Bow Street Magistrates' Court will this week play host to an extraordinary extradition hearing in which the US will seek to further extend its long arm into the UK.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), on behalf of the UK government, is seeking an extradition order against Ian Norris, a retired chief executive of engineering group Morgan Crucible. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) claims that, between 1986 and 2000, Norris fixed prices for carbon products being sold in the US.
But price-fixing was not, at the time, a criminal offence in the UK and only became so in 2003 with the advent of the Enterprise Act. Instead, the US is seeking Norris's extradition on charges of conspiracy to defraud. The crime of cartel activity in the US contains no element of fraud.
The DoJ has been free of the burden of establishing a prima facie case against Norris, which was once an essential component in any extradition. The new Extra-dition Act, which incorporates the 2003 Extradition Treaty, removes the need for the US to show a prima facie case against whom extradition is sought.
In Norris's case, the extradition application is based on a single statement by Philadelphia-based DoJ prosecutor Lucy McLean. It is the first time the US has used the new fast-track extradition system against a person accused of price-fixing.
Furthermore, the Extradition Treaty is yet to be ratified by the US senate, so while the UK must extradite people without evidence, the US is under no obligation to do the same. The Extradition Treaty was negotiated and signed in total secrecy. No prior notice of its terms were given to Parliament and no one outside government was aware of its contents. When the new treaty was unveiled some two months after it was signed, the Government insisted it was intended to ease the extradition of terrorist suspects in the wake of 9/11. However, since the Extradition Act's inception, the US has filed 43 applications for extradition. And more than half of these - 22 - are for white-collar offences.
White & Case, led by partner Alistair Graham, who instructed leading extradition expert Alun Jones QC of 3 Raymond Buildings, is leading the case for Norris. The team is planning to object to the extradition application on the grounds that Norris has committed no extraditable offence and that the extradition is oppressive and unfair by virtue of the passage of time. The team will also argue that Norris's extradition breaches Articles 6 and 8 of the Human Rights Act, which guarantee the right to a fair trial and the right to quiet enjoyment of family life.
The CPS has instructed David Perry of 6 King's Bench Walk to fight its corner.
Norris's plight mirrors that of another group of high-profile Brits against whom the US is seeking extradition orders. The 'NatWest Three' - David Bermingham, Giles Darby and Gary Mulgrew - are former bankers who are facing extradition to Texas, also for fraud that is alleged to have taken place in the UK. After their magistrates' court claim was rejected they appealed to the High Court, and they have now taken the bizarre step of launching judicial review proceedings against the Serious Fraud Office for its failure to prosecute.
Alistair Graham said: "This is the first attempt by the US government to use the new fast-track extradition process, introduced in the wake of 9/11 to facilitate the extradition of terror suspects, in relation to allegations of price-fixing. This is a matter of the greatest concern to any senior executive of a UK company with US operations."
The three-day hearing is set to commence tomorrow (10 May).