They spared Gary McKinnon, but doing away with legal aid will be bad news for clients such as him
I was delighted by last week’s decision of home secretary Theresa May to withdraw the extradition order against Gary McKinnon.
It has been a long, hard fight. We have been to the High Court three times, the House of Lords twice and the European Court of Human Rights once. We have seen off four home secretaries and set legal precedents in extradition law. Eventually we got the right decision, both morally and legally.
The medical evidence was so overwhelming against his extradition it was hard to see how the home secretary could, in conscience, ignore it. Of course, I am sure the position was helped by comments both deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron made while in opposition. It was difficult to see how they could have done such a massive U-turn on public statements in support of McKinnon.
I am also pleased the home secretary announced amendments to the Extradition Act. I have seen the tragedies that have been created by this and the distress that has been caused to clients and their families by extradition, sometimes of obviously innocent people such as Andrew Symeou who spent 13 long months in horrible Greek prison conditions, only to be acquitted following trial.
The most positive change is the introduction of forum. The courts will have a chance to try a case in the UK if it is in the interests of justice, such as in the McKinnon case. He allegedly committed his offences in the UK, but I wait with trepidation to see details of some other proposed amendments, such as the loss of right of appeal to the High Court and arguments on proportionality.
Ironically, it was the Human Rights Act and McKinnon’s access to legal aid that saved him – both of which institutions this Government seems determined to eliminate. It was, of course, May’s discretion within the Extradition Act that allowed her to take her courageous decision. She should not now be seeking to remove her right to do so again.
Lastly, I note the suggestion that terrorist suspects will be refused legal aid. The key word here is suspects – they, just as much as any other defendants, are innocent until proved guilty.
Everyone should retain the right to representation and legal aid until they are convicted by a jury of their peers. I love the Daily Mail right now, and I bet even they think this proposal is a step too far.
Karen Todner has represented Gary McKinnon since 2002