Britain's Extradition Treaty With The US 'Must Be Changed' Say Home Affairs Committee MPs

The Huffington Post UK  |  By Posted: 30/03/2012 06:46 Updated: 30/03/2012 06:55

Arrangements for extradition between the US and the UK should be radically changed to restore public confidence, said a group of MPs.

The Home Affairs Committee has expressed "serious misgivings", urging the Government to act immediately to deal with growing public unease about the fairness of the US-UK Extradition Treaty.

The committee's inquiry, which began in 2010, took evidence from those who had been involved in the extradition process as defendants, lawyers, campaigners, prosecutors and judges.

Unease has been rising over the fairness of the treaty after a string of high profile controversial extraditions from the UK to America, including Christopher Tappin, Gary McKinnon and Richard O'Dwyer.

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to intervene to deal with the controversy, pledging a review of US-UK extradition arrangements after his visit to America this March. However, some have pointed out that Cameron had already tried to find a "way through" these problems almost two years ago, when he visited President Obama.

The Home Affairs Committee said the extradition treaty should be changed so the same prerequisites apply for extradition from the UK as are in place for extradition to Britain from the USA.

They called for the government to introduce a “forum bar” to extradition, which would allow a judge to decide that a person be tried in the UK in cases where both countries had jurisdiction, where it was in the interests of justice for that to happen.

The government should renegotaite the treaty to introduce an evidence test, according to the MPs. They advised it should be proportionate to the hardship faced by those extradited, whether subsequently convicted or not.

According to a ComRes poll, 83% of MPs agreed or agreed strongly that the forum bar should be introduced. 66% of those polled also agreed or agreed strongly that extradition should only occur if the requesting country first provides evidence in a UK court

The Home Affairs Committee wrote that these changes "will allow for a fair and balanced system of justice between the US and the UK as regards extradition".

The Committee also called for the immediate publication of the evidence suppleid to the Baker Review. They said:

"The secrecy surrounding the evidence is as frustrating as it is inexplicable and it is not helping to improve low public confidence in this matter. The Committee recommends that the Home Secretary publish it immediately"

The Baker Review examined the U.K's extradition arrangements, and concluded there was no imbalance between the US and the U.K.

No. 10 sources said the Home Office was expected respond to the review towards the end of April when Parliament returns from recess.

Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said: "It has now been two and half years since the Prime Minister said the Extradition Act should be reviewed and five months since Scott Baker produced his report. Evidence to the Committee has shown that the current arrangements do not protect the rights of British citizens. The Government must remedy this immediately”.

Neil O'May, partner at law firm Bindmans, told HuffPost that the committee's recommendations would help restore the "unbalanced" extradition treaty between the US and Britain.

"The UK has been deferential to the U.S over extradition", he added, attributing this to "deals done behind closed doors".

David Burrowes MP, who campaigned to save his constituent Gary McKinnon from being extradited, told HuffPost that he welcomed the report.

"If an interest of justice test had been given to the Court in my constituent Gary McKinnon's case, he would have been prosecuted in the UK.

"Any changes to extradition arrangements will unfortunately be too late for Gary McKinnon, but it is not too late for the Home Secretary to now agree that it would be a death sentence to extradite him."

Fair Trials International’s Chief Executive, Jago Russell, said the review was missing the wider point:

“We agree that urgent reforms are needed to restore confidence in our arrangements with the US but this is only part of the problem with our extradition laws. This report ignores the elephant in the room: the European Arrest Warrant, which has far fewer safeguards than the US treaty and affects one hundred times as many people in the UK every year.”

"Fair Trials International has called for reforms to our extradition arrangements with the US, including rectifying the perceived imbalance in the Treaty, and allowing courts to refuse extradition where the more appropriate place for a prosecution is the UK.

"We receive numerous requests for assistance from people facing extradition every year, and our experiences consistently highlight that there are many more cases of injustice caused by the European Arrest Warrant.

"This is not surprising considering the sheer volume of extradition requests coming from Europe. Sadly, despite starting the enquiry 15 months ago and receiving much evidence highlighting problems with the Warrant, today’s report does not address our extradition arrangements with the rest of Europe. It is suggested that will be dealt with later."

A Home Office spokesperson said:

“We thank the Home Affairs Committee for its report on extradition. We will consider the detail of the report and respond shortly.”

Speaking after Liberty’s Extradition Watch public meeting, Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said:

"The Home Affairs Select Committee has one of the most important voices in the House of Commons and people all over Britain will welcome this report.

“From South Yorkshire to the home counties, ordinary families face the devastation of instant extradition without evidence, common sense or compassion. If an autistic man can be branded a cyber-terrorist and a mother fleeing abuse a kidnapper, who is safe from this madness?"

A history of those extradited to the US under the current treaty arrangements:

Christopher Tappin
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Retired businessman Christopher Tappin was extradited to the US last month for allegedly selling batteries for Iranian missiles, charges he denies
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