Britain’s extradition laws will be changed to include a ‘forum bar’, which would mean a court hearing has to be held to decide whether a person should stand trial in the UK or abroad, Theresa May has announced.
According to Michael Caplan QC, an extradition specialist at Kingsley Napley LLP, the move will allow judges to “determine the fairest jurisdiction for trial.”
Theresa May told MPs it would be specifically designed to ensure it does not fall foul of "delays and satellite litigation."
The move could have helped cases like those of Babar Ahmad’s, whose crimes were committed in Britain.
Julia O'Dwyer, the mother of student Richard O'Dwyer, who faces extradition to the US over copyright charges, told The Huffington Post UK the announcement was what anti-extradition campaigners had been fighting for for years.
"British justice for crimes committed in Britain. That is good, that is what the fight has been for. It won't benefit Richard because knowing the government they won't apply it to current cases. I went to a lawyers' meeting in London several months ago," she said.
But given the change won’t apply to previous cases, she added: "It will help people in the future but it won't help Richard."
A report released last year by parliament's joint committee on Human Rights recommended that the UK should introduce the process.
Conservative MP Dominic Raab, who sits on the committee, told The Huffington Post UK a test would be "right as a matter of British Justice but also important for the UK-US relationship, because it would help to depoliticise these cases and remove a thorn in the side of the special relationship.”
“When you've got cross border cases where all of the alleged conduct took place on UK soil a decision about where a person should face justice should take place in open court, clearly according to UK rules, not by haggling prosecutors negotiating behind closed doors,” he said.
But retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Scott Baker, who carried out a review of extradition proceedings for the government in 2011, has said it could "create delay and has the potential to generate satellite litigation".
The move was welcomed by Melanie Riley from Friends Extradited, who said she was happy the Home Office had "listened", but cautioned on the wording.
"It's all in the wording. If they [the Home Office] say 'you would have to show the majority of the conduct has taken place in the UK’, then that's not a sufficient protection. The devil is in the detail, it depends on how this forum bar is worded but the principle of bringing one in, I very much applaud, and I'm very pleased that they've listened,” she told The Huffington Post UK.
Britain's extradition laws have been criticised for being lopsided, with critics saying the 2003 extradition agreement - designed to fight terrorists in a post-9/11 world should not allow the US to extradite UK citizens for breaking US law, even if the offence was committed in Britain, by a UK citizen.
Fair Trials International’s Chief Executive Jago Russell said currently there was a risk of the US “wielding its diplomatic power to wield long-arm jurisdiction over cases that should be tried in the UK.”
“We need a more principled and transparent approach to deciding on the right forum for trial and a back-stop power for courts to refuse extradition when the country seeking it is clearly that the wrong place to hear the case,” he told The Huffington Post UK.
“The growth of international travel and communications means many alleged crimes could be tried in more than one country but decisions about who should prosecute are currently being made by prosecutors behind closed doors.”