Opinion: UK-US Extradition Treaty Review – now is the time for change

Now that it is holding the reins of power and is in a position to make necessary changes to a universally acknowledged unfair extradition treaty with the US, why is the Coalition government stalling? This is baffling, particularly as both our own party and the Conservatives campaigned strongly against the ‘lopsided’ nature of the arrangement when in opposition.

In fact, every senior member of the current cabinet voted in 2006 in support of a ‘Forum Bar’ amendment, giving our judges greater power to decide on the basis of each individual case, whether or not it is appropriate to order extradition. It was the Labour Government which subsequently never allowed these provisions to be brought into force. Indeed, the Home Secretary at the time, John Reid MP was very clear by saying: “The Government are not, of course, obliged to bring forward such a resolution, and have no intention of doing so“.

Are we now faring any better with a Coalition Government? Well, on 5th December last year the commons held a vote on a motion to bring forward a bill to reform the extradition arrangements – which passed. Since then there have been another four motions, to which Lib Dem backbenchers have been signatories (and a couple of Conservatives – but mostly us and Labour), and still the Government has done nothing. It seems that the Tories have lost the fighting spirit they showed with this issue when in opposition.

The situation is now becoming critical as a result of a number of compounding pressures:

Firstly, Theresa May, is about to arrive at a final decision on the case of Gary McKinnon, a computer hacker with Asperger’s syndrome, as to whether he is extradited to stand trial in the US. This decision will be taken against the backdrop of increasing public concern and media frenzy.

Secondly, May is also expected to shortly publish her response to her own commissioned review of UK extradition laws. The Baker Review rejected the claim that the treaty was lopsided. He concluded that the existing arrangements without an effective ‘forum bar’ were balanced and fair.

Thirdly, the Home Affairs Select Committee’s recent call for a major overhaul of the extradition arrangements is damning. Its independent report recommending that the Home Secretary act without delay to restore public faith and confidence, shines a torch on the absurd and painful experiences of the likes of Gary McKinnon, Richard O’Dwyer and Christopher Tappin.

As Liberal Democrats in government, we now have the opportunity and political influence to stop British citizens, and their families, from facing the destructive impact of immediate extradition without proper evidence, fairness or sensitivity. This is an unbalanced, unfair and absurd extradition treaty which we have a duty to change.

I believe:

  • A person should never be sent to stand trial in any foreign court without a basic case being presented in a UK court.
  • Extradition should not occur if the crime is alleged to have occurred in whole or part in the UK, and if a British court has decided that it is not in the interests of justice to extradite.
  • If a crime is not recognised in the UK, then that person should not be extradited

I am today launching a campaign to get the support of concerned Liberal Democrats in presenting a petition to Nick Clegg and to our Parliamentary Home Affairs Team. We do not need a conference motion because we campaigned on this issue as a party whilst in opposition; it just needs the will to implement change.

If you wish to support necessary changes to the UK-US Extradition Treaty, then please circulate this pamphlet prepared by Nottingham Liberal Democrats as widely as you can and ask as many Liberal Democrats as possible to sign the petition.

 

* Issan Ghazni is Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and former National Diversity Adviser for the Liberal Democrats. Issan blogs here

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4 Comments

  • Geoffrey Payne 3rd Jul '12 - 12:36pm

    Good luck with this campaign. A conference motion would be good but hard to get on the agenda. I would be interested to know what our foreign office minister thinks of this.

  • You have my support. Personally I am dubious about any extradition to the US because of much of their penal system but reform would be better than the current system.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jul '12 - 9:36am

    We also need to work towards reform of the European Arrest Warrant, in which the bar for extradition is set even lower than in the UK-US extradition treaty.

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