§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they will reconsider on humanitarian grounds their decision to extradite Sue Hagan and Sally Croft to the United States.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, the decision to order the surrender of Miss Hagan and Miss Croft was taken by the Secretary of State only after the most careful consideration of the representations which were made on their behalf. Miss 1205 Hagan and Miss Croft exercised their right to challenge the decision by way of an application for judicial review.
The Divisional Court dismissed their application on 15th December 1993. They then petitioned for leave to appeal to your Lordships' House against the decision of the Divisional Court. Their petition was refused on 21st March. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is satisfied that the proper procedures have been fully complied with.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed reply. It may well be that the proper procedures have been applied. However, is the noble Earl aware of the widening and deepening concern regarding the action of the Home Secretary in allowing those two ladies to be deported? Does the Minister agree that it is the case that they have not lived in America for eight years; that they are domiciled over here; and that they are both gainfully employed? Is he further aware that I have before me an extensive letter that was written to the Home Secretary on behalf of the two ladies by one of the most esteemed legal authorities in the land—namely, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman? The letter ends as follows:These factors, individually as well as collectively, constitute a very real risk of miscarriage of justice if the ladies are brought to trial in Oregon—or indeed elsewhere in the USA.I would submit that you would be putting these two accused to an unacceptable risk of injustice if you were to allow their extradition. It is not safe to take the risk".How can Home Secretaries dismiss the views of someone like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman?
In view of the lengthy and detailed discussions on this subject, which I believe are needed to convince the public, on the concept that we should deliver two ladies to American marshals to be handcuffed, I have put down an Unstarred Question—
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
—for debate as soon as we return after the Easter Recess. Will the Minister ask the Home Secretary to delay the deportation, which I understand is to take place next week, until after we have had a chance—
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
—in this House to learn more about what is taking place in this unfortunate instance?
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. This case occurred some eight or nine years ago. But offences are not time-barred from prosecution in the United States. He referred to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary did consider the noble and learned Lord's views.
There is a practice for dealing with extradition cases. When a country asks for extradition the procedures for committal are the same as normal committal proceedings in English domestic cases. They take place at Bow Street under a stipendiary magistrate, who has to consider the evidence to see whether there is a prima 1206 facie case. He did so. The test is then, on the evidence before the magistrate, whether, had the alleged offence been committed in the United Kingdom, a Crown Court could convict. If the magistrate is satisfied that there is a prima facie case against the accused, he has to commit them to custody. He did so. The Home Secretary cannot intervene for up to 15 days in order to allow the fugitives to apply for habeas corpus. They did apply for it. That is heard by the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court. That happened in this case. If the decision is right, the court would dismiss the application for habeas corpus. It did so. The fugitive can then ask for leave to appeal to the House of Lords. They did so. If the Queen's Bench refuses leave to appeal, the applicant can petition the House of Lords directly. They did so; and the House of Lords refused the application.
Then, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has the unfettered discretion, under the extradition Act, to decide what to do. Under those circumstances he decided to extradite the individuals. They can then apply for judicial review on that decision. They did so; and the decision was made against them. I really do think that the processes of the law have been fully used and that it would be wrong that parliamentary debate should seek to overturn the full processes of the law.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, as the alleged offences were said to have been committed in the United States, that is a country with which Britain has an extradition treaty; that all possible judicial procedures that are available in this country have been taken; and it would therefore be quite wrong and a bad precedent for the matter to be further delayed by discussion in this House?
My Lords, my noble friend is entirely right. The full processes have been gone through, and my right honourable friend is satisfied that the legal processes have been correct. That is why he agreed to the extradition.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, the Minister is of course quite right. The legal processes have been gone through. But at the end of the day it is a matter for the discretion of the Home Secretary as to whether or not he extradites. One of the matters that he has to consider is the question of delay. Another is the question of oppression. A third matter is the question of a possible miscarriage of justice.
I do not know whether the Minister has seen the letter of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Seaman. Perhaps I may quote one sentence from it:I have to say that I think the delay (whatever be the reason or the excuses now put forward) has been intolerable, oppressive, and must enhance the doubts as to the credibility of whatever evidence the prosecution may seek to adduce".Will the Minister agree that those are powerful arguments which ought to be considered? If the two ladies are to be shot across the Atlantic very quickly, this House will not have an opportunity to consider the matter. In all conscience I believe that to ask for time for the House to look at this matter to see whether or not the 1207 Home Secretary has exercised his discretion properly is not an unreasonable request. I hope that the Minister will think about it seriously.
My Lords, first, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, says that nine years is a very long while, and the next moment he says that the House has not had time enough to debate the matter. The fact is that nine years is a long time, and the noble Lord is quite correct when he says that my right honourable friend has discretion. He does have discretion and he has exercised that discretion—
My right honourable friend has absorbed the view of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman. He has also absorbed the view arrived at by the legal processes. I really do not believe that it is right that a debate in Parliament should override the processes of the law.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)
My Lords, 30 minutes has elapsed. I think that we need to move on.