been wrestling with fundamental issues that relate not just to Babar Ahmad’s case but to many others for the past four years. The final decision is expected imminently. The European Court has been considering two key issues: whether the use of extreme isolation for prisoners in prisons in the US before trial and post-trial amounts to a violation of article 3 of the European convention on human rights—the article prohibiting torture—and whether the length of sentences in the US, in particular the imposition of life imprisonment without parole or of 80 to 100 years, also violates article 3 of the convention. Whether or not the European Court finds for the applicants, in which case the UK cannot extradite them as long as those two potential fates await them, it is shocking that things have come to this. Courts here and the court in Europe have expressed their concern that what faces UK citizens if they are extradited to the US in a number of cases might arguably constitute what the law defines as torture.
These cases raise, in the most fundamental way, a convergence of issues between whether these men should be prosecuted here and the extreme consequence of what would happen to them if they were extradited to the US. Now we have today’s debate. It is a matter of weeks before we hear the result of four years of anxious scrutiny by the European Court of Babar’s case. I ask hon. Members to support the motion that has been tabled today because it is a crucial opportunity for us to send a clear message to say that the extradition laws in this country need to be radically reformed. If we do not do that, we are failing in our most basic duty of protecting British citizens. That is why it is so significant that there has been huge Back-Bench support for this motion, and I hope that it will be demonstrated when it comes to a vote—if it does—later tonight.
Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative) …Furthermore, there are principles surrounding the protection of people’s human rights—the principle that we do not require those domiciled in this country, regardless of whether they are citizens, to be extradited if they might face capital punishment. That was alluded to by Caroline Lucas—although I could not agree with all her remarks about torture.
Two issues have arisen out of the 2003 Act. The first concerns the disparity—or lack of reciprocity—perceived to exist between the arrangements that we have in place for extradition to the United States and the arrangements that the United States has in place for the extradition to this country of those accused of crimes here. Notwithstanding what was said by the then Attorney-General, Baroness Scotland, when the commencement provisions of the 2003 Act were debated in the other place, I agree with the Baker report that there is little difference between the tests applied on this side of the Atlantic and on the other side. Fundamentally, there is no difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion.
What so concerns our constituents—certainly in my constituency—and many lawyers is that whereas in the United States the fourth amendment to the constitution, which requires probable cause to be shown, requires that an extradition request go before a court, there is no such requirement in this country. In those circumstances, it is perceived—I think, perhaps, correctly—that citizens or anybody domiciled in this jurisdiction whose extradition is sought to the United States are being denied a right that they might otherwise have had.
The commencement of the forum provisions contained in the Police and Justice Act 2006, in so far as they amended the 2003 Act, would go some way to meeting these difficulties. I agree with the Joint Committee on Human Rights that it is difficult to understand why those provisions have not been commenced, including by the previous Government. Liberty obtained advice from leading counsel, Edward Fitzgerald and Julian Knowles, that no amendment to the treaty between this country and the United States would be