Norris loses battle in UK courts against extradition to the US

British Supreme Court rejects claim that trial will breach human rights

The retired chief executive of Morgan Crucible has lost his battle to avoid extradition to the US to face claims that he obstructed justice in relation to price-fixing investigations by the Department of Justice (DoJ).

Ian Norris – who is 67 years old and has health problems – has been fighting the case for more than five years. The latest appeal, lodged last November, claimed that extradition would breach his right to a private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. But the Supreme Court, which is Britain's highest appeal court, unanimously rejected the appeal.

Lord Phillips, the president of the Supreme Court, said that the public interest would be "seriously damaged" if family ties and dependencies such as those of Mr Norris and his wife rendered a defendant immune from extradition to be tried for serious wrongdoing. "It is for this reason that only the gravest effects of interference with family life will be capable of rendering extradition disproportionate to the public interest that it serves," Lord Phillips said. "This is not such a case."

Mr Norris has 14 days to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The case is one of several high- profile tests of the US-UK extradition laws in recent years (see story, right), and Mr Norris's lawyers have maintained throughout that any activities which take place on UK soil should be subject to the UK justice system. Alistair Graham, Mr Norris's solicitor at White & Case, says the Government has stripped British citizens of a "fundamental protection".

"Today we see the results of that as a 67-year-old man, in poor health, is likely to be extradited to the US for activities said to have taken place in the UK and for which no substantive evidence has ever been considered in the UK courts," Mr Graham said yesterday.

Mr Norris was first arrested in London in 2005 on charges of rigging prices in the carbon parts market, with other executives. The US authorities allege that between 1999 and 2001, he authorised the shredding of documents that included evidence of price-fixing from the files of Morgan Crucible companies in Europe, directed another employee to do the same in the US, and agreed with other members of staff to give false accounts to the DoJ investigators.

Mr Norris denies all the allegations, and in 2008 he won a "significant victory" when the House of Lords called a halt to earlier extradition proceedings on the grounds that price-fixing was only made a criminal offence in England and Wales in 2002. The Law Lords ruled that, because the activities Mr Norris is accused of took place between 1999 and 2001, they are not covered by the 2003 Extradition Act governing the procedure between the UK and the US.

But the DoJ refused to let the matter drop, pursuing Mr Norris on the related charges of obstruction of justice instead. After losing his extradition battle on the second round of charges in the lower courts, Mr Norris appealed to the Supreme Court in November. Mr Norris's lawyers claimed that extradition would cause "disproportionate damage" to the health of both Mr Norris himself and his seriously depressed wife.

Mr Norris left Morgan Crucible in 2002, after a battle with prostate cancer. Although this is now in remission, he still has problems and relies on nursing by his wife. He worked for Morgan Crucible, the engineering group, for nearly 30 years.

Why the law is so controversial? Other cases

The long-running legal battle over the extradition of Ian Norris has been keenly watched by the British business community. The controversial extradition treaty between Britain and the US hit the headlines in 2002 when Giles Darby, David Bermingham and Gary Mulgrew – the so-called NatWest Three – were accused of defrauding their employer, Greenwich NatWest, in relation to the collapse of Enron.

During the subsequent court battle, those arguing against extradition maintained that the crime was committed by British citizens living in Britain against a British company, and they should therefore be tried by British courts. They also emphasised the inequality of the extradition system, which does not require the Americans to produce prima facie evidence, for example. The case of Gary McKinnon, a Scot accused of perpetrating the "biggest military computer hack of all time" against the Pentagon, is still ongoing. Mr McKinnon insists he was looking for evidence of a UFO cover-up and did not cause the $800,000 damage to computer networks alleged by US authorities. The Home Secretary signed off Mr McKinnon's extradition late last year, despite lawyers' claims that he has Asperger's syndrome and his health is at risk.