A debate in the House of Commons last week revisited the issue of the extradition treaty with the United States, which is the cause of controversy every time a difficult case is subjected to it. The request for extradition of the NatWest three in 2006 was one such example, the case of alleged computer hacker Gary McKinnon is the current one.
There are two complaints raised about the extradition treaty with the United States: that it is unequal, and that it is inadequate.
It is unequal in that the standard of evidence needed to extradite someone from the UK to the US is lower than that required to send somebody the other way. This blog observed at the time of the NatWest case that this is not necessarily a reason to oppose the treaty: it is in our interest not only to receive criminal suspects from other countries for trial here but also to send criminal suspects to face justice abroad.
But this is the second complaint: is Mr McKinnon really being sent to face justice? He has a medical condition which might be taken into account here, but might not in the United States. The Americans seem to take rather more seriously the damage to their security systems that his alleged computer hacking has done than commentators suggest might be the case in Britain. The tendency of American prosecutors to exaggerate the charges in order to encourage plea-bargaining is frequently cited as a reason for concern.
Within the European Union, there are the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights to go some way towards protecting individuals accused of crimes (and perhaps it could go further) but such considerations do not apply to the United States. The practical application of the notion of human rights is still less than universal.
In the debate, Labour MP Denis MacShane argued, among some less elevated comments, that:
“We must understand that every nation has different rules of law. There are different rules of law, evidence and court procedures in Scotland and in England, but that does not mean that we have to have extradition between our two countries. The House and the nation needs to come to terms with the fact that the rule of law no longer has a national flag stamped all over it.”