UK parliament Select Committee issues critical report on EU-US agreements (1)


The Select Committee on the European Union of the UK House of Lords has issued a
report on the EU-US agreements on extradition and mutual legal assistance. The
Committee's first concern was the failure of the Home Office to provide a non-classified
version of the agreements. Negotiations between the EU and the USA began in the summer
of 2002 and continue until the end of February 2003 (in August 2002 and March 2003
Statewatch published the first draft and then the February version on this site).

The Home Office initially supplied the committee with documents "Confidential" and offered
to give evidence in closed session, however the Committee "refused to scrutinise them in
secret" and on 10 April "took the unprecedented step of.. writing, jointly with the Commons
European Scrutiny Committee, a letter to the EU Presidency" calling for all national
parliaments to be sent "non-classified" version and to be given six week to conduct scrutiny.
The text was not released in a "non-classified" format until 6 May (see: EU: Council
capitulates and releases draft EU-US agreement
) and not deposited in parliament until
13 May. The Home Office Minister, Bob Ainsworth, appeared before the committee on 4
June and told it that the government "will potentially be overriding scrutiny" as they intended
to vote for adoption at the Justice and Home Affairs Council just two days later on 6 June.
The Committee was understandably not impressed and concludes:

"the decision of the Presidency to retain the "confidential" classification of these
Agreements after the negotiations between the EU Member States and the US was
unnecessary and contrary to the democratic accountability that ought to inform
decisions by EU institutions regarding access to documents"

The Committee was equally not impressed by the alleged rational and scope of the
Agreements. Mr Ainsworth argued before the Committee, and in an explanatory
memorandum, that quick agreement was necessary because it was "part of a
counter-terrorism package" covering terrorism and organised crime agreed in September
2001. The Committee notes that "the scope of the Agreements is much broader than
terrorism and organised crime". The penalty threshold in extradition cases was set at
possible sentences of just 12 months and for the provisions of mutual assistance where a
person is "suspected or charged with a criminal offence" and that "generally speaking mutual
legal assistance arrangements may thus apply without any penalty threshold to any offence".
The Committee concludes:

"In short, while the Agreements may have been promoted by terrorist activity they
are not confined to or focussed on offences in that category" (para 18)

The Committee's findings on the extradition agreement

The report is critical of three aspects of the extradition agreement. First because "there is no
substantive provision in the Agreement explicitly regulating instances in which there may be a
ECHR ban on extradition". Although the Minister tried to reassure the Committee they say,
not just in this Agreement but for future Agreements which have to be consistent with this
one (eg: the planned Agreement on civil law), that:

"it would be preferable.. if the Agreement explicitly provided for the possibility of
extradition being refused on ECHR grounds, as the Convention forms an integral
part of Union law"

Second, on the issue of extradition in cases where the death penalty may result. The
Committee noted that the initial EU negotiating mandate sought to get a guarantee of the
non-imposition of capital punishment sentences but the EU side gave ground because "some
[US] state courts were oblig

 

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