Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative)

It is a tremendous pleasure and privilege to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, for, I believe, the first time. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for a debate on this subject in Westminster Hall. I welcome the presence and participation of the Immigration Minister and thank him in advance for engaging proactively on such an important issue.

The Home Office is often berated for letting too many people into the United Kingdom, so it is something of a novelty for Ministers to face the reverse criticism. Yet, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, pointed out in its most recent report on extradition, there are flaws in and widespread concerns about our extradition laws. There are concerns about the UK-US extradition treaty of 2003, in which paragraph 3(c) of article 8 sets different evidential thresholds for the two countries. The United States did not ratify the treaty until 2007, but for clarity, my understanding is that it has relied on the lower burden of proof available to it since 2004.

Lawyers can bicker about whether there is a substantive difference between the requirement that the US has to satisfy—the reasonable suspicion test—and the requirement that the UK has to satisfy, which is showing probable cause. The fact is that, in operational terms, since 2004, 24 Britons have been extradited to the United States under the new arrangements, and just one American has been extradited to Britain. In practice, in the way they affect our respective citizens, the arrangements have practically been all one way.

The main problem, in my view—others will speak about the individual cases of their constituents—is the absence of any discretion to allow the UK to decline extradition in cross-border cases, having taken into account the interests of justice. That has been the problem in the case of Gary McKinnon, which is equally, or more about the injustice in dispatching a young man with Asperger’s syndrome hundreds of miles from home on allegations of computer hacking, when he was apparently searching for unidentified flying objects, than about the alleged offence or the evidential threshold. More misfit than terrorist, he should not be equated with some high-level al-Qaeda suspect or gangster.

David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate, Conservative)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this incredibly important debate and on raising the case of my constituent,

Gary McKinnon, at an early stage. My hon. Friend has already mentioned the issue of disparity. Does there not seem to be a self-evident statistical disparity? I understand that, in the past 40 years, three suspected terrorists were extradited from the United States to this country, in comparison with the situation facing Gary McKinnon, who is being prosecuted on the basis of alleged terrorism.

Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative)

I thank my hon. Friend for that historical context, and I certainly accept it. It is important to have a practical, operational background about the numbers of cases, so that the debate does not become a dry, lawyer’s debate about the terms of the treaty or the Extradition Act 2003.

We have legislation in place to inject a dose of common sense and discretion into the McKinnon case and other such cases. The Government ought to bring that into force as a matter of priority.

I understand the US’s concern. I have spoken to officials from the US embassy, and I understand their concerns regarding the treaty’s operation. They make quite strong arguments about the discrepancy between the evidential thresholds. None the less, in the US’s extradition treaty relations with, to name but a few, Brazil, Mexico and Australia, the domestic authorities in those countries have the right to decline extradition in these and much wider circumstances. Why should Britain, a stalwart ally, not request such a modest adjustment?

The problems created by the European arrest warrant have proven to be even more serious and far more widespread than those created by the US treaty. First, there are cases that are exemplified by the case of Andrew Symeou. Andrew, a British student, was whisked off to Greece under a European arrest warrant for involvement in a fight at a night club that left another man dead, which is a serious offence. Andrew was extradited, despite eye-witness accounts that he was not at the club at the time.

Fast-track European Union extradition is based on the assumption that standards of justice are adequate across Europe. We all put our faith in that assumption, but I am afraid that the Symeou case and many others show that that assumption is a sham and a fraud. We cannot understand the operation of the EAW without understanding that fraud—the assumption that all the justice systems operate to a similarly high standard.

Let us look at the Symeou case. Greek police beat identical statements out of witnesses, which were then retracted. Andrew Symeou spent almost a year in squalid prison conditions before being bailed. He was left with a flea-ridden blanket in a cell exposed to a sewer and crawling with cockroaches. He was abused by guards and witnessed another prisoner being beaten to death for drug money. The trial proceeded at a snail’s pace, with court translators who spoke scant English. He was eventually cleared in June this year, after a two-year ordeal, and he was left to re-build his life.

The independent Baker review, commissioned by the coalition to look into the operation of our extradition relations, makes absolutely no recommendations for preventing such horror stories being inflicted on other innocent people—I use the word “innocent” advisedly, although that was clearly the case for Andrew Symeou. The Symeou case highlights the need for a higher evidential threshold—a prima facie test—to militate against the risk that fast-track extradition goes ahead on manifestly tainted evidence or spurious grounds.

The Baker report merely suggests that, over time and with effort, the justice systems and prison conditions across Europe will get better. All of us in the Chamber may well hope for that, but that view is naive at best and reckless at worst. I urge the Government to ignore that legalistic and simplistic analysis and think about what innocent people such as Andrew Symeou actually go through in real life.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on that point about my constituent. I, too, congratulate him on securing the debate.

While in prison, many of Andrew Symeou’s human rights were fundamentally breached. Does my hon. Friend agree that unfortunately, the Scott Baker report clearly believes that, because there is mutual recognition and all EU members have signed up to the European convention on human rights, we are not right to presume any fundamental breaches of human rights?

Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative)

That is exactly the point, and exactly why the assumptions that underwrite the European arrest warrant are fraudulent. I cannot think of any other way of putting it.

It is not good enough just to sit back and hit and hope on the Greek justice system getting better. For one thing, it may be getting worse. Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index is a well regarded measure of standards of justice in national administration and legal systems. On a score of one to 10—one being the most corrupt—Greece has fallen from 4.2 to 3.5 in the past 10 years.

Even if there were grounds for optimism that the Greek justice system would improve over time, which we all hope for, we need to protect our citizens right now—not in five or 10 years’ time, but today. That is why we need an amendment to the European arrest warrant framework decision, a prima facie test, a proportionality safeguard, and the other recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

In fairness to the Baker review, it acknowledged the case for an amendment to the EAW to accommodate a proportionality test, which is one of the other crucial safeguards that are required. However, in other areas, the report ignores, almost wholesale, major flaws in the current arrangements. It casually disregards evidence that shows that warrants are being issued for investigation rather than for prosecution.

That important point is best illustrated by the evidence given by Michael Turner to the Joint Committee. Michael Turner set up a property business in Hungary in 2005. When it failed, as some business ventures do, he paid off his staff, filed for bankruptcy and returned to Britain. Three years later, he was extradited to a Hungarian jail, accused of defrauding on certain administration fees. He was detained in a prison that was formerly run by the KGB. He has now been allowed to return home, but he remains under investigation. At the time of the extradition, the Hungarian authorities assured the UK courts that they were ready to prosecute: that this was not a hit and hope; they were trial ready. Yet six years after the alleged offence took place, Mr Turner has not been charged with any crime whatever. The extradition that threw his life into turmoil was little more than a hit and hope fishing expedition. Again, the Baker report remains oblivious, if not blind, to the basic injustice and the human toll that that kind of ordeal takes on those affected. I am talking about not just the victims but the families.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse, Labour)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. During the course of his research, has he had the chance to look at the case of Babar Ahmad, who is a constituent of my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan, the shadow Justice Secretary? My right hon. Friend is in his place in this Chamber, but protocol restricts him from speaking in this debate. Babar Ahmad has been in detention for seven years. Can the hon. Gentleman qualify the validity of the fact that Babar Ahmad has not been able to be extradited, deported or tried in the UK, but languishes in a detention centre?

Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I want to be careful about what I say about the Babar Ahmad case. We must bear in mind the fact that, whatever the nature of the allegations—some of the individuals in the cases that I have mentioned are plainly and demonstrably innocent—we are dealing with that basic principle of British justice that a person is innocent until proven guilty. We are losing sight of that in this country. Irrespective of the nature of the allegations against Babar Ahmad, and I do not deny for one second that they are grave, the period of pre-trial detention is unacceptably high and should be looked at carefully within the scope of the UK-US treaty in relation to both the “most appropriate forum” safeguard and the other safeguards that might be available.

Jane Ellison (Battersea, Conservative)

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. I wonder whether it is helpful to intervene on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee. As there is such enormous interest in this debate and in the issue of Babar Ahmad, we are more than happy to take further representations from other Back-Bench Members for time in the Chamber to return to this subject in the event that all Members do not get the chance fully to explore the issue today.

Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative)

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith, Labour)

The hon. Lady has partly addressed my point. Given the number of hon. Members present today, does the hon. Gentleman not share my concern that this is a matter that should be debated on the Floor of the House? We need to debate both this issue and the issue of Babar Ahmad, for which an e-petition of more than 140,000 signatures was collected.

Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative)

Certainly, we need to have a debate in Chamber time and on a votable motion. I hope that we can deal with all the individual cases within the scope of the broader policy issue about the UK-US treaty and the European arrest warrant. If there is enough support

Dennis Skinner (Bolsover, Labour)

If we had a vote today, we would carry it, but of course we cannot have one because we are not in the main Chamber. I agree with my hon. Friends who have already expressed the view that we ought to have this debate in the House. The Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Deputy Leader of the House all commented when they were in opposition that they supported what we are here today to do. Therefore, let us get this debate into the main Chamber and then we can carry the vote if they will deliver.

Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative)

I thank the hon. Gentleman; I find myself in the rare position of agreeing wholeheartedly with him.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)

Don’t worry, it won’t last.

Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative)

I am sure that is correct.

Going back to the Baker report and the issue of extradition under the European arrest warrant for the purposes of investigation rather than prosecution, the report effectively denies that EAWs are being used in cases where there is “insufficient evidence”. That is an astonishing conclusion; it is really remarkable. It is just one example of where the Baker review would have been assisted if it had interviewed the victims. It did not do that. However, under the chairmanship of Dr Francis, the Joint Committee on Human Rights did, and we gleaned as a result not just the legal technicalities and the operation but the human toll on those affected, particularly the innocent—but actually everyone. If we stand up for the principles of justice, we stand up for them across the board and the presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of British justice.

The Baker review should have heard the personal side of the trauma endured by Michael and his family. Instead, and this is really disappointing, Michael’s case merely gets a solitary mention in a footnote at the bottom of page 279. The review’s response to the broader issue of whether European arrest warrants are issued for investigations and not prosecutions is really to point out the blindingly obvious. It concludes that it should not happen under the terms of the framework decision, but that will be no comfort to the Turner family, because it does happen and it is happening and it will happen again unless we put a check in place.

Either we can and should amend the Extradition Act 2003 to make it explicit that extradition for investigation is barred or we need to pursue amendment of the framework decision itself. Given that we do so on other grounds, that would be a sensible course to take.

On other occasions, the EAW system has proved truly Kafkaesque for its victims. The case of Deborah Dark, a grandmother of two, best illustrates that. She gave evidence to our Committee. She was acquitted of drug offences in France more than 20 years ago. Without telling her, the French prosecutors appealed and a two-year jail sentence was imposed in her absence. Seventeen years later, on holiday in Turkey, she was stunned to be arrested at gunpoint. After a three-year legal ordeal, French investigators finally dropped the case. Traumatised, Mrs Dark told the Joint Committee:

“I had been walking around for over 20 years as a wanted person and I did not know.”

That major flaw would be remedied by the specific recommendations put forward by the Joint Committee, which considered all such cases and looked at the impact on the victims as well as taking advice on both law and policy from a range of non-governmental organisations.

There are many other victims, such as Edmond Arapi, and many other controversial cases, such as that of Babar Ahmad.

Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands, Conservative)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate and on raising the case of my constituent, Edmond Arapi. Mr Arapi was convicted in his absence of a murder that took place in Italy while he had evidence that he was actually 1,000 miles away in Staffordshire Moorlands. He has since been fully cleared and is currently pressing for compensation. Does my hon. Friend agree that wherever there is a miscarriage of justice, compensation should be paid? It should be paid to compensate the Arapi family for their financial loss and the emotional trauma that they went through.

Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative)

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Compensation should be paid by the country that has made the mistake. The Arapi case shows that a proportionality test, while important, is not the whole game. A charge of murder is very serious; it is not a frivolous allegation. In that case, the facts were completely out of kilter with reality. A prima facie test and some of the other safeguards would enable a basic check to be made before the extradition takes place or the process is completed.

I want to leave time for other MPs to make speeches on specific cases or on the wider policy issues at stake. I have just one final point about the European arrest warrant. It is the most important point and it has been raised by other Members. The EAW blindly assumes mutual trust in the justice systems of many countries deemed substandard if not rotten by the likes of Transparency International and others, but because it does so, innocent British citizens are also denied the full protection of the Human Rights Act and the European convention. For example, it is far harder for an innocent British national to cite disruption of family life, under article 8, as grounds for resisting extradition than it is for a foreign criminal to block deportation on the same grounds. That is a dangerous legal and policy discrepancy that will damage public confidence in our justice system if it is not remedied. There are various flaws in the current arrangements. As I mentioned earlier, I intend to go back to the Backbench Business Committee to ask for a debate in the Chamber on a voteable motion if there is sufficient support for it in our debate today.

I would be very grateful if the Minister could say what progress has been made in considering the conclusions of the Baker review and the recommendations of the JCHR, as well as the views of the numerous non-governmental organisations that have expressed an interest in this subject. In particular, can he give any indication of when the Government are likely to make concrete proposals of their own? In my view, the hit-and-hope counsel of the Baker review is just not good enough and I urge Ministers to be bolder than that. Protection of civil liberties ought to be the glue of this coalition; it ought to be an area of common ground. Indeed, it ought to unite all parties and I am hugely pleased to see so many Members from across the House, from all parties, including the smaller ones, in Westminster Hall today.

We need to implement the recommendations of the JCHR covering both the European arrest warrant and the UK-US treaty, because at the end of the day we can read the Baker review and judges and lawyers can all give their legal opinions, but as elected and accountable law-makers we in this House are charged with the duty of preserving British standards of justice and we have the ultimate responsibility for protecting our citizens.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford, Conservative)

Eleven hon. Members have indicated that they wish to speak in this debate. If everyone can keep their remarks within 10 minutes, I hope that all Members will have the chance to speak.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith, Labour)

Thank you, Mr Rosindell. I will certainly keep within those limits. I only want to make two points essentially, both relevant to the case of Babar Ahmad, which has already been raised, perhaps not surprisingly, in interventions on Mr Raab, who secured the debate. May I be the first to congratulate him on bringing a very important debate to this Chamber with the hope, which I think has been generally expressed today, that there will be a subsequent debate in the main Chamber in which more Members can take part?

I first became acquainted with the Babar Ahmad case five years ago. Members of his family were constituents in my former constituency of Acton. I was going to say former and subsequent constituency of Acton, but that would be to presume many things, including the actions of the Boundary Commission and the electorate. With the Leader of the House here—he is still very well thought of in that constituency, which is quite rare for a Conservative—I will not presume in any way on those lines.

The fact that my initial acquaintance with the Babar Ahmad case was five years ago speaks volumes in itself. Although I no longer represent that area, I still receive a great deal of correspondence about the case. Again, perhaps that is not surprising, given the fact that, as has already been indicated, more than 140,000 individuals have signed the e-petition specifically relating to the case.

I must pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan, who represents the family of Babar Ahmad and who I know has worked tirelessly with them, including Babar Ahmad’s father and other family members who are present today, to ensure that the case remains at the front of everyone’s mind.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South, Labour)

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I too pay tribute to Babar Ahmad’s constituency MP, our right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Justice.

My hon. Friend mentioned that there were 140,000 signatures, and it would be easy to assume that many of the people who supported the petition came from one particular community—the British Muslim community; but is he aware, as I am, that many people across this country who do not come from that background are equally chilled by the experience of Babar Ahmad, particularly as he has been held for seven years?

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith, Labour)

Indeed, and I will go on to discuss that point.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)

Mr Raab, who secured this debate, quite rightly concluded his remarks by saying that the fact that Babar Ahmad has been in prison for so long was damaging to the image and traditions of British justice; that is absolutely true. I think that the media have missed the point; perceptions, particularly in the Muslim community across the whole country, are that Babar Ahmad has been so badly treated because of his faith and religion, suffering terrible abuse as a result. I have had a large number of contacts and e-mails from people who attend local mosques, as well as from people who attend churches and other organisations, and who are deeply concerned that somebody should languish for eight years in prison on a case that cannot be brought to court in this country, all because of the very strange arrangement that we have with the United States. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we do not mend the arrangement, this will be the image of British justice, not what we want it to be?

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith, Labour)

As so often, I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said, and I will discuss the length of incarceration in a moment. However, I think that my hon. Friend was also perhaps alluding to the circumstances of the treatment of Babar Ahmad: he was first arrested in 2003, and by the time he reached the police station he had sustained at least 73 forensically recorded injuries, including bleeding in his ears and urine. Six days later, he was released without charge. As we know, he was subsequently paid £60,000 compensation by the Metropolitan police for the assaults, although there was no apology and, I think, no admission. That would be shocking enough in itself, but of course in August 2004 Babar Ahmad was rearrested and he has remained in custody ever since.

I am addressing my comments effectively to the text of the petition, not to the offences alleged against Babar Ahmad but to the case that is being put by his family and the 140,000 people who have signed the petition, which I shall read as it is fairly short:

“Babar Ahmad is a British Citizen who has been detained in the UK for 7 years without trial fighting extradition to the USA under the controversial no-evidence-required Extradition Act 2003. In June 2011, the Houses of Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights urged the UK government to change the law so that Babar Ahmad’s perpetual threat of extradition is ended without further delay. Since all of the allegations against Babar Ahmad are said to have taken place in the UK, we call upon the British Government to put him on trial in the UK and support British Justice for British Citizens.”

That is the petition that has attracted 140,000 signatures.

The word Kafkaesque is somewhat overused in the media and in Parliament too, but it probably does apply to this case, where somebody has been arrested and held in high-security prisons for seven years without—clearly—any charge and without, as far as we are aware, any intention by the British authorities to charge. Therefore, the petition asks that the British prosecuting authorities take the lead and make a decision to go ahead and charge him here, if there is sufficient evidence to do so.

The excellent report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights that was published in June deals with many of these issues; a key one is forum. We know that there is provision on the statute book that would allow a forum test to be introduced. The introduction of such a test would immediately deal with cases such as that of Babar Ahmad and resolve the issue. Again, I strongly believe that the House should have an opportunity to make a decision on that matter if the Government are not prepared to make that decision.

Babar Ahmad’s situation is intolerable. It has been described by one of the judges who considered the case as an “ordeal”. As I have already said, I am making no comment at all, and indeed the petition makes no comment at all, about the strength of the evidence about the nature of the offences, because that evidence has not been made publicly available. I am making a comment that somebody—a British citizen—has spent seven years in high-security prisons without any charge being brought against them. That fact alone should shock all Members who are present in Westminster Hall today.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough, Labour)

My hon. Friend has stressed the fact that Babar Ahmad has been in prison for seven years. I do not think that everybody who is concerned about his case recognises that that is the equivalent of the time served by someone sentenced to 14 years in prison. According to the sentencing guidelines, that is the kind of sentence issued to someone who is found guilty of grievous bodily harm, or carrying a weapon that they had previously brought to the scene, and so on. Normally, it would be very serious offences that would acquire such a long time in jail.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith, Labour)

I entirely agree and that is why I say, notwithstanding the points that have been made about the need to address the substantive issue as well as individual cases, that Babar Ahmad’s case is unusual for that particular reason. Although I have a great deal of respect and sympathy for other hon. Members who have spoken on behalf of their constituents, or about other issues that have been raised with them, I do not believe that there is any case that is as extreme as Babar Ahmad’s, because of the simple fact that somebody has lost their liberty for that time, which—whatever the outcome—will never be regained.

I conclude on the point that there seems to be general agreement. The number of Members present shows that this debate is worth while, and that it needs to go further if the Government are not prepared to act. I am afraid that there has been some shuffling of responsibility between the Backbench Business Committee and the Government, particularly in relation to the Babar Ahmad petition, which, with 140,000 signatures is, I think, one of the top three. We have had debates on the Floor of the House on important issues that have arisen from petitions with fewer signatures, so there is a clear case for Babar Ahmad’s detention to be debated there too. We can then see both from Members’ contributions and in a vote whether they feel the same antipathy as me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting and others about how the case is proceeding—or rather not proceeding. As things stand, more years could pass without resolution of the case, and we, as people who are here to protect the constitution of this country, should all be deeply ashamed of that. If nobody, including the Backbench Business Committee and the Leader of the House, is able or prepared to deal with the matter, Members collectively should insist that it is debated and voted upon on the Floor of the House.

Richard Drax (South Dorset, Conservative)

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Raab on securing the debate, which is a wonderful opportunity to put our cases. I am here to represent my constituent, Michael Turner, who lives in Corfe Castle in south Dorset, who has for too long been the victim of an outrageous injustice in the form of the European arrest warrant. Let us be clear from the outset that that legislation, flawed though it is, was meant, as I understood it, to deal with terrorism and serious crime.

Michael’s story begins in 2002 when he and a friend set up a marketing company operating out of Budapest. Regrettably, it folded in 2004. The Hungarian authorities allege that the two men acted fraudulently, leaving customers out of pocket to the tune of £18,000—not a huge sum. The two men denied the charge of fraud, and still do. In November 2008, after Hungary had joined the EU and Britain had signed up to the European extradition treaty, the authorities came for Michael.

Here in the UK, Michael fought extradition until 2009, when Mr Justice Collins overruled his appeal in the High Court and ordered the two men to hand themselves over to the Hungarian authorities. Michael’s barrister, Hugh O’Donoghue, was “outraged” at the decision, believing that the European arrest warrant was incorrectly interpreted and used. On Monday 2 November 2009, Michael and his partner went to Gatwick airport voluntarily, and were handed over to Hungarian special forces, who wanted to wear balaclavas to avoid being identified. The two men were assured that they would be allowed to call home as soon as they arrived, but no such call was forthcoming. They were refused bail on the ground that they would abscond—this when they had gone to Hungary voluntarily—and they were locked up, incommunicado, at a police station for three days before being moved to Veniga prison.

Michael’s family had to find a Hungarian lawyer to locate him. Even the Foreign Office did not know where he was, stating, in an e-mail to me, dated 4 November 2009, two days after Michael had been sent

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