The long-awaited independent review of Britain’s extradition arrangements was greeted with anger and frustration. Janis Sharp, mother of Gary McKinnon who suffers from Asperger’s and is wanted in the US on hacking charges, damned the report a ‘whitewash’.
Human rights groups like Liberty professed themselves baffled, while politicians across the political divide urged the government to ignore the findings.
The report, by senior judge Sir Scott Baker, took 486 pages to conclude that, far from failing to protect British citizens from
The last Labour government signed up to EU and US agreements that stripped Britain of virtually all discretion, so the current system lacks common sense. Under the UK/US treaty, Gary McKinnon is wanted for hacking from home into top-secret US security computers in search of evidence of UFOs.
More misfit than terrorist, if McKinnon is prosecuted at all, it should be in this country. He faces decades in jail if convicted in the US.
The Baker report dismissed calls for a change in the law to allow such cross-border cases to be prosecuted in Britain, claiming ‘we have no evidence that any injustice is being caused’.
The Baker findings fly in the face of a recent report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights – a cross-party committee, of which I am a member – that called for radical reform of UK extradition rules.
Unlike the Baker review, we listened to the victims and their families tell their ordeals. Like Frank Symeou, who gave evidence about the nightmare endured by his son.
Andrew, a British student, was carted off to Greece under a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) for involvement in a fight at a night club that left another man dead, despite eye witness accounts that Andrew was not in the club at the time
Fast-track EAW extradition is based on the assumption that standards of justice are adequate across Europe. The Symeou case shows this is a cruel sham. Greek police beat identical statements out of witnesses that were then retracted.
Andrew Symeou spent almost a year in squalid prison conditions before being bailed. Left with a flea-ridden blanket in a cell exposed to a sewer and crawling with cockroaches, he was abused by guards and watched helplessly as another prisoner was beaten to death for drug money.
The trial proceeded at a snail’s pace, with court translators who speak little English. Eventually cleared in June of this year, after a two year ordeal, the 22 year old student is left to re-build his shattered life.
The Baker report makes no recommendations for preventing such horror stories being inflicted on other innocent people.
Nor does it address another major concern. Foreign investigators fire off EAWs without investigating the facts, let alone preparing for trial. Michael Turner set up a property business in Hungary in 2005.
When it failed, he paid off his staff, filed for bankruptcy and returned to Britain. Three years later, he was extradited back to a Hungarian jail, accused of defrauding on administration fees and detained in a prison formerly run by the KGB.
He has been allowed to return home, but remains under investigation. The Hungarian authorities assured the UK court they were ready to prosecute.
Yet, six years after the alleged offence, Mr Turner has not even been charged with any crime. The extradition that threw his life into turmoil was little more than a ‘hit and hope’ fishing expedition.
Again, the Baker report remains blind to the injustice, denying that EAWs are being used ‘in cases where there is insufficient evidence’.
The EAW licenses the most Kafkaesque practices. Deborak Dark, a grandmother of two, was acquitted of drug offences in France over twenty years ago. Without telling her, French prosecutors appealed, and a two year jail sentence was imposed in her absence.
Seventeen years later, on holiday in Turkey, she was stunned to be arrested at gunpoint.
After a three year legal ordeal, French investigators dropped the case. Traumatised, Mrs Dark told our committee: ‘I had been walking around for over 20 years as a wanted person and I did not know.’
These are not isolated cases. Britain now receives 29% of all EAWs. The UK number doubled since 2007 – to four times more than France, and fifteen times more than Poland.
The number of British citizens surrendered under an EAW rose from two per month, in 2004, to two per day. The EAW works both ways. But, for every warrant the UK issues abroad, it receives twenty back.
Fewer people are extradited under the UK-US treaty, but it is still lop-sided: 1 American was transferred to the UK, and 24 Britons to the US, since 2004. These are hardly balanced international deals, given the high price being paid by the innocent.
The JCHR also highlighted weak human rights protections under EAW extradition compared to deportation, where Article 8 (the right to family life) regularly allows foreign criminals to avoid being returned.
Recently, a convicted drug-dealer who drove into – and killed – a father of two whilst high on heroin, claimed the right to family life to block deportation.
Successful challenges to deportation orders by convicted offenders, under Article 8, are running at a rate of 400 per year. Too often, foreign criminals can successfully claim the protection of ‘rights’ denied to British innocent citizens subject to extradition.
The JCHR calls for an overhaul to address these systematic failings. First, it recommends implementing a ‘forum’ clause, allowing UK courts to refuse extradition where an individual should be tried in this country – as in the McKinnon case.
Second, it proposes stronger preliminary evidence that a crime has been committed, before extradition is authorized.
Dealing specifically with the EAW, it calls for longer periods to allow UK courts to clear up cases of mistaken identity, safeguards to ensure warrants are not issued for minor offences, and checks to prevent extradition for investigation rather than prosecution.
The failings in the current system are largely the result of increasingly authoritarian EU law, subverting basic principles of British justice. Needless to say, the Human Rights Act has done precious little to prevent these miscarriages of justice.
Instead of exposing the fraud involved in EU law that demands blind faith in the adequacy of the justice systems in Greece, Romania and various other countries, the Baker review calls for yet more EU regulation.
That is the last thing the British justice system needs. In opposition, both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats pledged to fix our broken extradition system. Reform ought to be an area of common ground, the glue around which both sides can unite.
Extradition is a vital part of international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and organized crime. But, not at any price.
The government should grasp the nettle, adopt the JCHR recommendations and take this opportunity to stand up for basic rights of innocent British Citizens.
This article was written by Dominic Raab and published by Mail Online on October 19, 2011.
Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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