Ever since the case of the alleged computer hacker Gary McKinnon hit the headlines, the extradition treaty that exists between the United Kingdom and the United States has been thrown into sharp relief.
Criticism of the treaty abounds in the United Kingdom on the basis that it is both unfair and unjust to UK citizens on the basis that the requirements needed to extradite a UK citizen to the United States are far easier to meet than those needed in order to extradite a United States citizen to the United Kingdom.
This imbalance has come about as a result of two completely separate issues which have combined to create what is largely regarded by informed commentators as one of the most one-sided, politically manipulative and unjust pieces of British legislation ever to make its way onto the Statute Book of the British Parliament.
It is perhaps no coincidence therefore that the Extradition Act of 2003 was steered through Parliament by the same man who introduced the now notorious IPP sentence, former Home Secretary, David Blunkett.
At the time this act of Parliament was introduced, both Tony Blair and Blunkett were keen to ingratiate themselves with the administration of the then US President, George W. Bush. As it happens, they were both wasting their time for history shows that in the end, Bush didn’t care for either of them.
One should not be tempted however to think that this criticism of the extradition treaty between the United States and the UK is anything new. It most certainly is not.
Controversy surrounds the US-UK extradition treaty of 2003 which was implemented in the Extradition Act 2003. Considered by some to be one-sided because it allows the US to extradite UK citizens and others for offences committed against US law, even though the alleged offence may have been committed in the UK by a person living and working in the UK (for example the NatWest Three) and there being no reciprocal right; and issues about the level of proof required being less to extradite from the UK to the US rather than vice-versa.
Among other provisions in Part 2 of the Act: Extradition to category 2 territories (non-European Arrest warrant territories) removed the requirement on the USA to provide prima facie evidence in extraditions from the UK, requiring instead only reasonable suspicion.
This was necessary to redress the previous imbalance against the USA under the 1870 Act, as the UK did not have to provide the more onerous prima facie evidence to extradite from the USA. The requirement for the UK is to show probable cause – and although not exactly the same as reasonable suspicion, they are more equal than the 1870 Act and are about as equal as can be, given the differences in the two legal systems and without violating the US Constitution. .
There is also concern at the loss of entitlement of UK citizens to legal aid for maintaining an adequate defence to criminal charges once they are extradited to US jurisdiction where costs are largely met by the defendant’s private means. This has been a cause of controversy in cases where it has been perceived that the UK has suitable legislation for prosecuting offences domestically.
The manner of its implementation also caused concern because of alleged secrecy and minimal parliamentary scrutiny, a trait some believe to be associated with much of the legislation introduced by David Blunkett.
Indeed, the treaty is typical of the Blair government’s legislation as is the aforementioned IPP sentence which was equally controversial and which has caused enormous problems for the UK Prison Service and the Justice system as a whole and which also received very little parliamentary scrutiny. Now, just as the IPP sentence is under review, so there are of calls for an equally robust examination of the 2003 extradition treaty.
In essence, the problem with the treaty is that it does not treat UK citizens as fairly as it treats those from the United States.
One would expect under normal circumstances that the treaty would be reciprocal to both countries; that is, what applies in one country should apply in the other. The fact is however that the American constitution, which unlike the British constitution is actually written down, simply does not allow for a reciprocal arrangement of this type.
Unlike the British constitution which is designed primarily to protect the organs of the state, the American Constitution is designed to protect the interests of the citizen. This fundamental difference means that American citizens cannot be pushed around and subjugated by the law in the same way that British citizens can.
There is however another element which must be considered when considering why it is that the British seem to be very much on the wrong end of this agreement and once again TheOpinionSite.org must make the point that the British government seems willing to do almost anything in order to please its American masters for fear of being criticized for not doing so.
As usual, and perhaps not surprisingly as the coalition is nominally led by a Conservative Prime Minister, the British government is more than willing to give in to the Americans to preserve the so-called “special relationship” which actually is no longer that special anyway. Ask any Prime Minister or head of state from any European country and they will tell you that they too have a “special relationship” with the United States.
Despite being bad law in the first place, it seems unlikely that the extradition treaty will be changed in any significant way, principally because to do so might upset our American cousins.
The fact that because of it some British citizens could end up spending the rest of their life in an American jail when in this country they would probably serve less than six years does not seem to be a problem for either Cameron or Clegg.
When and if the 2003 Act is actually amended or changed, any modifications are likely to be insignificant and largely cosmetic. To do anything else would, as far as the British government is concerned, invite criticism that it does not take terrorism, serious crime or other threats to the nation and the world seriously. This is of course total nonsense but the British government are quite willing to go along with it in order to save face with the Americans.
The British Home Secretary, Theresa May has managed to hold up the extradition of Gary McKinnon, largely due to the public opposition to his extradition to the United States. Waiting in the wings however is another potential threat to the “special relationship”…
That threat is of course the attempt by the United States government to extradite Julian Assange, the founder and leader of Wikileaks.
Although nothing official has yet been said and although Mr Assange is successfully using his lawyers to delay any extradition proceedings, it is likely that the United States administration is waiting to pounce on the Swedish authorities so that if Assange is extradited to Sweden, he can then be transferred to face charges in the United States.
The cases of McKinnon and Assange have together instilled great distrust in the workings of the 2003 Extradition Treaty, at least from the point of view of the British public. Whether or not the British government is prepared to look again at the treaty however is a completely different matter.
TheOpinionSite.org believes that if the treaty is reviewed and possibly amended or modified, any changes that will be made are likely to be insignificant, largely irrelevant and unlikely to help those affected by what is accepted by most to be both an unjust and unfair piece of British legislation drawn up by a former Home Secretary whose only objective was to suck up to the US administration of the time in an attempt to benefit his own circumstances.