Nick Clegg was last night under pressure to live up to his promises on civil liberties and intervene to prevent computing student Richard O'Dwyer being extradited to the United States.
Mr O'Dwyer, a student at Sheffield Hallam University, close to the Deputy Prime Minister's constituency, faces up to 10 years in jail for running a website which, it is said, enabled visitors to download pirated films and TV programmes – even though he has not committed a criminal offence in the UK.
Mr Clegg, who in opposition campaigned against the extradition to the US of computer hacker Gary MacKinnon, set up a review panel in November, headed by Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader and QC, to look into the "asymmetric" extradition arrangements between the US and UK. These were originally intended to deal with terrorists.
The Deputy Prime Minister has in the past called the treaty "lopsided", and has privately questioned a Government-commissioned review into the arrangements. Yet Mr Clegg remained silent on Mr O'Dwyer's case last night.
Sabina Frediani, campaigns co-ordinator for Liberty, said: "Imagine your child is safe and sound using their computer at home? A university student builds a website in his Sheffield bedroom and now faces being hauled across the Atlantic to stand trial in the US.
"Everyone is vulnerable under the current rotten extradition regime – it takes key decisions out of the hands of British judges, leaving our children exposed to the injustice of instant extradition.
"Having been so vocal in opposition, we expect Nick Clegg to recognise this student's plight and the Government to introduce the safeguards so desperately needed."
At Westminster magistrates' court on Friday, District Judge Quentin Purdy ruled that Mr O'Dwyer, 23, should be extradited because there were "said to be direct consequences of criminal activity by Richard O'Dwyer in the US, albeit by him never leaving the North of England".
Mr O'Dwyer, who is studying software programming, ran his TVShack.net website from a computer in his Sheffield bedroom. He may have committed a civil offence in this country, but his website is, according to the US authorities, illegal under US copyright laws. He faces prosecution by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency for two counts of breaching copyright, which each carry five-year jail terms. Ben Cooper, Mr O'Dwyer's lawyer, argued that the student did not download any pirated material himself and that visitors were simply directed to other sites, a service similar to that offered by Google and Yahoo. The student earned £15,000 per month in advertising revenue, the court heard, before he was arrested in November 2010 by UK police and US officials.
Mr Clegg, in his capacity as Lib Dem leader, set up the panel headed by Sir Menzies following a review into the UK's extradition arrangements by Sir Scott Baker. The Baker review angered civil liberties campaigners because it found the existing treaty between the UK and the US was balanced and fair.
Sir Menzies was asked to examine the difference between "probable cause" and "reasonable suspicion" – which the Baker Review had concluded were not substantially different – and then suggest practical solutions to correct the imbalance between the two nations.
In the past, Mr Clegg has described extradition arrangements between the US and UK as "lopsided".
Sir Menzies told The Independent on Sunday last night: "When the extradition treaty with the US was signed by Britain, it was for the purpose of ensuring the swift transfer of those suspected of terrorism on a reciprocal basis. It was never intended to deal with cases like this, and the US Senate refused to ratify the treaty for some considerable time because of the pressure of the Irish lobby which was unhappy about the idea that alleged Irish terrorists might be transferred to the UK for trial."Reuse content