IN July 1995 a gas bottle exploded at a Paris Metro station, killing eight and wounding 80.
A key suspect was Rachid Ramda. He was arrested in London in November 1995, on an extradition warrant from the French, accused of funding, and part-organising the plots. He denied any involvement (as he has continued to do).
Mr Ramda was not finally transferred to France until December 2005, ten years after his arrest.
He and his lawyers spent the intervening period making every conceivable legal argument as to why he would never get a fair trial in France. As Home Secretary, the case landed on my desk more than once.
I did everything I could – as my successors did too – to ensure that he did get sent back to France, and he stayed in jail meanwhile in England. We managed this in the end – though at times it was touch and go whether British judges would set Mr Ramda free.
Despite his continued denials, Mr Ramda was convicted by a French court, receiving the maximum 10 year sentence. I thought it was ludicrous that we could allow such challenges to the fairness, not of some banana republic’s legal system, but that of a country – France – at least as advanced as ours. These days, such nonsense couldn’t happen. We have the European Arrest Warrant (EWA), which means that extradition for serious offences in the European Union is now a straightforward matter.
It cuts both ways. Many criminals wanted in the UK have been brought back to face justice – including some in East Lancashire. Before the EWA, some of these could sit it out, for example in the “Costa del Crime”, in Spain, living it up on the proceeds of crime, mocking their victims.
There have inevitably been some problems with the EWA – especially where it has been used for relatively minor offences. They can, and are being sorted out. But they are no reason for turning the clock back to the days when terrorist suspects, or drug barons could avoid paying the penalties for their crimes.