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Extradition treaty review will take a year

A review of Britain's extradition treaty with the US and other jurisdictions will not be completed until the end of next summer, the Home Secretary announced yesterday. The Coalition's inquiry would consider whether the UK-US treaty was "unbalanced" and would also look at the breadth of the Home Secretary's discretion to intervene in cases, Theresa May said.

The review, conducted by a panel of experts selected by the Home Office, will examine whether judges should be given powers to bar extradition and deal with some cases in British courts. Existing legislation allows the US and European Union countries to have British citizens arrested and sent for trial abroad without presenting the level of evidence that would be needed for a prosecution in the UK.

The panel will examine whether the Extradition Act and European Arrest Warrant are being used to unfairly pursue Britons. It follows the case of Gary McKinnon, a Scot who faces decades in a US jail for computer hacking crimes allegedly committed at his north London home. There has also been alarm at the use of European warrants to send people to countries with legal systems less robust than the UK's, and where they can face years locked up on remand.

Last night, the former home secretary David Blunkett, who signed the Extradition Act and has admitted he may have "given too much away" to the Americans, said that sensible discussions with Britain's extradition partners could resolve "any irritants quite speedily".

But he said Ms May's announcement of the scope of the review appeared "to kick these issues into the long grass" because the panel will not report until the end of next summer.

Shami Chakrabarti, of the civil rights group Liberty, also raised concerns about the time the review will take, saying: "A number of hard cases could be more urgently addressed by activating a 'forum' provision that has sat dormant on the statute book for four years."

By activating these provisions now, "judges would have the discretion to protect people who should most obviously be dealt with at home from being shunted off to Europe, the US or anywhere else", she added.