Questions & Answers
- Why is the Extradition Act so contentious?
- The US and all EU countries have an established criminal justice system - why can we not trust them to host a fair trial of a British citizen?
- So if a crime is suspected of having been committed in the UK, as demonstrated in the extradition request, why don't the UK authorities prosecute it in the UK?
- Surely you're not saying all extradition to the US is wrong?
- Why is facing trial in America considered arduous, compared to facing trial in the UK?
- Why is it harder to defend a case in the US than in the UK?
- Why not enter a plea bargain?
- Why did the UK Government agree to sign legislation that is clearly weighted against UK defendants?
- What is the UK Government doing about the unfairness in US extradition?
- What should the government do to protect British citizens from unfair extraditions?
Why is the Extradition Act so contentious?^ back to top
Because it has two primary flaws:
- Forum: no requirement for the UK courts to consider the best jurisdiction for trial when faced with an extradition request
- Evidence: neither the US nor any of nearly one hundred other countries is required by law to demonstrate before a UK court prima facie evidence of a crime having been committed
The US and all EU countries have an established criminal justice system - why can we not trust them to host a fair trial of a British citizen?^ back to top
It is not necessarily a matter of a fair trial, more it reflects real concerns about the fairness of subjecting a British citizen to the different systems of justice, and sentencing, that are practiced in these countries. For example, in general terms, sentences in the US are considerably longer than those imposed in the UK for equivalent crimes. Furthermore, in the case of the US, American authorities have publicly stated they consider they have universal jurisdiction over a host of potentially criminal activity - such as that conducted through use of the internet. The effect of this is that by acting in breach of a law relating to computer use in the UK, a British citizen may unwittingly find themselves at the wrong end of a criminal prosecution initiated in America. It's one thing knowing about UK laws, quite another to be expected to know whether or not your actions might violate US legislation. Time and again, the UK authorities have 'translated' the alleged criminal charge into one that could be applied in the UK, in order to justify an American extradition request of a British citizen. Beyond that, though, the mere act of extradition is akin to a summary sentence, since the person being extradited is likely to be locked up for months or even years in a foreign prison cell awaiting trial, for something for which no UK court has even seen any evidence, and which may be extremely trivial or frivolous in nature. This flies in the face of both habeas corpus and the presumption of innocence.
So if a crime is suspected of having been committed in the UK, as demonstrated in the extradition request, why don't the UK authorities prosecute it in the UK?^ back to top
This is the nub of the matter. The UK has a sufficiently robust criminal prosecution system to prosecute all of the cases for which UK citizens have been extradited to America - yet instead they choose to cooperate with their 'ally' the US, in allowing US prosecutors to claim jurisdiction. The 'protections' in our extradition legislation are so weak that there is next to no ability to successfully appeal against extradition.
Surely you're not saying all extradition to the US is wrong?^ back to top
No, absolutely not. It's quite clear that if a British citizen travels to America, commits a crime on US soil and escapes and returns to the UK, their extradition should be sought in relation to that crime. However, the majority of contentious extradition cases do not involve someone 'fleeing' from justice. Instead an alleged crime is committed on British soil but the US claim jurisdiction over it because either they claim there are co-defendants based in the US so all should be tried together, or they claim that the proceeds from the alleged crime have passed through US wire services, or they claim that the alleged victim was a US entity. None of these three reasons for claiming jurisdiction for prosecution of (remember) an innocent-until-proven-guilty British citizen should automatically be considered sufficiently compelling so as to allow automatic extradition. Our campaign is simply to ensure that a British citizen has the right to ask a British court to consider the merits of a UK prosecution rather than one in the US.
Why is facing trial in America considered arduous, compared to facing trial in the UK?^ back to top
Well just think about the impact on the innocent-until-proven-guilty defendant. Usually in the UK, the defendant would be granted bail. They would be able to continue to live with their families, continue to work, have time and resources to prepare for their defence. If found not guilty at trial, they can reclaim the majority of the costs of going to trial.
In contrast, an extradition forcibly removes the defendant from his/her home, family, work, friends and support network. Up until the case of the NatWest 3 and the direct intervention of the then PM Tony Blair, no British citizen extradited to America had ever been granted bail. This is because extradited defendants are considered flight risks as in the main they have fought their extradition (no matter that this is their constitutional right). They usually have no connection to America whatsoever - no family, friends etc so have no place to live whilst on bail.
Most people extradited continue to be incarcerated. Being granted bail is still the exception rather than the rule. Even where there is the possibility of bail, it will usually entail paying for accommodation and providing a substantial financial surety to the US court, which is beyond the means of most people.
Why is it harder to defend a case in the US than in the UK?^ back to top
Under UK legislation in a UK trial you can subpoena witnesses to attend to give evidence under oath. Yet once extradited you have no automatic right to compel any witness from the UK to attend. This means that finding supportive witnesses prepared to come to America to give evidence on your behalf is particularly difficult.
The costs associated with preparing a defence are considerable, not least when you take into account paying for your UK home (where families are involved this can be significant) together with your temporary US home, as well as having had UK lawyers to assist in the extradition case, and then US lawyers to defend a case in the US.
The trial date often slips, meaning you are compelled to stay in the US for increasingly long periods of time before you are able to present your defence to a judge and jury - and you spend increasingly longer times away from your family and friends.
If found not guilty at trial, you are unable to recoup the cost of your defence, unlike in the UK.
Why not enter a plea bargain?^ back to top
If a defendant believes in his/her innocence, it goes against the grain to plead guilty to an offence. Furthermore you are required to go before a US court and give an oath that you agree with the plea bargain you have entered into with the prosecution. If you are thousands of miles away from all that you hold dear, and faced with a prolonged period of absence whilst you await a trial, the date of which continues to slip, with mounting costs, the pressure to enter into plea negotiations is immense. Many feel this is no way to achieve justice. However for the US system it produces results - in excess of 98% of defendants enter pleas.
Why did the UK Government agree to sign legislation that is clearly weighted against UK defendants?^ back to top
The best explanation is that it was designed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and sold to Parliament as an essential tool in the War against Terror. Ironically, to date, not one single terrorist suspect has been extradited from the UK under this legislation.
What is the UK Government doing about the unfairness in US extradition?^ back to top
When in opposition both the Tory and Lib Dem parties were fully aware of the two primary flaws in the legislation (forum and evidential requirement) and vowed to amend the legislation. Yet once in office their action was simply to launch a Review. The Home Office Review is due to report soon. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has already reported on the Human Rights aspects of extradition and in a strongly-worded report, has recommended amendments and fed these recommendations into the Home Office. The Home Affairs Select Cttee has also held an inquiry into our extradition legislation - and is due to report its findings.
What should the government do to protect British citizens from unfair extraditions?^ back to top
Immediately: invoke the forum clause that exists already in the Police and Justice Act (from 2006) to ensure UK courts are given the right to test the appropriateness of jurisdiction.
- Renegotiate the US/UK treaty so as to require prima facie evidence before extradition is granted
- Amend the forum clause to ensure that the presumption is in favour of a UK trial where that is possible
- Require all countries to support their extradition requests with evidence.