The Extradition Farce — why the delay in reform?

Out­rage con­tin­ues to swell about the per­emp­tory extra­di­tion of Brit­ish cit­izens to face trial on tenu­ous charges abroad.

Thanks to the tire­less cam­paign­ing of dis­traught fam­ily mem­bers, a grow­ing anger in the UK press, and indig­nant ques­tions and debates in Par­lia­ment — even our somn­am­bu­lant MPs have roused them­selves to state that Some­thing Must be Done - the Extra­di­tion Act 2003 is now centre stage, and reform of the law will no doubt occur at some point.

As there is a grow­ing con­sensus, why the delay?  I have a the­ory, but first let’s review some of the most troub­ling recent cases.

Janis_SharpThe case that really brought the issue to wide­spread pub­lic atten­tion  is the decade-long extra­di­tion battle of Gary McKin­non.  With this sword of Damocles hanging over his head for so long, poor Gary has already effect­ively served a 10-year sen­tence, uncer­tain of his future and unable to work in his chosen pro­fes­sion.  Thanks to the indefatig­able cam­paign­ing of his mother, Janis Sharp, his case has received wide­spread sup­port from the media and politi­cians alike.

Des­pite this the Home Sec­ret­ary, Theresa May (who has recently been work­ing so hard in Jordan to pro­tect the rights of Abu Qatada), has dragged her feet abom­in­ably over mak­ing a decision about whether Gary should be extra­dited to the US to face a pos­sible 70-year prison sen­tence — even though the UK invest­ig­a­tion into his alleged crime was aban­doned way back in 2002.

Julia_and Richard_OdwyerThen there is the more recent case of stu­dent Richard O’Dwyer, wanted in the US even though he lives in the UK and has broken no Brit­ish laws.  He is facing a 10 year max­imum secur­ity sen­tence if extra­dited.  Once again, his mother, Julia, is tire­lessly fight­ing and cam­paign­ing for her son.

Most recently, Chris Tap­pin, a retired busi­ness­man and golf club pres­id­ent, has been shipped off to a Texas high secur­ity pen­it­en­tiary fol­low­ing what sounds like a US entrap­ment oper­a­tion (a tech­nique not leg­ally admiss­able in UK courts), and faces a 35 year sen­tence if convicted.

Chris_and_Elaine_TappinDes­pite hav­ing turned him­self in, this eld­erly gent, who walks with the aid of a cane, is con­sidered such a flight risk that he was last week denied bail. Once again, his wife Elaine has come out fight­ing.

My heart goes out to all these women, and I salute their tenacity and bravery.  I remem­ber liv­ing through a sim­ilar, if mer­ci­fully briefer, four months back in 1998 when the UK gov­ern­ment tried and failed to extra­dite David Shayler from France to the UK to stand trial for a breach of the OSA. I remem­ber with crys­tal clar­ity the shock of the arrest, the fear when he dis­ap­peared into a for­eign legal sys­tem without trace, the anguish about his life in an alien prison.

Sunday_Times_Paris_98And I remem­ber the fright­en­ing moment when I real­ised I had to step up and fight for him — the legal case, deal­ing with MPs and the end­less media work, includ­ing the ter­ror of live TV inter­views.  And all this when you are wor­ried sick about the fate of a loved one.  Shall I just say it was a steep learn­ing curve?

In the wake of the recent extra­di­tion cases, there have been ques­tions in Par­lia­ment, motions, debates, reviews (Down­load Review), and there is an ongo­ing push for an urgent need for reform.  And no doubt this will come, in time.

So why the delay?  Why not change the law now, and pre­vent McKin­non, O’Dywer and many oth­ers being sac­ri­ficed on the Amer­ican legal altar — the concept of “judi­cial rendi­tion”, as I have men­tioned before.

Well, I have a the­ory, one derived from per­sonal exper­i­ence.  The Brit­ish media — most not­ably the Daily Mail - inveigh against the uni­lat­eral extra­di­tion of UK cit­izens to the USA’s bru­tal prison régime.  There is also some con­cern about extra­di­tion to other European jur­is­dic­tions — usu­ally on the fringes to the south and east of the con­tin­ent, regions where the Brit­ish seem to have a vis­ceral fear of cor­rupt offi­cials and kangaroo courts.

But what many com­ment­at­ors seem to miss is the cru­cial legal con­nec­tion — the extra­di­tion arrange­ments that ensure Brits can be shipped off to the US and many other legal banana repub­lics com­par­able legal sys­tems to face out­rageous sen­tences are, in fact, embed­ded within the Extra­di­tion Act 2003.  This is the act that enshrined the power of the European Arrest War­rant, the the act that was rushed through Par­lia­ment in the midst of the post-9/11 ter­ror­ism flap.

And, of course, this is the very act that is cur­rently being used and abused to extra­dite Julian Assange to Sweden merely for police ques­tion­ing (he has not even been charged with any crime), whence he can be “tem­por­ar­ily sur­rendered” to the delights of the US judi­cial pro­cess. Hmm, could this pos­sibly be the reason for the delay in reform­ing the Act?

Assange_Supreme_CourtLet me guess, you think this is begin­ning to sound a bit tin-foil hat? Surely it is incon­ceiv­able that the Brit­ish politi­cians and judges would delay right­ing a flag­rant legal wrong that mani­festly res­ults in inno­cent people being unjustly extra­dited and pro­sec­uted? Surely our gov­ern­ment would move swiftly to pro­tect its citizens?

As I men­tioned, my the­ory stems from per­sonal exper­i­ence. Once again delving into the mists of time, in 1997 David Shayler blew the whistle on the wrong­ful con­vic­tion on ter­ror­ist charges of two inno­cent Palestinian stu­dents, Samar Alami and Jawad Bot­meh. Their law­yer, the excel­lent Gareth Peirce, was imme­di­ately on the case, but the UK gov­ern­ment dragged its heels for a year. Why?

Dur­ing that time, the UK gov­ern­ment tried to have Shayler extra­dited from France to the UK to stand trial. Gov­ern­ment law­yers were con­fid­ent of vic­tory and delayed a decision on the stu­dents’ appeal against their con­vic­tions until the whis­tleblower was safely incar­cer­ated in HMP Bel­marsh, await­ing trial.

Except it all went wrong, and the French freed Shayler for being mani­festly a polit­ical whis­tleblower, which in their legal opin­ion was not an extra­dict­able offence. Only at that point did the UK gov­ern­ment law­yers begin to work with Peirce on the Palestinian case, details of which can be found here.

Christine_AssangeSo my the­ory is that the UK is drag­ging its feet about reform­ing the pre­pos­ter­ous Extra­di­tion Act until it has Assange safely over in Sweden. How­ever, they may be count­ing their chick­ens pre­ma­turely — and they should never, ever over­look the determ­in­a­tion of the cam­paign­ing mother, in this case Christine Assange.

But in the mean­time, while the UK con­tin­ues to pros­ti­tute itself to the USA, how many more inno­cent people will have to suf­fer unjust and unjus­ti­fi­able extradition?

Comments are closed.