Extradition is the transfer of an accused person from one country to another country that seeks to place them on trial.
Extradition is an important part of prosecuting cross-border crime, but there should always be safeguards that ensure extradition serves the interests of justice.
Changes in recent years have damaged traditional British protections against unfair – or summary – extradition. Despite much rhetoric from politicians of all stripes on the need for reform, so far there has been very little positive change.
In October 2012 the Home Secretary announced that the Government would introduce reform of our extradition arrangements. However, the actual result was the stripping away of some of the few safeguards which remained.
The automatic right of appeal against extradition has been scrapped, and the Home Secretary's duty to bar extradition to "Category 2" countries (such as the US) where she considers removal would breach human rights has also been repealed.
Case study - Andrew Symeou
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 whether there was a basic (prima facie) case against him. Following his extradition he spent over 10 months in appalling Greek prison conditions. In June 2011, Andrew Symeou was cleared of manslaughter by a Greek jury and returned home to the UK.
Case study - Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon is a British man who was accused of hacking into the US Pentagon and NASA systems from his North London home between 1999 and 2002. For ten years Mr McKinnon faced the threat of extradition to the United States of America in order to stand trial. Mr McKinnon was 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. However the court refused to order the UK not to extradite him, and Mr McKinnon and his family instead lived for many years with the prospect of him facing a lengthy sentence in an American supermax jail. In October 2012 the Home Secretary announced her refusal to extradite Gary because to do so would breach his human rights - the duty on a Home Secretary to block extraditions that would breach human rights has now been repealed.
Case study - Richard O'Dwyer
Sheffield student Richard O’Dwyer was able to reach an agreement with US prosecutors to avoid extradition – but not before a desperate two-year legal battle, led by his mother Julia. Mr O'Dwyer was accused of copyright infringement by US authorities for hosting a website, TVShack, offering links to downloadable pirate films and TV shows. Not actual content – just links. He built the site from his Sheffield bedroom, and his computer server was not even based in the US. Yet still he faced being hauled across the Atlantic to stand trial. His extradition order was approved by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, despite the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats, committing to extradition reform while in Opposition. In January 2012, Westminster Magistrates ruled that Mr O'Dwyer could be extradited to the US on piracy charges – another reminder of just how unfair our extradition laws have become without an effective forum bar. Mercifully, in November 2012, it was announced that an agreement had been reached and that all charges against him had been dropped. His case, like all of the others, underlined that our extradition arrangements must be overhauled to allow people who have never even left our shores to be dealt with here at home.
Case study - Babar Ahmad & Talha Ahsan
Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, from south London, were accused of providing support for terrorism through their involvement – in the UK – with a series of websites during the late 1990s and early 2000s, one of which happened to be located on a server in America. In the case of Talha, alleged involvement was extremely peripheral, namely the operation of a PO Box for a few months. The US sought their extradition on the basis that the website had been hosted by a server based in Connecticut for a matter of months.
Talha and Babar were detained in the UK for around six and eight years respectively, without charge or trial, as they fought the extradition request. Again the alleged criminal conduct took place here in the UK but, despite the Metropolitan Police's role in initially gathering evidence, the UK authorities refused to prosecute them here. Had the evidence passed to the US been properly considered by the Crown Prosecution Service a decision on prosecution could have been taken in this country and, if ultimately prosecuted, a full and fair trial could have taken place here.
After a lengthy legal battle, both the European Court of Human Rights, in April 2012, and the UK High Court, the next October, ruled that the duo could be lawfully extradited to the US to face terrorism charges. There has been a huge public backlash against the treatment of these men. An e-petition set up by supporters of Babar Ahmad received 149,000 signatures and the Free Talha Ahsan Campaign, which has attracted a great deal of public support and sympathy, was nominated for a Liberty Human Rights Award in 2013 for its tireless work in challenging our unfair extradition laws.
In December 2013, both men, facing the prospect of decades in US prisons, pleaded guilty before a court in Connecticut after entering a plea bargain. They were finally sentenced in July 2014. Mr Ahmad was sentenced to 12 years in prison (he is returning to the UK to serve the remainder) – substantially less severe than the 25 years US prosecutors had sought. Mr Ahsan was released after Judge Janet Hall – sceptical about the evidence against him – opted for time served. The judge criticised US prosecutors for conflating the providing of “material support” for the Taliban regime with actually supporting al-Qaeda or taking part in terrorism. She said there was no risk of Mr Ahmad becoming involved in future crimes and that Mr Ahsan, who had never set foot in the US before, posed no danger to anyone..
- TAKE ACTION We believe extradition under the 2003 Act is justice denied. Read about our Extradition Watch campaign for fairer extradition laws.