The government had said it would not oppose the call for reform despite commissioning a review by Sir Scott Baker, a retired judge, which had previously found that US-UK extradition laws were “completely balanced”. One Downing Street source said that while the motion was not binding in any way, the government was minded to look again at the rules and was in the process of consulting lawyers who believe that current arrangements could be unbalanced.
The debate came ahead of a potentially bruising week for David Cameron, prime minister, in which anti-European sentiment is running high on his benches ahead a European Summit this week to hammer out a deal between Eurozone countries on fiscal integration
Dominic Raab, the Conservative MP leading the fight for reform of extradition laws, on Monday criticised the lack of transparency and “behind closed doors” dealmaking in international prison transfers.
Mr Raab told the BBC that while “no one wants to scrap extradition laws”, the key problem was shadowy agreements “between prosecutors, behind closed doors” that should be made openly in court.
He warned that British citizens such as Gary McKinnon – an Asperger’s syndrome sufferer accused of hacking into US military computers – should be better protected by the law.
“The US has treaties with Mexico, Brazil and Australia, giving their authorities much greater discretion to refuse to extradite their citizens,” he said. “So why shouldn’t Britain, a stalwart ally, ask for this very modest change?”
However, David Blunkett, former Labour home secretary, said there were few differences between British and US extradition laws and that it would be hypocritical for the UK to turn its back on the agreement. “If you don’t think the American administration and the justice system is up to it, we shouldn’t be extraditing anybody,” he said.
Mr Blunkett did concede that improvements needed to be made to the European arrest warrant – which Mr Raab, a eurosceptic, said had given rise to some “real horror stories”.
Any attempt by government to review the rules now will clash against the advice given in the Baker report, published in October.
“The UK-US extradition agreements were examined in great detail and the panel concluded that the widespread perception that they operate in an imbalanced manner is not justified,” Sir Scott reported. “There is no ‘practical difference’ between the information required of both countries when requesting extradition.”
Meanwhile, Louis Susman, US ambassador to the UK, said in evidence to the foreign affairs committee last week that it was not any easier to extradite someone from the UK than from the US, and accused those suggesting otherwise of “skewed arguments and wilful distortion of the facts”.
“I believe having signed the treaty, and having had it tested both through the British justice system and by independent experts, it is now incumbent on the UK to stand in support of it,” Mr Susman said.
The Home Office said on Monday it was considering the recommendations made to government by Sir Scott, and would “respond in due course”.