Archive for the ‘Crime and Justice’ Category

Extradition Roulette

Today’s decision not to extradite Gary McKinnon, accused of unlawfully accessing US Department of Defence computers back in 2002, was not a victory in the struggle against unjust laws but it was a victory for one man in his struggle against an injustice. McKinnon faced likely death behind bars in America for a crime which wouldn’t even warrant a custodial sentence in Britain. His case drew widespread support from the public and Gary became a celebrity victim in the campaign to reform Britain’s extradition laws.

Under the Extradition Act of 2003, not only can a person can be extradited to a country they have never visited to stand trial for an offence which potentially isn’t a crime, or is only a minor crime, in their own jurisdiction, but the measly hearing they receive is unable to even consider the evidence (or lack there of it!) offered against them. This results in people being extradited when the evidence against them is insufficient for conviction in a British court or even for prosecution. The accused can be sent to countries where they face draconian punishments considered grossly disproportionate in the UK, countries with inhumane prison conditions, countries where they will face a kangaroo court or countries in which their guilt will be determined by a state official rather than a jury. British standards of justice are not so high that we cannot reasonably demand that others meet them as a condition of extradition.

The public support for McKinnon was doubtless the real driving force behind the decision of the Home Secretary, fierce opponent of the Human Rights Act, to reverse the decision to extradite (supposedly) on the grounds that it would be “incompatible with his human rights” due to his being a suicide risk. But the accused have rights regardless of whether they are sympathetic characters or not and the decision to follow through with an extradition shouldn’t be left in the hands of populist politicians.

Britain’s broken extradition laws can’t be fixed by selective enforcement. When ministers pass judgement on who shall be extradited and who shall not, regardless of the legal technicalities or the standard of evidence offered against them, extradition becomes nakedly political. Would a much less sympathetic person, the specifics if the case remaining unchanged, have received this pardon? Would somebody motivated by Islamic fundamentalism? Would somebody who had been the subject of Royal displeasure? Would somebody who was an opponent of the Government or who had been accused of a more sinister crime expect the same intervention?

Going through with the extradition of Gary McKinnon would have made him a martyr for the cause of extradition reform and the Government would have found itself under mounting pressure to offer up an actual legislative remedy. Gary McKinnon’s extradition was sacrificed on the alter of public opinion so that the Extradition Act might live. The case wasn’t dropped to make the extradition process more just but to ensure that it may remain unjust.

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Delaying Tactics: Britain’s Colonial Victims Deserve Better

Are appeals being used as a delaying tactic by those trying to avoid justice? That was the accusation made by the Government last week after the High Court rejected the final appeal of Abu Hamza et al. against their extradition to the United States on various terrorism related charges.

The final appeal of the five suspects was undoubtedly little more than a last-ditched attempt to delay their extradition to a country with an often outrageously harsh prison system, but theirs was not the only stalling attempt thwarted in the High Court that day. It also rejected the Government’s latest attempt to prevent the case of three Kenyan torture victims from being heard.

The Government’s challenge that the case could not be fairly tried due to the amount of time that has passed since the crimes were committed was thrown out by the court in a hearing which lasted less than five minutes, but has taken up several months of the proceedings. This delaying tactic was the second attempt by the Government to avoid accepting responsibility for the crimes committed against its colonial subjects through legal trickery; last year the High Court rejected the Government’s push to have the case dismissed on the grounds that legal responsibility for the crimes of the colonial administration passed to the independent Republic of Kenya rather than the government of the United Kingdom.

The legal action, which has been repeatedly stalled by the Government, began back in 2009 and it’s expected to be another year before the trial starts in proper (assuming there are no further pre-trial shenanigans from the Government). One of the four elderly claimants, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, has already died during the drawn-out proceedings, which raises the question: can any of the victims hope to see justice done in their lifetimes?

Quite possibly not, if precedent is anything to go by. Following the forced depopulation of the native inhabitants of the island of Diego Garcia, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, to make way for a US military base, the Chagos Islanders fought a series of legal battles. In 2000, after a struggle lasting decades, the High Court finally ruled that the Islanders had a right to resettle their homeland. This ruling was effectively overturned by the Privy Council a brief time later. That ruling was itself deemed unlawful by the High Court. A ruling which was again overturned, this time by the House of Lords. The case drags on in the European Court of Human Rights to this day.

The three surviving Kenyan claimants, all elderly, are unlikely to survive a decade of Government delaying tactics and it may well be that neither they, nor the Chagossians expelled from their homes over forty years ago, will see the justice they deserve.