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8 Sep, 2010 04:44

UK to review extradition laws to protect its citizens

The UK government is preparing to reclaim some of its lost power by reviewing extradition treaties with the US and EU that allow its citizens to be shipped abroad for trial without evidence proving their guilt.

Under the current laws, countries that want to extradite British citizens do not have to provide any evidence of their guilt in the crime for which they are wanted.

If you stand in that court accused of something, it might be totally absurd. There’s nothing that a British court can do to stop you being extradited – very, very limited powers to stop it,” explained member of the European Parliament Gerard Batten, who says the problem is that British courts are not allowed to review evidence against those wanted for extradition.

After years of fighting, it is a small victory for Janis Sharp, whose son Gary McKinnon is wanted in the US for hacking into the Pentagon’s computers. McKinnon has been granted a stay of extradition, and if the review gives Britain’s legal system more power to protect its citizens, he may not have to face decades in an American jail.

The waiting is very difficult,” said Janis Sharp. “Every second you are at heightened stress, so I have prepared him that it might mean a longer wait. But he agrees, as long as the outcome is good. Also, if the treaty is changed and it helps everybody, then at least something has been achieved, and you’ll feel it wasn’t all for nothing.”

The treaty with the US was put into place following 9/11, to expedite the extradition of terrorists. Critics of the treaty claim it is one-sided, as Britain does not have the same privilege of extraditing US citizens without proving the individual may have committed the crime. So far, only one person is believed to have been handed over to the US on suspicion of terror, as the treaty has been mainly used against businessmen accused of fraud and minor offenders.

“I think it has been abused because the one type of person we don’t extradite to America are terrorists, because we don’t agree with the way they treat terrorists,” explained Karen Todner, who is one of the UK’s top extradition lawyers, involved in most recent high-profile cases.
I do believe America takes advantage of the weak position Britain is in, in relation to this extradition treaty.”

Todner says she has dealt with cases where people have been enticed to travel to the UK from abroad just to be requested for extradition immediately upon their arrival.

The upcoming review will examine five areas of the 2003 Extradition Agreement, including the relationship with the US, and the European Arrest Warrant.

More than a thousand people were seized by UK police last year on orders from the EU or the US – double the number of the previous year.

British lawyers say many European states have imposed conditions on extradition to protect their citizens, whereas the UK has no such “opt-outs”. A large proportion of extraditions to the EU are for minor offenses, which may not even be considered crimes in the UK. The financial burden of such handovers is also significant. Calls for a review of the situation intensified last year, after Germany refused to extradite a doctor who had accidentally killed a patient while working in the UK.

The reviewing panel, comprised of lawyers and international relations experts, is due to report next summer. For now, British citizens will still be at risk of being extradited with no evidence, under a law that even the man who signed it, former Home Secretary David Blunkett, now admits “gives too much away.”