Government remains obstinate over lop-sided extradition treaty

A coalition of top legal, business and civil rights groups has failed in its bid to ensure better safeguards on how people can be extradited from the UK.

Following high-profile extraditions, including those of the NatWest Three bankers in July 2006, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Institute of Directors, together with human rights group Liberty, legal and human rights organisation Justice and the Bar Human Rights Council, wrote to MPs to protest against extradition laws that allow people resident in the UK to be extradited for trial even if the UK Government does not think it is in the public interest.

In the letter, sent on 19 October in advance of a parliamentary vote on 24 October, the coalition highlighted the fact that, under a new treaty with the US, extradition is possible even if a person has never left the UK, if UK authorities have no interest in prosecuting the individual, or if they believe there is insufficient evidence to do so.

As such, the letter had urged MPs to support amendments to the Police and Justice Bill made by the House of Lords, which would require the court to decide whether trial abroad would be in the interests of justice if a crime is alleged to have taken place partly in the UK.

However, despite the protestations, the Government succeeded in reversing the Lords’ amendments, which would have struck out the new agreements with the US.

The agreements caused anger over their use in the extradition of the three former NatWest bankers to answer fraud charges in the US.

Director at Justice Roger Smith said: “This is a temporary defeat for the coalition, but the issue won’t go away.

“What is at issue here is the sovereignty of the UK. If someone has committed an offence here, should it not be a decision for the UK to judge where they should be tried?” Other signatories of the letter to MPs included Gareth Peirce, a solicitor at civil rights firm Birnberg Peirce, Alun Jones QC of Great James Street Chambers and White & Case partner Alistair Graham.

The letter also observed that, despite Section 87 of the Extradition Act providing that judges should not allow the extradition to proceed if it would be contrary to the defendant’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, protected in the UK Human Rights Act 1998, this guarantee has proved insufficient to prevent extradition in such cases from taking place.