Peers voted to block the extradition of Britons to the United States last night as ministers faced increasing pressure to halt tomorrow's extradition of the former bankers known as the NatWest Three.
MPs will challenge the Government over the case in the Commons today after the Speaker of the Commons took the highly unusual step of scrapping normal business to grant Liberal Democrat demands for an emergency debate on extradition.
The three former bankers are expected to complete their fast-track extradition to the United States tomorrow to face charges relating to an £11m fraud involving the collapsed US giant Enron. The three deny any criminal conduct, and insist that if there was a case against them it should be tried in England.
Yesterday the House of Lords symbolically defied the Government and voted by 218 to 116 to remove the United States from the list of countries to which Britons can be extradited without a case against them being made.
The vote, on amendments to the Police and Justice Bill, will not affect the cases of David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby.
Peers lined up to condemn the current arrangement, which grants the right to demand the extradition of citizens from each country without presenting prima facie evidence, but has not been ratified by the US Senate - meaning there is no equivalent arrangement for the extradition of Americans to Britain.
Lord Goodhart, the Liberal Democrat frontbencher, called on ministers to halt the extradition of NatWest Three until MPs can debate the change in the autumn.
"This shows just how worried people are about Britain's lopsided extradition arrangements," he said. "The Government should now suspend extraditions to the USA until the House of Commons has had a chance to vote on this important issue. The purpose of these amendments is to prevent serious injustice to people who now face extradition to the US, or may face extradition in the future."
Lord Kingsland, Conservative home affairs spokesman, added: "I believe a signal from your lordships' house would be taken seriously by the US Senate. In November 2003 the Extradition Bill became law, but we are still waiting for the treaty to be ratified by the US. Here we are, two-and-a-half years later, and the US has done nothing about ratification.
"But we have been acting as if the US had ratified that treaty, to the astonishment of a number of Americans. We have been acting on the basis of a treaty that as yet forms no part of international law."
Lord Mayhew of Twysden, a former Conservative attorney general and Northern Ireland secretary, said that the extradition treaty was "a thoroughly unbalanced, unfair and dangerous mess".
The HomeOffice minister, Baroness Scotland, will travel to Washington tomorrow to try to persuade senators to drop their opposition to the US-UK treaty. She insisted the case against the treaty was based on "myths". "There seem to be so many myths that it is difficult to know where to stop," she said, but added: "I will leave the United States in no doubt whatsoever about the concerns about this matter and the passion with which it has been expressed."Reuse content