New Legal bid by Scot facing extradition is "welcome"

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)Wednesday 18 April 2012

Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) welcomes yesterday's announcement that lawyers for Phillip Harkins, a Scot accused of murdering a man in Florida, have lodged a request for the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights to consider his appeal against extradition to the US.

Harkins says that the treatment he would receive in the US would violate his rights. This week's legal move follows the rejection in January by seven Strasbourg judges of his appeal against extradition. Their decision will become final unless the the court approves the request for a referral to the Grand Chamber.

SACC believes that Phillip Harkins' case raises important human rights issues, including the US practice of imposing life sentences with no possibility of parole, and the willingness of US courts to accept testimony provided as part of a "plea bargain" by prosecution witnesses. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights is the right place for these issues to be considered.

If convicted in the US, Phillip Harkins would be at risk of long periods of solitary confinement. This is a standard and widespread mechanism for control and punishment within the US prison system. SACC shares the view of many human rights experts around the world that prolonged solitary confinement violates both the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights.

But the risk of solitary confinement wasn't considered by the Strasbourg judges in reaching their January decision. They only examined Harkins' claim that a mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole would violate his rights. Oddly, they concluded that it would not.

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:

"The Strasbourg court took a disappointingly narrow view of Phillip Harkins' case when it decided in January to allow his extradition. Phillip Harkins has been fighting for years to persuade the courts to take seriously his well-founded fears of an unfair trial in the US and the likelihood of grim, hopeless imprisonment if he is convicted there.

"The case against Phillip Harkins depends on evidence from a co-accused, Terry Glover, who provided it in exchange for prosecutors dropping the murder charge that Glover was himself facing. Glover was 17 at the time the deal was struck. He was subsequently convicted on lesser charges and given probation. The pressure he must have felt himself to be under means that the deal was tantamount to obtaining evidence through the threat of torture.

"The European Court of Human Rights seems unwilling to face up to flaws in the US justice and penal systems that are obvious to everyone else. At the beginning of March the court's judges held a historic meeting - the first ever - with judges from the US Supreme Court. I fear that this will mark the start of an even cosier relationship between the European and US systems. The Strasbourg court needs to enforce international human rights law as it is understood in Europe and the rest of the world. It isn't its job to legitimise the eccentric interpretation of human rights that has developed in the US."

Phillip Harkins and the family of the murdered man - Joshua Hayes - are entitled to justice. The way that the Florida authorities have so far handled the case shows that they can't be relied upon for that. Phillip Harkins is a British citizen and could be tried here. British judges have said that such a prospect is "wholly unreal." They must presumably mean either that they do not believe that the Crown Prosecution Service would be willing to take the trouble, or that they do not believe that there is credible evidence against Phillip Harkins. The British authorities need to take the necessary steps to secure justice, in Britain, for everyone concerned in this case. Had they done so from the start, all the delays and expense associated with an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights could heve been avoided.

Notes for Editors

  1. Phillip Harkins is of mixed race. He was born in Scotland and raised by his grandparents. At the age of 14 he went on holiday to visit his mother in Florida and his parents decided that he would not return to Scotland but live with them. On 11th August 1999 he was arrested in Florida on suspicion of the murder and attempted robbery of Joshua Hayes. On 22nd September 1999, he was notified that he would not be prosecuted for any involvement in the killing of Joshua Hayes. The charges in relation to the killing of Joshua Hayes were formally dismissed by the prosecutor on 18th November 1999, and a notice of this decision sent to the clerk of court. The case was re-opened in early 2000 on the basis of a plea agreement with a key witness, Terry Glover. Throughout 2000 and 2001 Phillip attended all the court hearings in his case. In December 2001 he left the US and went back to Scotland. Following his involvement in a fatal road traffic accident he was arrested in connection with the Florida offence and taken to London, where extradition proceedings commenced. At the time of his arrest he was still severely injured, having discharged himself early intending to take responsibility for the car accident. He wasn't provided with adequate medical care either while in police custody or in prison. On 22 December 2003 he appeared before Edinburgh High Court where he pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. He was released on parole licence with effect from 3 April 2006, but remained in jail in connection with the extradition. He is currently in Wandsworth Prison.
  2. The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, given in January 2012, can be found at HARKINS AND EDWARDS v. THE UNITED KINGDOM
  3. The first-ever meeting between US Supreme Court justices and judges of the European Court of Human Rights was held in Washington on 1 March. Most sessions of the meeting were closed to the public. See Session of Historic Meeting Between Members of the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights