Today’s debate on extradition

I was about to go to bed but I made the mistake of idly skimming through online editions of tomorrow’s papers and discovered that for no obvious reason I’ve been given star billing in the Mail’s reporting of today’s debate on the UK-US extradition treaty. (A bizarre feeling, scrolling down a story and thinking ‘that looks like the top of my head?’ and then deciding it’s not you, and then realising that it is).

True, I signed an EDM on the issue in 2005, but that was in relation to an entirely different case, regarding a constituent of Sadiq Khan’s, Babar Ahmed. (People may recall the revelations last year that Sadiq was bugged whilst visiting his constituent in prison). At one point around this time I met with a Home Office Minister to discuss it, in fact, which mostly revolved around the technicalities of the difference between the UK and USA legal systems. There wasn’t reciprocity at that stage, hence many MPs’ concern – but the treaty was subsequently ratified by the Senate. So it was a different issue then.

Since then the issue of extradition has come up again in relation to the Nat West Three, and now regarding Gary McKinnon. I certainly didn’t have a problem with the Nat West Three being extradited to the USA and despite their protestations they did of course plead guilty when they eventually got there. (Their defenders would say it was a plea bargain, rather than an admission of guilt, as Chris Grayling did in the Commons today but the fact is, they pleaded guilty and received jail sentences).

I’ve not been involved in the McKinnon case other than writing to the Home Secretary on behalf of a couple of constituents who had contacted me, and of course it’s sub-judice so it would be wrong to discuss the details here. I didn’t sign the latest EDM, which I believe specifically related to the McKinnon case – I haven’t signed any EDMs for 18 months or so, shortly after I became PPS to Douglas Alexander. So I’m rather intrigued as to why the Mail editorial team decided to thrust me into the spotlight. I’d submit in my defence that there’s a difference between expressing concerns in 2005 when the 2003 Act had only recently come into force and believing the extradition arrangements require urgent review now. I acknowledge the concerns about Mr McKinnon’s well-being and fitness to stand trial, but we get into difficult territory indeed if we ask Parliament to be the judge of that (as colleagues such as Kelvin Hopkins, John Austin and Diane Abbott, for example, who are hardly slow to vote against the Government line, obviously agreed).

For those who are interested, here’s the entire transcript of the debate in Parliament today (i.e. Wednesday).

This is the Opposition motion which I voted against, apart from anything else because I saw it as pure opportunism on the Tories’ part, jumping on the Daily Mail’s bandwagon. Until earlier this week they had put in for an Opposition Day debate on NHS dentistry, and then only switched to this topic as the Mail campaign took off. In fact a quick search of theyworkforyou shows that apart from Mr McKinnon’s constituency MP, David Burrowes, no Tory spokesperson had raised the issue in the House. Anyway, this was their motion:

“That this House expresses its very great concern that the Extradition Act 2003 is being undermined by a series of high profile cases that are jeopardising confidence in the extradition system; and calls on the Government to hold immediately a review of the Act with a view to reforming it at the earliest opportunity to deal with the issues of public concern.”

And here’s the Government amendment which I would have supported had it been pushed to the vote:

“This House notes that it is beneficial to the public to be able to extradite people accused of crimes in another country who might otherwise escape justice and that extradition treaties such as the US-UK Extradition Treaty 2003 work to the significant benefit of both countries; notes that the UK must demonstrate ‘probable cause’ to the US courts while the US must demonstrate ‘reasonable suspicion’ to the UK courts; notes that these tests are broadly equivalent given the differences between the legal systems in the two jurisdictions; recognises the view that ascertaining whether prosecution ought to take place in the UK should be considered by relevant prosecutors at the beginning of the process and not by judges at extradition hearings, which could result in serious criminals evading justice; and further notes that since 2004, people have been convicted on murder, manslaughter and smuggling charges in the UK following extradition from the US, whilst those charged with murder and terrorism offences have been extradited to the USA.”

Also, as a postscript, here’s what I gather is the legal position on the alleged difference between ‘probable cause’ and ‘reasonable suspicion’, i.e. the US and UK requirements.

‘The information that must be provided in order for a UK extradition request to proceed in the US is in practice the same as for a US request to proceed in the UK. On the one hand, the UK is required to demonstrate “probable cause” in the US courts. In American law this is described as “facts and circumstances which are sufficient to warrant a prudent person to believe a suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime”

The US is required to demonstrate “reasonable suspicion” in UK courts. This has been defined in UK case law in the following terms, “circumstances of the case should be such that a reasonable man acting without passion or prejudice would fairly have suspected the person of having committed the offence”.

Every extradition request made by the US to the UK must provide sufficient information that would persuade the District Judge in the UK to issue an arrest warrant if the conduct for which extradition is sought had occurred in this country. (Section 71 of the Extradition Act 2003)’

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