Writing for PoliticsHome, lawyer and Tory MP Dominic Raab urges reform of the "lop-sided" US extradition treaty, which has seen too many innocent Brits "swept up in its broad net".
Rough justice under UK extradition law is a problem that is only getting worse. The latest data shows 99 people have been extradited to the US since the new treaty came into effect in 2004. 35 were British citizens. 44 have been extradited from the US to Britain, including 5 Americans. So, when critics point to the lop-sided nature of the relationship, they are right. In the last six months, Britain extradited more of its nationals under the treaty than America has since 2004. Overall, we surrender our nationals at a rate of 7 for every 1 American extradited here.
The UK-US arrangements suffer two flaws. First, as Alun Jones QC points out: 'A potential extraditee in the USA has the constitutional safeguard that a judge must examine the quality of the evidence. But in a request here, a short recitation of the allegations suffices'. So, there's no proper judicial check of the basic case against someone, before they are carted off across the pond. Second, in cross-border cases, the decision on who tries the case is taken by police and prosecutors haggling behind closed doors. Gary McKinnon, Christopher Tappin and Richard O'Dwyer are all cross-border cases, where the allegedly unlawful conduct took place in Britain. Yet, no American has even been extradited to the UK for things done on US soil.
The answer is to increase judicial scrutiny of the evidence, and bring into law a 'forum' provision - so a UK judge decides where cross-border cases are tried, rather than it being settled by secret negotiation with the FBI. It is not enough to give prosecutors guidelines. Where the liberty of our citizens is at stake, justice should be done in open court according to rules decided by accountable law-makers. These modest tweaks to the arrangements could be agreed without having to send the treaty back to Congress for approval. US extradition treaties with Ireland, Australia, Brazil and Mexico contain stronger safeguards to protect their nationals. Surely Britain, a stalwart ally, deserves no less. Nor is it in US interests to allow this issue to remain a thorn in the side of the special relationship. If the problem is not fixed, we will see more injustices and diplomatic spats in the years ahead.
For all the furore over US extradition, the travesties are more serious and numerous under the flawed European Arrest Warrant (EAWs). Britain receives a third of all EAWs. Since 2004, we have extradited six times as many of our citizens to EU countries as to the US. Too often, they face incompetent or corrupt justice systems and foul jail conditions. Andrew Symeou was fitted up by Greek police for the killing of a man in a night club, despite eye witnesses saying he was not there at the time. He spent a year in squalid prison conditions. After a two year ordeal, the case against him collapsed. Meanwhile, Michael Turner and Jason McGoldrick, young businessmen accused of fraud on the flimsiest of grounds, were extradited to Hungary on the basis of a 'hit-and-hope' warrant. The police did not even bother to investigate enough to file charges. As a result, seven years after the alleged crime, the trial is crawling along at a snail's pace in Budapest, without prosecutors producing any evidence to establish guilt.
The European Arrest Warrant needs to be amended – not scrapped – to introduce basic safeguards to protect the innocent. If that is not possible, Britain has the option to withdraw before 2014 (along with the UK's bloc opt out of 130 other EU crime and policing measures). We could still maintain extradition relations under Council of Europe Conventions, whilst pressing EU partners to reform the EAW before re-joining it.
Extradition is vital for cooperation on counter-terrorism and serious crime. But, we have seen too many innocent citizens swept up in its broad net. Parliament unanimously backed the case for reform in December. The government should heed its will, in order to avoid hanging even more of our citizens out to dry.