First test for 'fast-track' extradition

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The Independent Online

Abu Hamza is the first terror suspect to face extradition under controversial fast-track procedures agreed between Britain and America last year.

Abu Hamza is the first terror suspect to face extradition under controversial fast-track procedures agreed between Britain and America last year.

But lawyers say the process could still run into next year and cost hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal aid.

Under the new rules, the US administration does not have to produce prima facie evidence of an alleged offence. Instead, US officials must provide a detailed statement of their complaint. However, Mr Hamza's lawyers will have two chances to appeal, resulting in the legal process stretching over several months.

Deciding Mr Hamza's fate in the first instance will be the district judge, Timothy Workman, who will preside over proceedings at Bow Street magistrates' court, which will sit at Belmarsh prison in this instance. If he allows the extradition, Mr Hamza is permitted to bring an appeal to the Divisional Court. If that fails the case goes to David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, and if he allows the extradition, Mr Hamza's lawyers can appeal to the High Court.

Should Mr Hamza be extradited to America he will then face trial. However, he will not face the death penalty. A Home Office spokesman said that the Home Secretary must not order extradition "unless he receives adequate written assurances that a death penalty will not be imposed or if imposed will not be carried out." John Ashcroft, the US Attorney General, is expected to give such an assurance.

Last year Britain received 24 extradition applications from America, many of them terrorist related. Before the introduction of the new treaty it usually took over a year to extradite someone from the UK to the US.

Mr Blunkett said of the new treaty: "It will mean much closer co-operation and cut out much of the paperwork which has led to unnecessary delays in the current system."