Chris Huhne tackles Alan Johnson on Gary McKinnon’s extradition

Lib Dem shadow home secretary Chris Huhne today tackled Alan Johnson on his decision not to block the extradition of computer hacker Gary McKinnon, who has Asperger’s, to the USA. (LDV has previously covered the story here). Their exchange in the Commons today is recorded below, and you can read the whole Hansard debate here:

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): The Home Secretary is, in my view, a very brave man to hold out his judgment of the medical condition—and of the worsening of the medical condition—of Gary McKinnon against such overwhelming evidence as we have heard from the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes). Gary McKinnon is a vulnerable British citizen who has become more vulnerable and whose interests are being ignored in favour of an unequal treaty with the United States. Nobody contests that he has Asperger’s or that that condition has been diagnosed since the beginning of the process and has got substantially worse. That alone should be enough to merit some compassion for his condition and mitigation of the penalty for a crime that he admits, as the Home Secretary knows.

Does the Home Secretary recognise that the clear risks to Mr. McKinnon’s health and even life have increased since the beginning of the process and will increase further if he is not tried here but is extradited? Does he recognise from the additional medical evidence that the problems faced by Gary McKinnon are more substantial than they were at the beginning? Does that risk not worry him, particularly given the fine balance that he has to strike in deciding when there is a breach of someone’s human rights?

May I also ask whether the Prime Minister has considered this case? Will the Government now put the interests of justice for an increasingly vulnerable British citizen ahead of their relations with a foreign Government? Is the Home Secretary prepared to accept the real risk that he will have the life of a man on his hands?

Alan Johnson: I appreciate the hon. Member’s concern. He came to see me with the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) in the summer, and we discussed this issue, as I am willing to do on every occasion. I accept the vulnerability of Gary McKinnon, as I accept the vulnerability in many cases that go through the courts and in which a decision on extradition has to be taken. I note that I have been called spineless and a brave man within five minutes.

I do not argue that these decisions do not need very careful contemplation, and I have thought about this one long and hard. I have looked at every single word submitted by Gary McKinnon’s lawyers on the evidence of his medical condition. As I have said previously, that is not materially different from the evidence that was before Lord Justice Burnton in June and on which he made his pronouncement on 30 July. I quoted Lord Justice Burnton in my statement saying that he accepts that there is a risk of suicide, and that is a heavy burden on any Home Secretary’s shoulders—as the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) said in his final point. Nevertheless, my job is to uphold the law—to look at the European convention on human rights and decide whether article 3 is being breached in this case. My decision, based on all the evidence, is that article 3 rights are not being breached in the case of Gary McKinnon. Hon. Members may disagree, but I hope they do not think that that decision was made in any other circumstances than after the most careful contemplation.

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3 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 1st Dec '09 - 9:14pm

    The home secretary employs an impressive amount of effort in finding reasons why he is not responsible for this.

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