Success for Liberty’s Extradition Watch campaign - Home Secretary announces long overdue review of unfair extradition laws

08 September 2010

Today Liberty welcomed the Home Secretary’s announcement that there will be an independent review into Britain’s extradition laws.

The review, which will cover aspects of the Extradition Act 2003 and the European Arrest Warrant, will assess whether the treaty with America should be amended.

It will also consider whether other countries should be obliged to produce evidence of the alleged crime and if judges should be able to block extradition when an alleged crime has been committed predominantly in the UK.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty said:

"Britain’s rotten extradition system is in urgent need of overhaul and we welcome this much-needed review. No one should be parcelled off to a foreign land without due process or when they could be dealt with here at home - people in the UK have been vulnerable to accusation and transportation across the globe for far too long.”

Liberty, which has long campaigned against unfair extradition laws, has supported the cases of Lotfi Raissi, Andrew Symeou and Gary McKinnon, and last week staged a protest outside the hearing of Kent businessman Christopher Tappin. The human rights group’s Extradition Watch campaign demands:

  • That a person should not be sent to stand trial in a foreign court without a basic case being presented in a British court
  • If the crime is alleged to have occurred in whole or part in the UK, then extradition should not occur if a British court decides it is not in the interests of justice to extradite.
  • A person in the UK should not be extradited for something that is not a crime in the UK

Liberty has also asked the Government to activate a provision in the Extradition Act that would introduce a crucial safeguard into the British system. The “forum amendment" was supported by Coalition parties in opposition and has lain dormant on the statute books for four years. It allows a UK court to consider barring extradition if a significant part of the conduct that led to an alleged crime took place in or from the UK. As the review panel will not report until next summer, the activation of this amendment now could prevent the extradition of people like Gary McKinnon and Christopher Tappin from occurring in the meantime.

Contact: Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831128

NOTES TO EDITORS

1) Photographs of Liberty’s protest outside the extradition hearing of Christopher Tappin on 2 September are available. Contact the Liberty press office.

2) More information on Liberty’s Extradition Watch campaign

3) The Extradition Act 2003 introduced a two-tier system of extradition depending on the identity of the requesting state. Under the Act, EU Member States who have implemented the Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and the surrender procedures between Member States are designated for the purposes of extradition by order made under part 1 of the Act. Other territories with which the United Kingdom has extradition relations have been designated by order made under part 2 of the 2003 Act.

4) The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is based upon the presumption that EU countries all have fair and equal systems of justice which should remove the need for the home nation to scrutinise the fairness of extradition within the EU. This presumption is seriously open to question. Under an EAW a person sought by an EU country can be extradited, even if the extradition offence is not an offence in the United Kingdom, provided it carries a prison term of more than 12 months in the issuing member state. The EAW also abolishes the requirement to provide a prima facie case. This seriously increases the risk of injustice in such cases by removing the power of the High Court and Secretary of State to scrutinise the merits in an individual case.

5) In 2006 amendments were made to the Extradition Act that would allow a UK court to bar extradition on the basis of "forum", giving UK judges greater power to decide on the basis of each individual case whether it is appropriate to order extradition. Yet, these provisions have never been brought into force. When the law was introduced as an Opposition amendment in 2006 the previous Government only agreed to it after introducing a ‘killing clause’ – ensuring that the law could not be brought into force unless both Houses of Parliament passed a resolution to do so. The previous Government never intended to bring it into force - the then Home Secretary the Rt Hon Jon Reid MP was explicit about this when he said: “The Government are not, of course, obliged to bring forward such a resolution, and have no intention of doing so“. If each House of Parliament passes a resolution to bring the forum amendment into force, then the Home Secretary must make a commencement order. This order must bring the provisions into force within one month of the resolutions being made.

6) Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian airline pilot, was arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences just days after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The US government requested he be extradited, but as his arrest was before the Extradition Act 2003 came into force, his case was heard by a British court. He was cleared of the charges in 2003 when the court found that he had no links with the attacks. Had Mr Raissi been arrested today he would have been extradited to America without a British court ever considering the strength of the charges against him.

7) Andrew Symeou is a British student who was extradited to Greece in 2009. He was accused of manslaughter following the tragic death of another young British man whilst he was on holiday in Greece. Evidence against him included statements given by two witnesses who say that Greek police officers pressured them to give false statements, which they retracted immediately after their release from police custody. Mr Symeou denied the charge and available evidence strongly indicated that he was innocent, yet a British Court never considered his case.

8) Gary McKinnon is a British man who has been charged with hacking into the US Pentagon and NASA systems between 1999 and 2002. The Home Office was preparing to extradite Mr McKinnon to the United States of America where he would stand trial. However Theresa May, the new Home Secretary, granted a temporary reprieve to Mr McKinnon while new evidence is considered. McKinnon has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and his lawyers argued, in an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, that because of this, and because the crime was committed on British soil that he should be tried here in the UK.

9) Christopher Tappin is a retired south-east London businessman. He has been accused of deliberately and knowingly trying to export batteries for Hawk missiles from the United States via the Netherlands for later shipping to Iran. He is facing extradition to the US to answer charges, but his lawyers have said that his case should be heard in Britain where the alleged crimes are said to have been committed.