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McKinnon gets a date for 'final' appeal

May appointment with destiny

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Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon and his legal team have been given three months to prepare for a judicial hearing on whether the Home Secretary proceeded correctly in allowing extradition proceedings to proceed in spite of dire medical warnings.

A judicial review will consider the strength of medical opinion that the Asperger's Syndrome sufferer was likely to crack under the strain of a US trial and likely imprisonment.

The date of a two day hearing before two senior judges has been set for 25 and 26 May, McKinnon's mum said last Friday. A ruling can be expected to follow two weeks or so later, by which time a general election will almost certainly have taken place. If opinion polls are to be believed, this is likely to leave Britain with a new government, a factor that may well play to McKinnon's favour. The opposition Tories have tabled debates against the US-UK extradition treaty calling for its reform, in support of McKinnon.

McKinnon and his supporters have fought a long and spirited campaign, punctuated by hopes raised and then crushed in numerous appeals that have taken the case before the House of Lords and European Court of Human Rights. Many of the earlier appeals took place before McKinnon was diagnosed with a mild form of autism last November. McKinnon's campaign has taken off since then with the support of autism experts, politicians and celebrities. Campaigners have consistently argued that McKinnon ought to be tried in the UK, if anywhere.

The US's judicial system's poor track record of justice in handling the disabilities of suspects has become a central focus of protests. Medical experts categorise McKinnon as potentially suicidal if he were to be dragged away from friends and family and incarcerated in a US jail.

The one-sided nature of the US-UK extradition treaty - which became law after McKinnon was first arrested by UK police in 2002 - has also been criticised by protesters. The US authorities can demand extradition without presenting any evidence, whereas extraditions from the US to Europe require the fulfillment of much stronger conditions.

Extradition proceedings against McKinnon were first launched in 2005 and have proceeded, seemingly on autopilot, since then. It may be that the US prosecution is motivated in part by the much lower sentences generally handed out by UK courts in hacking cases, and the failure of a UK jury ever to return a guilty verdict in a computer intrusion prosecution since the Computer Misuse Act became law in 1990. ®

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