The government must amend the law, to safeguard the rights of British citizens wanted in the US
You report that Sir Scott Baker and his panel have concluded the extradition treaty between the UK and US is fair and there is no need to introduce a “forum bar” to extradition into law (Inquiry urges extradition power curbs, 19 October). As a human rights lawyer who has been campaigning against the treaty since 2004, I find their view astonishing.
Your article states that the review panel “found no ‘practical difference’ between the information or standard of proof required by both countries and said the ‘widespread perception that they operate in an unbalanced manner’ is not justified”. Its conclusion appears to ignore the fact that, under the treaty, a defendant facing extradition in a US court can challenge the materials against him, while a UK defendant has no such rights. Nick Clegg’s description of the treaty as “lopsided” would therefore appear to be justified.
A forum bar would, as you report, “have allowed British courts to block extradition if a significant part of the alleged offence took place in the UK”. This would prevent the extradition of British citizens such as Gary McKinnon and Babar Ahmad. The review panel’s findings contradict those of the parliamentary joint committee on human rights, which observed in June that the forum bar had already been agreed by parliament and that the government should bring forward the relevant legislation.
The findings of the review panel are not binding on the government, and arguably it should instead follow the recommendations of the parliamentary committee, which consists of elected representatives. Indeed, the forum amendment to the treaty was supported by every senior member of the present cabinet while in opposition – with the current attorney general and solicitor general both having spoken at length in debate in favour of the amendment.
To allow a British citizen accused of crimes committed in Britain to be extradited to the US – on the same evidence on which this government has decided not to prosecute him – completely undermines our criminal justice system. There is growing public outrage over this, with the voices of discontent increasing every day. In recent weeks, over 40,000 people have signed an official e-petition calling for Ahmad to be put on trial in the UK rather than extradited.
It is not just Muslim terror suspects such as Ahmad – now in his eighth year of detention without trial – who are being harmed by this treaty. Corporate bankers such as the NatWest Three were previously extradited. All have been abandoned, if not betrayed, by their government.
It is the responsibility of the British public to defend the sovereignty and integrity of our criminal justice system. An open debate must be held in parliament to force the government to comply with the findings of the joint committee on human rights and introduce the forum bar into law, thereby allowing Ahmad, McKinnon and others to be tried in Britain.