» Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Natwest Three

Asked what the hope was for getting bail and whether it would be in the US or UK, the PMOS said that bail, as it would be here, was fundamentally a decision for the court to take. The Attorney General had ascertained with his counterparts in the US that the prosecution were not going to oppose bail. This was an important point, but the conditions of any bail were a matter for the court to decide. Asked whether the government would regard bail to the US as a problem, the PMOS said that he was reluctant to be drawn into hypothecating about what might or might not happen. It was, however, important that people understood the efforts that the government had made to ascertain whether the prosecution would be opposing bail. Asked whether the government had offered any assurances for bail, the PMOS said it was not for the government or the Attorney General to decide the precise conditions of bail here.
Similarly it was not for the US government to set bail conditions in the US. It was a matter for the court. That said the government would be following developments very closely. Asked whether the government was prepared to offer assurances, the PMOS repeated that the government would be following the case very carefully, but we had to recognise that it was for the court to set the conditions and for the court to decide about where people would stay on bail conditions. Asked whether the Attorney General had raised the impact of staying in the US with his US counterparts, the PMOS said, as the Prime Minister had made clear last week, that we had said that we recognised the concern that these people should not be discriminated against whilst waiting trial because they came from the outside the US. It had been important for the government to establish whether the prosecution was going to oppose bail of any kind, but bail conditions remained a matter for the court. Asked whether the government would be represented in the courtroom, the PMOS said that he would not get into designating personnel but they would not be surprised to hear that the government would be following proceedings very closely.

Asked whether the Prime Minister thought it was ok for the Solicitor General to have called them the Enron three, the PMOS said that what was important was that we recognised that the US court had decided that there was a case to answer, that the high court here had decided that the extradition was proper, the Attorney General had discussed the case with Treasury Counsel and as the Prime Minister had indicated at PMQs even if the burden of proof had been prima facie counsel still believed there would have been a case to answer.

Asked why if neither side had ratified the treaty were we honouring it, the PMOS said that he thought he must have explained this a dozen times already this week so apologies to anyone who had heard it that many times already. The treaty made no difference to the burden of proof required for extradition. The burden of proof had been set in the 2003 Extradition Act when we had ended the higher standard of proof required by the US for extradition from the UK, Previous extradition arrangements had discriminated against the US. We had now got to a situation where we treated the US in exactly the same way as we treated 48 other countries – this included for example New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Albania and 24 EU countries. The treaty updated the range of offences that each country could extradite for, taking into account modern crimes such as Internet offences. Neither side had ratified the treaty. The treaty, however, did not affect the evidential requirements for extradition – the burden of proof. As the Attorney General had made clear, as Treasury Counsel had made clear, and as the Prime Minister had made clear the burden of proof was roughly the same for the US as for the UK and 48 other countries. The treaty did not affect the essential argument over extradition at the heart of this case.

Asked whether the government was planning to make any representations about where bail could be served, the PMOS said that it was not for us to tell an American court where it said people could be bailed. We could, and had made representations to ensure that people from this country were not discriminated against or treated differently from US citizens. We had recognised that there was a genuine concern that because of the complexity of cases like this that there was likely to be a lengthy pre-trial period and therefore, like US citizens, they should not spend that time in prison. The government would not, however, get involved in expressing a view on where that bail should be just as a UK court would not expect a US government to express a view if the situation were reversed.

Put that this was all in contravention of the 1969 treaty, the PMOS said that the government had passed a domestic law called the 2003 Extradition Act which modernised our extradition arrangements with some 50 countries including the United States. The Attorney General and the Treasury legal counsel, all of whom had considerable legal experience, viewed this as acceptable. Asked whether the government was acknowledging that the burden was not exactly the same when it said the burden of proof was roughly the same, the PMOS said it was not an acknowledgement of that but the days where this country could dictate precise legal language to the world were long gone. Asked whether clearing up the bail arrangement would be the end of the government’s involvement, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister believed that the extradition was proper, it had been tested in the US courts and tested in the UK courts, all along he had indicated that he was primarily concerned about ensuring there was no discrimination.

Asked if there was a comment on the death of Neil Coulbeck, the PMOS said this was not the appropriate time to comment as the police had not yet commented.

Briefing took place at 12:00 | Search for related news

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