Andrew Mitchell: It is past time the Government renegotiated our extradition treaty with the United States

30 Jul

Andrew Mitchell was International Development Secretary from 2010 to 2012, and is MP for Sutton Coldfield.

Often the political events that really matter involve neither Parliament nor politicians. As the House of Commons packed up for the summer last week, a decision made in a courtroom on the other side of the City of Westminster raised serious questions about the UK’s sovereignty.

There, a judge ruled that the British entrepreneur Mike Lynch should be extradited to the United States because – in short – the US Department of Justice had said that such an extradition should happen.

It didn’t matter that the High Court in London had spent ten months considering allegations against Dr Lynch but not yet handed down its judgement. It didn’t matter that Dr Lynch’s business was based in London. It certainly didn’t matter that he was one of the most successful British businessmen of the last twenty years, with the creation of two massive listed companies to his name – Autonomy and Darktrace.

The only thing that carried any weight, in the end, was the UK’s extradition treaty with the US. This makes it far easier for the US to extradite Britons, than it is for the UK to extradite Americans.

It is unfair. But that is not the sole problem.

The treaty’s original purpose was to be a tool in the fight against terrorism. Today, the majority of extraditions concern non-violent alleged offences as US prosecutors appear to target not simply white-collar criminals in general terms, but businesspeople who have fallen out with corporate America. It has become, in other words, a tool to exert economic pressure on the UK, and some of us are deeply troubled by this.

Summer recess always meant carrying on with politics in a different place. The pandemic has seen my colleagues grow even better at making their views known from their constituencies. All of us are adept at communicating and campaigning remotely and this summer, in the light of that court decision, extradition is a real focus.

It is once again a subject in MPs’ virtual mailbags. The treaty destroys lives, one correspondent wrote to me, and there is an opportunity now to stand up to US whims. I do not see the US as whimsical; it is a vital ally. But I, like many Conservatives, think the extradition system cannot be allowed to stand in its current form.

The UK’s readiness to comply is not an international norm. France, for example, does not extradite its own citizens. Courts there have legal authority to prosecute crimes committed by Frenchmen and women overseas. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are among other “non-extradition” states.

Our arrangements with EU nations, meanwhile, are similarly unbalanced. Twenty European countries are refusing to guarantee that suspected criminals among their own citizens can be extradited to the UK.

For Britain, a moment of truth is upon us. The Home Secretary must now decide whether to agree to the extradition of Dr Lynch. If she grants the extradition he will appeal, but she should, at the very least, delay until a pending judgement in the High Court case that considered the allegations against him is published. She would be wise to go further and suspend all extraditions for those not facing allegations of sexual or violent offences until a review of our entire extradition system is complete.

The American Treaty is a hotch-potch of Tony Blair’s creation that is condemned anew with each fresh, monstrous decision, whether it is the pursuit of computer hacker by Gary McKinnon – who was saved only by Theresa May’s personal intervention – or the blank refusal of the US to yield up Anne Sacoolas, accused of causing the death by dangerous driving of Harry Dunn in Northamptonshire.

It beggars belief that for all the outrage the Treaty remains in place. Many Conservatives are determined that this state of affairs must not remain unchallenged.

The foreign secretary Dominic Raab once argued that while some would sigh at the hassle of renegotiating this extradition agreement, the liberty of our citizens must be put ahead of diplomatic inconvenience. I agree.

Until that renegotiation comes, a risk hangs over citizens working in this country: fall out with a US company and you could be seized by US officials. The situation is bad for business, bad for relations with our closest ally, and overdue for change.

The Forstater case highlights why the role of the courts in politics is worth scrutinising

12 Jun

Regardless of your view of the merits of the case, it feels remarkable that we have reached the point where a judge should ever have been given cause or opportunity to pronounce on whether or not someone’s political views were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

Yet those were the words of Judge James Tayler in the 2019 judgment which propelled Maya Forstater to the front lines of the battle raging between trans activists and ‘gender-critical’ feminists.

As ever when we find the judges cropping up somewhere we might not expect or want them, there are two forces at play.

First, there is the tendency of the judiciary to try and interpret the law in a manner that expands its own power. The Government is currently grappling with the consequences of this tendency: the unionist challenge to the Withdrawal Act and the Irish Protocol rests on a theory of ‘constitutional statutes’ that was invented on the bench.

But whilst conservatives are wont to complain about this, MPs must also shoulder their share of the blame. For it has been Parliament’s wont to pass legislation granting or entrenching rights in broad terms, and then leaving the judges to iron out the fine details as cases emerge. Tayler may have spoken with unwise baldness, in light of Forstater’s successful appeal, but it was MPs who put him in a position to be deciding what views qualified for legal protection.

The Forstater case highlights a link between two things we know are on the Government’s agenda: being seen to take action against some of the ‘woke’ stuff, and restricting the political role of the judiciary. But delivering meaningful, structural change will require far more than ministers wading into the latest row on Twitter, or even withdrawing from Stonewall’s workplace scheme.

At minimum it will mean making sure the planned Judicial Review Bill makes it into the legislative agenda and in a sufficiently meaty form. Some sources suggest that the Prime Minister has ordered that the proposals be watered down – and if the Conservatives aren’t going to do this shortly after winning an 80-seat majority, they’re not going to do it at all.

It could also mean thinking again about the Government’s relationship with the judiciary and the diminished role of the Lord Chancellor. Our editor has previously looked at Robert Buckland’s thinking on this.

But to truly limit the scope of the courts will require something much bigger: a fundamental shift in how Parliament approaches legislation. It means tightly-drafted legislation, and a much more proactive approach to following it up in the event of judicial misinterpretation. It means resisting the urge to farm important decisions out to the judges, and amending existing legislation that does so.

This is hard, detailed work, and to succeed it will require the full attention of an able and determined team over the long term, with the full backing of the Prime Minister. Without it, we can expect the next generation of Tory ministers to end up defending what this generation strikes poses against.

Robert Buckland: More prison places, a domestic abuse bill, tougher sentences. How we’re acting on the people’s priorities.

4 May

Robert Buckland is Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Chancellor, and MP for South Swindon.

As I pound the pavements of Swindon, Birmingham and Hartlepool with fellow Conservatives, one of the key messages I hear from people is the burning need for politicians to act on their priorities.  Having been through the worst peacetime crisis in living memory, communities and families up and down our country want to share in the recovery from Covid, get those jabs as part of our world-beating vaccination programme – and get on with their lives.

The people’s priorities are our priorities, which is why, from the day that Boris Johnson became Prime Minister and asked me to be his Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, we have relentlessly focused on delivering on our justice commitments, as we roll out our pledge to put 20,000 more police officers in place. After over 20 years of direct working experience in the system as a lawyer and part-time judge, I know what has to be done in order to help rebuild public confidence.

Immediately after taking office, we took swift action to ramp up investment in prison building, with over £2.5 billion committed to build an additional 10,000 places, now increased to over £4 billion in the latest Spending Review.

We have installed dozens of new scanners in our prisons, to help combat smuggling and crime. I took decisive steps to end automatic half-way release from prison for serious violent and sexual offenders serving sentences of more than seven years, and increased the range of offences that can be referred to the Court of Appeal for being unacceptably low.

Covid brought unprecedented challenges to the justice system, but with hard work and swift decision-making, we controlled the disease in our prisons, supported our dedicated prison staff and ensured that there was no disorder or dysfunction on the estate. We kept the courts running throughout each lockdown, and were the first in the western world to resume jury trials.

We have used remote technology to run tens of thousands of hearings every week, and have created sixty new Nightingale courtrooms to help deal with the caseload. We have made our courts safer, with investment in perspex and other measures. We have recruited over 1600 extra staff to ensure that the courts run as smoothly as possible.

This is yielding results: the caseload in the Magistrates Courts is being steadily reduced, and in the Crown Court we are now seeing more cases dealt with per week than being received. In the coming year, there will be no limit as to the days the Crown Court can sit, making it clear that our priority is to get cases done so that victims and witnesses aren’t kept waiting. The court recovery plans that I approved last year are bearing fruit, and now we plan to make permanent some of the changes brought about Covid, as we build back stronger.

We did not let the Covid crisis get in the way of the work we are doing to reform justice and to carry out our manifesto pledges. We are reforming probation, with a new national probation service being launched in June, 1000 extra probation officers and a new electronic sobriety tagging programme that is being rolled out across the country.

We have plans to revitalise unpaid work schemes, with an emphasis on visibility and real benefit to local communities. Investment in mental health treatment is being increased, so that alternatives to custody are robust and more likely to work.

During the past year, we passed vital pieces of legislation that mark the beginning of our reforms. The new Sentencing Code makes the law clearer and easier to use, reducing the number of errors and appeals. Helen’s Law is part of our reform of the Parole Board, making it mandatory for the Board to take into account when considering an application for release the applicant’s failure to tell the authorities the whereabouts of their murder victim or the identities of sexually abused victims.

We passed emergency anti-terrorism legislation in the wake of the Fishmongers Hall and Streatham atrocities in order to end automatic early release for a range of terror offences and in the new Counter Terrorism Act, we have lengthened maximum sentences for serious terror offences, created longer licence supervision periods for these offenders and reformed the TPIM (Terrorist Prevention and Investigation Measures) regime to ensure that we are doing all we can to prevent these appalling crimes from happening in the first place.

After I introduced the Domestic Abuse Bill into the Commons just after the general election jointly with the Home Secretary, it has now become law. Yet again, it is the Conservatives who are leading on the protection of the victims of abuse in the home. Those who perpetrate this abuse will no longer be able to cross-examine their victims in person in our civil and family courts, and new Domestic Abuse Prevention Orders will be available to help safeguard more families from this harm.

We have also moved to clarify the law on non-fatal strangulation, so-called “rough sex” defences, revenge pornography and coercive control offences. Conservatives have never hesitated to take decisive action on crime, and our action on domestic abuse is another reflection of this determination.

The new Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, which Labour are opposing at every step, is the next stage in our reforms. We will end automatic halfway release for even more serious violent and sexual offenders, increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from fourteen years to life imprisonment, toughen minimum sentences for house burglary, drug trafficking and knife crime and impose whole life orders for those who commit the premeditated murder of a child. We will increase the maximum that can be imposed by way of curfew hours to further strengthen community sentences too.

Victims of crime deserve a voice, which is why I have introduced a new, clearer and simpler Victims Code which enshrines the need for proper communication and support from the police, prosecution and other agencies. We are going to consult this year on a new Victims Law to further strengthen these important rights.

As we go to the polls to elect 43 Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, the message is clear: elect a Conservative PCC who will work with a Conservative Government that is investing in criminal justice and creating a new framework that will deliver on the people’s priorities.

Arminka Helic: Training on domestic abuse should be mandatory for judges hearing cases involving it. MPs can make this happen.

14 Apr

Baroness Helic is a Conservative Life peer.

For many victims of domestic abuse, the family courts simply aren’t working. Worse than that: they are being undermined and exploited by abusers, as a continuing means of control over their ex-partners. As the Domestic Abuse Bill returns to the House of Commons on Thursday 15, MPs have a chance to fix that – if they approve crucial amendments from the House of Lords.

Three examples give a sense of the problem. A judge said that a survivor “didn’t look like a victim” because she wore make-up to court. A survivor of domestic violence was ordered to respond to two emails a week from her abuser, within 48 hours for each – giving him continued access to and control over her life. One parent was taken to court 27 times in the space of five years by her abuser. Each example shows a lack of understanding and recognition of domestic abuse and coercive control – and shows how the courts can be used to continue it.

There are many cases like this – too many. The family courts’ approach to domestic abuse remains much the same as twenty years ago, and the system is stacked against survivors. The Ministry of Justice’s Harm Panel Review concluded that a “major overhaul” is needed. And it stressed the importance of detailed and specific training on domestic abuse for all participants in the family law system, reviewed by experts, and including a “cultural change programme to introduce and embed reforms”.

That is why I introduced an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill in the House of Lords, which makes training on domestic abuse mandatory for judges hearing cases involving abuse. Domestic abuse affects all aspects of a family court case. It shapes how participants appear in court, the evidence they give and how they give it. It is a critical factor in determining the interests at stake and how safe child contact is arranged. If the courts are to do their job, then judges need to understand domestic abuse and coercive control.

Without a good knowledge and understanding of domestic abuse and the insidious ways it works, the other – very welcome – measures in the Domestic Abuse Bill will not be enough to protect victims, as the Ministry of Justice’s own review recognised. New mechanisms are no help if abuse continues to be overlooked, misunderstood and dismissed. That is why training is necessary. It has to underpin all the measures in the Bill – and all our efforts to tackle domestic abuse

The Government says that it will pursue more training without primary legislation. But as the Harm Panel Review identified, current training is not working. Promising more of it will not achieve the reform which is needed. If Parliament does not kick start that reform, victims will continue to be failed.

Ministers have also said that Parliament should not get involved in the specifics of judicial training. That’s why my amendment ensures that it is still the Judicial College which is ultimately responsible for shaping and delivering the training – but it creates a much more robust framework within which they can do that. It works through judicial systems – but makes sure those systems work.

Putting a requirement for training in law means that we can give shape, meaning and coherence to commitments to improved training for judges. We can ensure scrutiny – the best way to guarantee rigour and effectiveness. And we can guarantee that this is a commitment which gets the resources it needs, and that outlasts individual ministers or funding cycles.

By specifying some of the ground that training must cover, we can ensure that it gives judges and magistrates a thorough grounding in all the different ways domestic abuse can influence a court case, all the ways it should be taken into account when considering a child’s welfare.

By involving the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, as well as the Judicial College, the President of the Family Court and the Head of the Magistrates’ Association, we can ensure high quality training, informed by up-to-date evidence-based knowledge, which equips our judges and magistrates with the skills they need to wrestle with these difficult cases, and provide protection and justice to survivors of abuse.

Family cases are some of the most complex and emotionally challenging anywhere in our courts. In the great majority, judges act with wisdom and compassion. Arguing for more training should not be seen as an attack on them.

Greater understanding of domestic abuse among the judiciary should even save time and resources in the courts, with vexatious litigation spotted sooner, and judges better able to prevent abusers from bringing repeated cases as a means of controlling their victims.

My amendment is backed by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the National and London Victims’ Commissioners, and lawyers and experts from the family court system and the domestic abuse sector. It is backed by the many survivors who tell me how important training is.

One survivor who contacted me recently described how she was not seen as a victim of domestic abuse, because there were no broken bones, no scars, and because was perceived as a “strong and capable woman”. But we know domestic abuse takes many more forms than just the most visible manifestations of violence. It is no good changing our legislation to reflect that if we do not change practice in the courts as well. That requires training – and that training needs to be embedded in law.

We are almost there. My amendment passed in the House of Lords with support from peers of all parties, but it is now returning to the House of Commons. MPs should listen to the stories which I’m sure they hear from survivors. They should listen to experts from the domestic abuse sector. And I hope they will seize the moment to create a court system which works for victims and survivors, not for their abusers.

Matthew Barber: After clearing the court backlog, we need to reform the criminal justice system

19 Mar

Matthew Barber is the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for the Thames Valley. He is currently the Deputy PCC for that area.

Coronavirus has exposed many of the fragilities of the criminal justice system, but the challenges of delivering justice run much deeper.

In recent months, the backload that has emerged as a result of court closures due to lockdown has created stark headlines. More importantly, though, it has thrown fresh light on the fact that even before the pandemic the delays in getting cases to court could be significant.

In the world of criminal justice, it is no good to simply return to “pre-covid” levels of provision; we need to vastly improve on the situation. In the words of Gladstone, justice delayed is justice denied and that is true for all parties, both victims and the accused.

Policing often gets the attention when discussing crime, because the men and women in uniform are literally on the front line of preventing crime and tackling criminals. The arrest however is just the tip of the iceberg and we often neglect the work in investigation, prosecution, and ultimately punishment and rehabilitation. If we want to reduce crime, and improve the protection of victims, we need to ensure that the whole system is working effectively and seamlessly.

The separation between the police and the judicial parts of the process are absolutely appropriate and must be preserved, but whilst the decision-making at each stage needs to be independent, the system needs to be connected. Police and Crime Commissioners are ideally placed to bring about the change that is needed.

In Thames Valley, I chair the Local Criminal Justice Board. These exist in each region and provide the link between all of the agencies involved in delivering justice: the police, Crown Prosecution Service, prison governors, probation, the courts service, victims services, and representatives of the judiciary and defence counsel. Although this body has no formal power, the strong relationships built round this table – these days a virtual table – can deliver real change, both large and small.

It is fair to say that the goodwill and desire to collaborate that we have nurtured in Thames Valley does not seem to be repeated across the whole country. I hear some horror stories of different agencies seemingly working against each other rather than cooperating. That is certainly not the case here. Some of the achievements may seem incredibly small, such as ironing out problems with paperwork between agencies so that prisons understand all of the risks relating to prisoners being transferred to them. Some are significantly larger, such as the successful rollout of video conferencing for use in courts. Coronavirus has unsurprisingly accelerated the use of such technology but it was already embedded and saving police officer time well before the pandemic struck.

We need a whole system approach to deal with criminality from arrest through to reform.

In May 2019, Thames Valley Police launched a programme called Endeavour (an obvious connection with Morse from his old Force) to improve the quality of investigations. With a national shortage of detectives, and a focus on response, the often slow and sometimes unrewarding work of investigations can easily be undervalued. Of course, a large part of policing should be about prevention, but inevitably some crimes will still take place, and the response to these incidents, to find the truth, to hold those responsible to account, really matters. A great deal of police work overlaps with that of other agencies, but one thing only the police are equipped to do is to investigate crime and bring criminals in front of the courts.

Much of the Endeavour programme is about getting the basics right, but also about embracing new technology and dealing with current challenges such as disclosure. Over thirteen workstreams, officers are trained and supported to ensure that investigations are of a higher standard, that they more regularly meet the thresholds for prosecution, and that victims are kept informed of progress. There is still much work to do, particularly on liaison with victims of crime, but it is clear that these efforts are paying off. From April to December last year “positive outcomes” – that’s the jargon for detections – increased by 25.7% across all types of crimes. Serious offences have always been well investigated but this improvement shows a change in the way the bulk of offences are dealt with. It is a trend that must continue.

Progress through the courts is benefitting from new technology. The judiciary, who rightly guard their independence carefully, have engaged with other agencies to ensure that there are more opportunities for victims, witnesses, and police officers to give evidence remotely. Even before coronavirus, the new video suite at HMP Bullingdon reduced the need to transport prisoners to court and therefore reduced delays and costs to the system. One of the biggest frustrations for the public is the issue of sentencing. It is one area where judges have a surprisingly small amount of flexibility. It is an issue for Parliament to resolve, but more clarity about the sentence that will actually be served is essential and part of the solution can be the use of electronic tagging and monitoring to be used as part of a sentence.

Once the jury have delivered their verdict, and a sentence has been handed down, the prison and probation service is by far the most neglected part of the process. Prison should be a place of punishment, but that does not prevent it from also being the start of the process of rehabilitation. We all know that reoffending rates are far too high, and giving people a fresh start in life after prison with the education, treatment and support they need, doesn’t simply help them as individuals, but prevents more people from becoming victims of crime in the future.

Following successful trials, the National Probation Service are about to begin expanding the range of electronic monitoring available, including sobriety tags that can monitor an individual’s consumption of alcohol. These new options can make a massive difference when it comes to ensuring compliance with license terms when someone first leaves prison, and just as importantly it can be an important building block for ex-offenders to find work and a stable home.

In Thames Valley, the Police and Crime Commissioner works closely with several prisons and charitable organisations to provide support for those leaving prison with the aim of reducing reoffending. At the end of 2020 we hosted a virtual conference on the subject that brought together employers who were able to offer opportunities to those leaving prison. Now in 2021 the PCC is leading a bid across Thames Valley to improve provision for prison leavers. The more people who can find a job and a place to live when they return to the community, the more people we can stop from committing crime in the future.

Whilst the focus at the moment is understandably on the backlog in court cases caused by coronavirus there is so much more to do. In Thames Valley the courts are largely up and running as normal, with COVID-secure practices in place, but this is no time for complacency. We must take the opportunity that increased attention on criminal justice gives, in order to improve the entire system from the moment of arrest right through to release and reform.