Jacob Rees-Mogg on UK Extradition Arrangements

5th December, 2011, House of Commons

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con):It is a real privilege to follow my learned hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and to speak in this debate, called by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who is so right to be defending the ancient rights of the British people. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) got it absolutely right when he said that we spend a lot of time talking about the human rights of people in this country until, suddenly, extradition comes up and then—bingo!—they have gone, and they are sacrificed to transportation to a foreign land.

The point that we should focus on is the first principle of why we have such protections for the innocent in the criminal law. We have, as we know, a powerful state. The state provides the police and the prosecuting authority, and the state pays the judges and reimburses the juries, and, because of that great power, the state then feels it is right to put in place protections for the individual who is charged: the right to trial by jury; the right to habeas corpus; and the right to be presumed innocent until found guilty. These are the foundation rights of our criminal justice system and have a history stretching back 1,000 years.

But, when it comes to extradition, people can go to countries that do not have or follow that tradition. We have heard about how it works in Hungary, and the criminal justice system there, so one is a protected British subject if charged here, with all sorts of possible ways of defending oneself, but suddenly, if one comes under the European arrest warrant, one can languish in a dank Hungarian jail, with all those protections removed.

The United States is our greatest and closest ally, and a country with which we want to have the friendliest of relations, but we have already heard about the extraordinary approach it takes to plea bargaining: one may be threatened with 400 years without the option of parole, or if one pleads guilty one gets a week in a resort near Canada, as happened to the man who was prosecuted at the same point as Lord Black of Crossharbour—his noble lordship. One of them was offered an enormously long sentence, and the other was offered a Canadian golf club.

Michael Ellis: We do not have a system of plea bargaining in this country, but does my hon. Friend not accept that people who plead guilty in the United Kingdom’s courts will almost invariably receive a lower sentence than if they are found guilty after trial? There are good public policy reasons why.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: There are, indeed, but that is of a completely different order of magnitude: one gets a little off one’s sentence if one pleads guilty early—rather than being threatened with hundreds of years against a week in a golf club. That does not happen under the British system, but we know that it happened to the man who turned the equivalent of Queen’s evidence against Conrad Black. We know that it happens in the United States system, but we are willing to risk British subjects going over there.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is always worth listening to, even if his arguments are not the strongest of cases. He began by espousing the benefits of English—I must add—history, but surely we share that system with our colonial cousins, so having made great merit of the English judicial system he cannot then criticise our American friends.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. It is up to the hon. Gentleman who takes the intervention, but the Member had only just come in.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: But it is such a pleasure to hear from the hon. Gentleman, and the tone of the House is raised by his gracious presence, so I will respond. Yes, of course we should have a hierarchy of countries to which we feel comfortable extraditing people, and of course New Zealand, Australia and Canada would be very high up on those lists—and the United States would be pretty high up too.

However, I do not think that the ambassador to the Court of St James—the extraordinary plenipotentiary of the United States—behaves in a diplomatic way when he starts telling this House how we ought to consider our business. I like to think what the noise would be in Washington if our ambassador there decided to suggest to the Senate or to the House of Representatives how they ought to conduct their business. Sitting as he does in his grand fortress in Grosvenor square like some Persian satrap, he should not be telling the House of Commons how to conduct her business. Of course we should have friendly extradition arrangements with the United States, but crucially ones that protect the ancient rights of the British subject whereby they should be innocent until proved guilty and should remain within the jurisdiction of this country until evidence is produced against them.

If we are worried about the United States, how much more worried should we be about some European countries, which can, in effect, arrest people and have them removed from this country without so much as a by-your-leave? We are risking people’s freedom and liberty. This House exists to protect the freedoms and the liberties of the British subject. Yes, I know that some of them will be guilty and will deserve severe punishment for the crimes they have committed, but have we not set up our justice system on the basic principle that it is better for 100 guilty men to go free than for one innocent man or, indeed, woman, although women commit fewer crimes—[ Interruption ] It is true; they do—to be imprisoned when innocent? If that is the starting point of our justice system, then surely we ought to apply it when it comes to extradition, and therefore the Government ought to review the arrangements that they have with the United States.

Michael Ellis: Does my hon. Friend give no credence to the fact that in the 500-page Scott Baker report, commissioned by Her Majesty’s Government, eminent jurists came to the conclusion that the imbalance that he is assuming between British and American relations regarding extradition does not exist?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Had my hon. Friend paid closer attention to the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton, he would understand that there are differing views on that. It is well known that, with Government reports, the people are appointed who will provide the report that is wanted. That has been practised over many centuries.

Mr Raab: My hon. Friend is making his case in his usual passionate way, laced with history and forensic analysis. Does he agree that lawyers and judges give their legal opinions, but ultimately it is for accountable and elected lawmakers to decide on these matters?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, we are the ones who must decide what is right for the country, and we must do so on first principles.

Although the American extradition treaty is not entirely satisfactory—I was very much persuaded by my hon. Friend’s introductory remarks—I am much more concerned about the European arrest warrant, which risks the freedom of innocent people in this country. I really would rather that we did not manage to arrest a foreign criminal if the exchange for that was allowing an innocent English person to be transported abroad—[ Interruption. ] Or a Scotsman, a Welshman or a Northern Irishman. I do not particularly want the southern Irish to languish in jails unnecessarily either, but that is not my business. It is therefore important for the Government to reinstate these protections. In fact, it would be quite encouraging if, in our efforts to renegotiate with Europe, we started with this.