Anger at extradition treaty review

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The Independent Online

Campaigners have been left baffled and angry by a long-awaited review of extradition arrangements which found the current treaty between the US and the UK is balanced and fair.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said the treaty is "lopsided" and the Government will now be under pressure to ignore the findings of the report.

Civil rights campaigners, supporters of those facing extradition, MPs, peers, and influential parliamentary committees have all called for the treaty to be renegotiated, saying it puts Britons at a disadvantage.

But retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Scott Baker, who led the review, found the UK-US treaty was not biased against Britons.

He also said proposed measures to allow a judge to refuse extradition where the alleged offence took place wholly or largely in the UK should be ruled out.

It follows a series of high-profile cases, including that of Gary McKinnon, the alleged hacker who has been fighting extradition to the US for years.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said she was "baffled" by the review's findings.

"This is not a court judgment, merely policy advice, and Government cannot abdicate its responsibility to honour the promises of both coalition parties in opposition," she said.

"Britain's rotten extradition system stinks of human rights abuse and rank hypocrisy.

"It's time we stopped parcelling people off around the world like excess baggage and remembered the duty of all governments to protect their people and treat them fairly."

Critics argue that it is unfair for the US to require "sufficient evidence to establish probable cause" before agreeing to extradite anyone to the UK, while Britons are not afforded the same protection.

But today's 486-page report, which has been produced at a cost of about £250,000, said: "There is no practical difference between the information submitted to and from the United States."

The review contradicts the findings of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), which called for the Government to renegotiate the UK's extradition treaty with the United States to ensure British citizens get the same protection as Americans.

Today's review also found that, despite the JCHR's recommendation, judges should not be given the power to refuse extradition requests if the alleged offence took place wholly or largely in the UK.

"We have no evidence that any injustice is being caused by the present arrangements," the review said, adding it would only "create delay and has the potential to generate satellite litigation".

But it called for new "guidance to be drawn up, made public and followed by prosecuting authorities when deciding whether or not to prosecute in the United Kingdom a case involving cross-border criminal conduct".

Sir Scott said: "Most importantly, the panel believes decisions as to which country should prosecute a case should be more open and transparent and made as early as possible."

But he added that the Home Secretary's powers to examine human rights matters arising over extradition proceedings should be transferred to judges.

"We are doubtful whether Parliament either expected or intended that cases such as McKinnon would go back to the Secretary of State for further consideration on human rights grounds," the report said.

Limiting the Home Secretary's role would "remove any perception that decisions are taken for political reasons or influenced by political considerations", it said.

Figures released by Sir Scott showed 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.

Seven US requests were refused by the UK, compared with none of the UK's requests.

But Sir Scott also noted the US population was about five times the size of that of the UK.

Asked about previous claims by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg that the treaty was "lopsided", Sir Scott said the review showed it was "completely balanced and works fairly".

Asked if there would now be pressure on the Government to ignore his report, Sir Scott said: "It's a matter for the Government whether they take on our recommendations. We obviously think they should or we would not have made them."

Home Secretary Theresa May said: "I am very grateful to Sir Scott Baker, Anand Doobay and David Perry for the work they have undertaken on this review. I will consider their recommendations carefully."

The review also said a proportionality requirement needed to be introduced into the European Arrest Warrant system to prevent them from being used "in cases which do not justify the serious consequences".

And it called for "careful but urgent consideration" to bringing back non-means-tested legal aid for extradition proceedings.

"It will promote fairness, assist in reducing the length of the extradition process and remove the burden currently placed on judges, who are frequently required to deal with unrepresented defendants," it said.

It added that if such a move was not possible, "then other steps need urgently to be taken to remedy the present unsatisfactory situation".

US Attorney General Eric Holder, who met the panel during their work on the review, said the "fundamental fairness of the treaty has been demonstrated by its application during the years the treaty has been in force".

"The treaty has enabled us to work closely with our partners in the United Kingdom to pursue the interests of justice in both our nations," he said.

Mr McKinnon's mother Janis Sharp was one campaigner who described the review as a "whitewash".

Dan Hyde, consultant at Cubism Law, said: "Any lawyer worth their salt recognises the test is far lower for the US and skews the arrangement firmly in the US's favour.

"One suspects this review will do little to appease those who recognise the inequality of the arrangements in practice and will likely bring calls for the review to be reviewed."

Former shadow home secretary David Davis said the review was "inexplicable".

"The idea that the UK/US extradition treaty is in any sense symmetrical is in defiance of the facts, and the idea that we should not require prima facie evidence before deporting a British citizen is in defiance of natural justice," he said.

"Both coalition parties promised to correct the systemic injustices of our extradition laws. It is time we delivered on that promise."