Extradition rules: MPs urge reform of US-UK accord

Gary McKinnon Gary McKinnon has been fighting extradition to America on computer hacking charges for six years

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

During a Commons debate, Conservative MP Dominic Raab highlighted the case of alleged hacker Gary McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome and is fighting extradition to the US.

A Commons motion calling for change was passed without the need for a vote.

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 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 also told MPs last week the existing arrangements were working well.

'Rough justice'

But MPs have 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, agreed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, 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.

US/UK extradition rules

  • For the US to agree to extradite someone to the UK there must be evidence accepted by a US judge as showing "probable cause"
  • For the UK to agree to extradite someone to the US there must be evidence accepted by a UK judge as showing "reasonable suspicion"
  • Sir Scott Baker's review said: "In our opinion there is no significant difference between the probably cause test and the reasonable suspicion test"

Critics of the treaty say it is much easier to extradite people from the UK than the US because the US does not need to present evidence to a British court to request extradition.

Conversely, the UK must provide "sufficient evidence to establish probable cause" in order to secure the extradition of an American citizen.

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

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.

'A sham'

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".

Gary McKinnon's mother, Janis Sharp and Jago Russell of Fair Trials International on why they want to see reform of the extradition rules

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?"

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

Mr Raab said that assumption 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.

Babar Ahmad's father, Ashfaq Ahmad, welcomed the outcome of the debate. He said: "We fully support Dr Lucas's call for a full public inquiry into the CPS actions in this case and call on the Attorney General to direct the DPP to review all the evidence against Babar with a view to prosecuting him in the UK."

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.

But Louis Susman, US ambassador to the UK, 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.

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