Another day, another Extradition injustice

13 January 2012

Author: 
Sabina Frediani, Campaigns Co-Ordinator

Westminster Magistrates’ decision that student Richard O’Dwyer can be extradited to the US on piracy charges is yet another reminder of how unfair our Extradition laws have become.

Richard is accused of copyright infringement by American authorities for hosting a website offering links to downloadable pirate films and TV shows. He built the site from his Sheffield bedroom. His computer server wasn’t even US-based. Still Richard is set to be hauled across the Atlantic to stand trial.

The news follows this morning’s High Court ruling that retired businessman and all-Kent Golf Club Union president Christopher Tappin will also face extradition to the US. The plight of Richard and Christopher are the latest in a long line of injustice for which we have the Extradition Act 2003 to thank.

If ever there was a piece of legislation in need of overhaul, this is it. Changes introduced by the Act have removed essential safeguards and we’ve been left with an unfair and virtually automatic process, lopsided in favour of the US, which bypasses British justice safeguards.

Liberty believes a basic case should be made before a UK court before anyone is sent to face trial abroad. If a significant portion of the alleged criminal conduct took place here, a British court should decide if it’s in the interests of justice to extradite. Further, no-one should be extradited for actions not illegal in the UK.

In 2006 amendments were made to the Act that would introduce a vital safeguard. The ‘forum bar’ gives our courts the discretion to stop extradition if the alleged criminal conduct occurred in Britain. If in force, such a provision could allow UK judges to halt the extradition of Richard and Christopher, amongst others. There’s nothing preventing the Government from activating it, yet frustratingly it remains dormant.

Sadly the long-awaited Baker Review of our extradition arrangements, published last autumn, was a baffling whitewash. Somehow it concluded that the current system is fair, and despite the evidence to the contrary that Britain need not implement the forum bar.

The Review’s findings led MPs from across the board to call on ministers to improve extradition laws in a Commons debate in December. Given today’s developments we hope the Government will now finally listen to such a large and vociferous movement for change.

Action from the Coalition is also vital for Gary McKinnon. Gary, who has Asperger’s syndrome, is accused of hacking into Pentagon and NASA systems. Again, the alleged offence took place here – from Gary’s computer in London – but still he faces the ordeal of extradition to the States.

His mother Janis Sharp has now launched ‘Poetic Justice for Gary’, aimed at raising awareness of her son’s ordeal. Gary’s supporters can write a poem or short prose, reminding him he has not been forgotten. For more information, visit www.extraditionwatch.co.uk and go to the ‘Take Action Now’ section.