Extradition anguish for Britons goes on

Posted by Sabina Frediani on 28 June 2011

Earlier this month, British student Andrew Symeou was finally acquitted by a Greek court. After four long years of being accused of manslaughter, the jury took just two-and-a-half hours to find him not guilty.

Few cases highlight the injustice of instant extradition quite like Andrew’s. Aged 18, he was plucked from his London home and dragged across the continent under the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system. He spent 11 months in a Greek jail considered one of the continent’s worst, despite severe question marks over the case against him.

Andrew was extradited without basic evidence against him ever being laid before a UK judge. A British court was never allowed to consider whether he even had a case to answer.

For him, the ordeal is over. For many other Britons, the anguish goes on. And it’s not just the EAW in the dock here; the UK’s Extradition Act – which among other things implements our lopsided treaty with the US – also has much to answer for.

Just ask Gary McKinnon. Gary, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has been accused of hacking into Pentagon and NASA systems. Despite his condition, and the fact the alleged offence was committed from his computer in London, he still faces extradition to the US.

Then there’s Christopher Tappin. The retired Kent businessman also faces being hauled across the Atlantic – and up to 35 years in jail if convicted. He is accused of trying to export batteries for missiles from the US to Iran. Again his behaviour is alleged to have taken place in the UK. Christopher's stateside lawyers fear he won’t get a fair trial in America, but at the moment our judges’ hands are effectively tied – it doesn’t matter that he never left UK shores.

And now we have university student Richard O’Dwyer; accused of copyright infringement by US authorities for hosting a website providing links to downloadable pirate films and TV shows. Not actual material; just links. His server wasn’t even based in America. But still Richard faces extradition.

Frustratingly, there already exists a provision in the Extradition Act that would introduce a crucial safeguard into the British system. The ‘forum amendment’, supported by both Coalition partners in opposition, allows a UK court to bar extradition in the interests of justice if conduct leading to an alleged crime took place here.

There is nothing stopping the Government from activating this safeguard. Yet it remains inactive, and with its dormancy British people remain vulnerable to accusation and summary transportation across the globe.

The UK’s rotten extradition system needs major renovation, but this simple step would be a welcome start on the path to justice. It’s high time Parliament flicked the switch.