Extradition rules: MPs urge reform of US-UK accord

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MPs have urged the government to reform the UK’s extradition arrangements to better protect British citizens.

During a debate on UK-US extradition treaty, MP Dominic Raab highlighted the case of alleged hacker Gary McKinnon, who is fighting extradition to the US.

A motion backing a call for reform of Britain’s extradition laws was passed without a division.

But immigration minister Damian Green told MPs the government was already considering what action was needed.

Ministers were deciding what to do “to ensure that this country’s extradition arrangements work both efficiently and fairly,” he said.

An independent review of the UK-US extradition treaty earlier this year by the former Court of Appeal judge Sir Scott Baker found no reason to believe it was operating unfairly – a decision currently being studied by Home Secretary Theresa May.

The US ambassador to the UK told MPs last week the existing treaty between the two countries was working well.

‘Rough justice’
MPs have, however, continued to press for action and the backbench debate, secured by Mr Raab, had the backing of more than 40 MPs, including senior Labour and Lib Dem figures.

The motion called for the treaty to be redrafted to enable the government to refuse extradition requests if UK prosecutors have decided against beginning proceedings at home. However, it is not binding on the government.

Critics of the US/UK treaty, agreed between Washington and London in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, say it is easier to extradite people from the UK than the US.

They say the arrangement is not reciprocal because the US does not need to present evidence to a British court to request extradition, while the UK still needs to present evidence to an American court.

The treaty was originally designed to help bring terrorist suspects to justice but campaigners say it is being used to seek extradition for other offences such as fraud and drug-trafficking.

Critics also disapprove of the European Arrest Warrant system (EAW), which allows fast-track extraditions on the assumption that standards of justice are adequate across Europe.

The case of Mr McKinnon, who has Asperger’s syndrome and faces 60 years in jail if found guilty of hacking into US government computer systems, is one of a number cited by MPs as cause for change.

‘Vital opportunity’
Opening the debate on Monday, Mr Raab said: “At root it is about the injustice in despatching someone with Asperger’s syndrome hundreds of miles from home on allegations of computer hacking when he was apparently searching for unidentified flying objects.”

He said Mr McKinnon should not be treated like some “gangland mobster or al-Qaeda mastermind”.

The motion was “not about abolishing extradition, which is vital to international efforts in relation to law enforcement; it’s about whether, in taking the fight to the terrorists and the serious criminals after 9/11, the pendulum swung too far the other way,” he insisted.

Decisions on where suspects should be tried in cross-border cases should be taken openly in court rather than behind closed doors, Mr Raab suggested.

And he added: “In the extradition treaties the US has with Brazil, Mexico, Australia, just to name a few, those countries retain the right to decline extradition in these and far wider circumstances as it affects their nationals. Is it so unreasonable for Britain, a stalwart ally, to ask for this modest adjustment?”

He also attacked the “Kafkaesque” European Arrest Warrant system, saying it was based on an assumption that was a “sham.”

Former shadow home secretary David Davis also told MPs he believed the “draconian” extradition systems with the US were unfair, with the Americans receiving more suspects from Britain than it extradites to the UK.

“Between 2003 and 2009 there were 63 extraditions to the USA. Of those, precisely one was a terrorist,” Mr Davis said.

‘Emotion vs reality’
Labour former home secretary David Blunkett told MPs he had private meetings with US Department of Justice officials to discuss the case and reported back to current Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Ken Clarke on the Americans’ views on whether Mr McKinnon could serve any sentence in the UK.

He told MPs the meetings happened in 2009 – when he reported back to the Labour government – and 2010, but he had kept them confidential.

“These are difficult issues because we shouldn’t make any presumption that somebody would be found guilty,” he said.

The Green party’s Caroline Lucas raised the issue of Babar Ahmad, who has spent seven years in British high-security prisons without trial as he fights extradition to the US on terror allegations.

She said there was a need for a full public inquiry into what had gone on in the case and this was a “crucial opportunity” to send a “very clear message” that reform was needed.

Campaign group Fair Trials International said too many lives had been “torn apart” by Britain’s fast-track extradition system.

“Following this vote, the government must now act to protect against abuse and put justice and fairness back into our laws,” said chief executive Jago Russell.

A recent report by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights suggested that between January 2004 and July 2011 there were 130 requests by the US for people to be extradited from the UK, compared with 54 requests from the UK to the US.

Louis Susman, US ambassador to the UK, has said it is not true that it is easier to extradite someone from the UK than from the US.

He told the Commons foreign affairs committee last week the US had never denied a UK extradition request, and the same standards applied to both countries.

Source: BBC © 2011

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