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Coalition launches extradition treaty review

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The controversial extradition treaty between the US and the UK is to be reviewed by the government.

Critics argue the current system is unfair because it allows British suspects to be extradited to the US without the need to present evidence before a British court. British requests to extradite US suspects here, by contrast, require evidence before proceeding.

Home Secretary Theresa May announced plans for a review of UK extradition procedures to both the US and Europe via a written statement so the House of Commons on Tuesday.

There are a number of areas of the UK’s extradition arrangements which have attracted significant controversy in recent years.

The government understands that these are long-standing concerns and the review will therefore focus on five issues to ensure that the UK’s extradition arrangements work both efficiently and in the interests of justice.

These issues are:

  • breadth of Secretary of State discretion in an extradition case;
  • the operation of the European Arrest Warrant, including the way in which those of its safeguards which are optional have been transposed into UK law;
  • whether the forum bar to extradition should be commenced;
  • whether the US-UK Extradition Treaty is unbalanced;
  • whether requesting states should be required to provide prima facie evidence.
The review will be conducted by a small panel of experts who we are now seeking to appoint. We expect the review to report by the end of the Summer 2011.

Criticism of the current system has been highlighted by the long-running campaign to save Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon from extradition.

According to a recent Freedom of Information Act request, 33 people have been extradited to the UK since the current extradition arrangements between the US and UK came into force at the start of 2004. Three of these people were US nationals or holders of dual citizenship.

By contrast 62 people, including 28 UK nationals or dual citizenship holders, have been extradited from the UK to the US. None have been extradited for terrorist offences despite that fact that the perceived need to fast-track terrorist extradition was one of the main reasons given for changing previous extradition procedures that applied before 2004.

The government-sponsored review may result in changes to extradition proceedings that mean foreign authorities would be obliged to provide more evidence before British courts grant extradition requests. The Home Secretary might also be given more scope to intervene in extradition proceedings. Rules for deciding to try a suspect in the UK as an alternative to extradition might also be considered. Alternatively the experts may decide not to recommend any alteration of the existing arrangements.

The review fulfils a promise made when the ConLib coalition government was formed back in mid May to "review the operation of the Extradition Act – and the US/UK extradition treaty – to make sure it is even-handed". ®

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