Letter: Safeguards for extradition reform

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The Independent Online
Sir: I was surprised at your leading article giving support to the Spanish proposals for the reform of extradition procedures in the European Community ('The limits of pragmatism', 7 October). The removal of a person from one country to face criminal charges in another should not be a matter of administrative convenience. Wiping out the current protections, weak as they are, would have a neat bureaucratic logic, but there are a number of serious problems with the proposal.

Safeguards against administrative extradition exist for good reasons. The first is that it is believed that it is wrong to allow the extradition of nationals from Britain and Northern Ireland to countries that have an inadequate or biased criminal justice system. Your leading article assumes that other countries have systems equal to our own. Obviously the reputation of the criminal justice system in this country is at an all-time low, and it would not be surprising if other countries refused to agree to the new proposals because of their concern about their residents being tried in this country. It is partly for this reason that there have been so many problems with extradition from Ireland.

Unfortunately, the criminal justice systems of many other European countries are also seriously deficient. For instance, in many countries very considerable periods will have to be spent on remand before trial, and in many there is a wholly inadequate system of legal aid to pay for lawyers.

There is, of course, a more fundamental problem about extradition and this is because removal is often a punishment in itself. If the person is taken into custody and remains in prison awaiting trial in another country, there are likely to be considerable difficulties in being visited by relatives and friends, apart from the obvious difficulties in communicating with jailers, prison welfare staff and lawyers. This all adds up to considerable isolation and double punishment. There are also likely to be additional problems with understanding court procedures, which are difficult enough to understand in one's own language.

It may be acceptable for these additional punishments to be imposed in serious cases, but it surely cannot be right for someone to have to go through all of this for trivial cases of, say, shoplifting or criminal damage, for which custodial sentences would not ordinarily be imposed. In addition, a substantial number of people extradited will not be convicted at the trial and it seems wrong that they should be forcibly removed if they are unlikely to be convicted and where the evidence is weak.

There should, therefore, be minimum safeguards in any procedure for extradition. The country requesting extradition should have to prove it has sufficient evidence to show that there is a case to answer and that the offence is so serious that a prison sentence is the likely consequence of a finding of guilt. The current rules also provide that extradition should only be available where the alleged offence is a criminal offence in both countries (if not, it is unlikely to be serious). If we accept the importance of allowing asylum for those subject to persecution, we should exercise extreme caution in allowing extradition in cases involving political crimes.

It is surely right that the approach to human rights in Europe must be to level up, and it is disappointing to see you supporting a move in the opposite direction.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN WADHAM

Legal Officer

National Council for

Civil Liberties

London, SE1

8 October

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