By hook or by crook

Gareth Pierce denounces ECHR decision to let US justice system try terror suspects

The extradition saga of radical cleric Abu Hamza put the controversial UK-US extradition treaty under further scrutiny last week, leading to criticism that terrorism-focused legislation was being misapplied in the cases of Sheffield student Richard O’Dwyer, retired businessman Christopher Tappin and computer hacker Gary McKinnon.

At a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) hearing Birnberg Peirce & Partners partner Gareth Peirce represented Babar Ahmad, a terrorism suspect who has been detained for eight years without trial, as well as suspected terrorists Haroon Rashid Aswat, Syed Tahla Ahsan and Adel Abdul Bary. Muddassar Arani of Arani & Co acted for Hamza and Quist partner Akhtar Raja took up Khaled al-Fawwaz’s case.

Many legal commentators declared the decision to extradite five of the six men a victory for common sense. Judges dismissed the suspects’ claims that sending them to US ’supermax’ jails would breach their human rights because the potential punishment was disproportionate.

The case reignited the debate on whether the UK should leave the jurisdiction of the ECHR to reassert its legal sovereignty. Reaction to the ruling has largely been positive , although the men can appeal and drag the process out for months.

Peirce, though, denounced the court’s decision and claimed the £2.6m cost of keeping the suspects locked up and the £1.5m cost of the case so far could have been avoided with a UK prosecution.

The lawyer questioned why UK citizens were not tried in their own country when the alleged actions took place in the UK and evidence accumulated by British police is being used as the basis of a US prosecution.

“Every aspect of the proceedings in the European court would have been avoided had straightforward early steps been initiated to prosecute in the UK,” she said. “The notion of the appropriate forum for trial and punishment being the accused person’s own country is the subject of automatic guarantees in many countries that refuse to extradite their own nationals, but instead guarantee that if extradition is sought by a foreign state it will prosecute them.”