In 1986 Eileen married John Clark. The relationship was not a happy one and quickly descended into serious psychological control, threats of violence and many occasions of physical violence. After living in fear for almost ten years, Eileen took her three children and moved to California, then eventually moved to the UK where she and her now adult children settled and put down roots. In her absence, her husband divorced her and took proceedings against her for custody of the children. Eileen was charged with a state-level offence called ‘custodial interference’, a charge that Eileen for a long time believed had been disposed of. Over the years Eileen has remained very frightened that her ex-husband would find her and hurt her.
In 2008, the state authorities in the US became aware that Eileen was in the UK. It was established that ‘custodial interference’ was not an extraditable offence – indeed the state authorities informed Eileen and her US lawyer that they did not seek her return. However, the federal authorities stepped in – we believe following behind-the-scenes pressure from John Clark – and effectively upgraded the charges to something called ‘international parental kidnapping’ – a much more serious charge which carries a prison sentence of up to 3 years.
In 2010, a formal extradition request was made. Eileen tried to appeal against the extradition order through the British courts but her appeal was dismissed. The very strong and compelling evidence that Eileen was a victim of serious domestic violence and abuse was not properly considered by the courts in this country. The approach appears to have been that these matters should be raised in the US court upon her return and were not considered to be relevant in the context of the extradition proceedings.
Liberty took on the case after Eileen had exhausted her appeal rights. We have been shocked to discover the extent of the evidence of domestic abuse and even more shocked to learn that the British courts have not been able to look at this evidence. It is not good enough to say that Eileen can have her day in court in the US – this ignores the traumatic impact that extradition has, in and of itself, particularly on a victim of domestic violence. If Eileen is returned, she may well be denied bail and have to spend many months if not longer in a federal prison. And requiring her to return to face her abuser in court is likely to have devastating psychological consequences for her. Yet she is the victim.
It is the Extradition Act 2003 which has allowed this case to get so far. The Act was initially brought in during the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities, and was meant to deal primarily with terror suspects, not vulnerable mothers fleeing domestic violence. The Act has removed huge swathes of judicial discretion to prevent extradition from taking place where, for example, it is not in the interests of justice. All that remains now is for Eileen to make representations to the Home Secretary that her removal should be blocked on human rights grounds. Liberty will be representing Eileen Clark in relation to those submissions and we will be calling on the Home Secretary, who is also the Equalities Minister, to examine the case carefully and sensibly and with compassion.