Extradition treaty

The court brought together all but two of the 11 Supreme Court Justices to hear Norris appeal an earlier ruling that he should face charges relating to price-fixing in the US. It was the biggest gathering of judiciary for a single case in the Michaelmas term, emphasising the importance of its outcome.

The ruling judiciary unanimously said it would be against the public interest to accept the argument of Norris’ barrister, Brick Court Chamber’s Jonathan Sumption QC, that to send him to the US would be an infringement of his human rights.

Originally the US tried to extradite Norris on the price-fixing charge, but in March 2008 the House of Lords rejected that attempt, ruling that he should face a lesser charge relating to obstruction of justice.

It was this decision that Norris was appealing. His legal team argued that to extradite a 65-year-old man who is in poor health and whose wife was suffering from depression, meaning she could not travel to the US to support him, would deprive him of a right to family life.

Similarly, the legal team acting for McKinnon, who is wanted by the US on charges of computer hacking, has suggested that he would be deprived of a right to family life if his extradition goes ahead (see story).

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said in November that McKinnon could be extradited despite suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome. That decision has now been stayed pending the outcome of a judicial review, which was ordered by Mr Justice Mitting after fresh evidence was presented regarding McKinnon’s mental health.

While the two matters cannot be explicitly linked, the Supreme Court decision  demonstrates just how difficult it is to fight an extradition order sought by the US.

McKinnon’s case has been going through the legal maze since he was first indicted in November 2002, while Norris has also been fighting for several years. As the Supreme Court pointed out, this had had the adverse affect of exacerbating the consequences for Norris’s family.

The ruling justices clearly had to walk a tightrope when deciding the outcome of this case. Supreme Court president Lord Phillips rejected Sumption’s argument that Norris should be entitled to family life. If that was the case, he said, it would be contrary to the public interest. “It’s for this reason that only the gravest effects of interference with family life will be capable of rendering extradition disproportionate to the public interest that it serves,” he said in the judgment.

In a statement White & Case partner Alistair Graham, who instructed Sumption for Norris, said: “When the Government put in place new extradition arrangements in 2003, it stripped the citizens it’s meant to serve of the fundamental protection of having a charge against an individual proven to a prima facie standard.

“It also failed to put in place the basic safeguard where UK citizens accused of criminal conduct that took place on UK soil are subject to the UK justice system, not that of another country. This is a protection that almost all other countries with similar extradition arrangements with the United States have in place. 

“Crucially, the legislative mechanism to rectify this flaw has been in place since 2006, with strong support from both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, but the Government has repeatedly blocked its implementation.”

The counsel:

White & Case partner Alistair Graham instructed Brick Court’s Jonathan Sumption QC and Martin Chamberlain for Norris.

The DoJ directly instructed 6 Kings Bench Walk’s David Perry QC and Louis Mably.

Liberty, which acted as an intervener, instructed Doughty Street’s Richard Hermer QC, Joseph Middleton and Alex Gask.