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McKinnon gets date for final showdown

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A judicial review of the Gary McKinnon extradition case is being scheduled for 20 January, the same day Barack Obama assumes the US presidency.

McKinnon's hopes of avoiding extradition to the US on hacking charges rest on persuading a judge that the Home Secretary's decision to disregard the former sysadmin's recent diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome in going ahead with extradition proceedings was unfair. The failure of appeals to the House of Lords and and the European Court of Human Rights earlier this year mean that his legal options have shrunk down to an oral review in front of a judge.

The possibility of a written review was rejected last month, leaving his lawyers with a deadline of 5 December to apply for a hearing in a judge's chambers.

The Free Gary support blog reports that treasury solicitors had sought an earlier hearing on the case, as soon as 2 December, after first strenuously arguing against against any sort of judicial review. It's tempting to think that an early day motion in support of McKinnon swung the balance in favour of granting a judicial review. The motion - which attracted the support of 80 MPs - seeks assurances that McKinnon will be allowed to serve any sentence imposed by a US court in the UK.

McKinnon and his supporters have mounted a long running fight against extradition over the last three years. The London-based Scot faces seven counts of hacking into 97 US government, NASA and military systems during 2001 and 2002. He was first arrested in 2002 by officers from the former National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and quickly confessed his actions, but denies causing damage, estimated by the US at $700,000. Contrary to mounting the "biggest military hack ever", as US prosecutors have suggested, McKinnon maintains he was hunting for evidence about UFO encounters and harvested technology.

Supporters of McKinnon fear he may face up to a 60 year sentence from a possible US trial, though papers submitted during his failed House of Lords appeal suggest ten years might be closer to the mark. ®

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