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Extradition agreement under review

The Guardian

The government today opened up Britain's extradition arrangements for review, launching a year-long inquiry into whether it is easier to extradite suspects from the UK to the US than vice versa.

Home secretary Theresa May told the Commons the inquiry would investigate whether the treaty, agreed between the US and UK immediately after 9/11, was "unbalanced" and whether the home secretary should have greater discretion to intervene.

At present the US does not need to present evidence to a British court to request extradition, but the UK needs to present evidence to an American court.

The review follows the case of alleged computer hacker Gary McKinnon, who has been fighting extradition to the US for years. The US wants to extradite McKinnon over accusations of hacking into secret military computers; he insists he was searching for UFOs. If convicted, he faces up to 60 years in jail. David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both spoken out in his defence.

A UK court cannot bar extradition even when the behaviour suspected by the US court took place on UK soil, as is the case with McKinnon. There are amendments to the legislation that allow a court to defend UK citizens in this way, but they have never been activated.

The Home Office says the current extradition arrangements will continue and the review will not have any impact on cases currently under consideration.

The former home secretary, David Blunkett, who signed the treaty, has acknowledged that he may have "given too much away" when he signed up, but said May had "kicked the issue into the long grass" by only requiring it to report within the year.

"Sensible discussions with our partners could resolve any irritants quite speedily, including a de minimis bar to extradition for offences which would not constitute cause for a prison sentence here in the UK," said Blunkett. "Extradition is as crucial to us as it is to other free countries with functioning judicial systems.

"But the protection of the rights of those accused of either minor misdemeanours or unsubstantiated allegations clearly should be secured and, if improvements can be made, so much the better."

Announcing the decision, May said: "I am fully aware there are a number of areas of the UK's extradition arrangements that have attracted controversy in recent years. This government is committed to reviewing those arrangements to ensure they work both efficiently and in the interests of justice."

The review will be conducted by a small panel of experts to be selected by the Home Office. Their inquiry will also consider whether judges should be able to block extraditions and look at the operation of the European Arrest Warrant.

This allows countries to ask for extradition of an individual without providing evidence to the courts.