Why is Extradition Watch important?
Extradition is an important part of fighting cross-border crime, but it’s also a traumatic punishment in and of itself. Regrettably, changes over the past few years have subverted time-honoured protections in the UK’s extradition system making the extradition of British residents far too easy.
The Extradition Act (2003) short-circuited due process by eroding traditional British justice safeguards. Such “fast-track” extradition is justice denied.
No-one should be extradited to stand trial in a foreign country without evidence being presented in a British court to prove there is a basic (prima facie) case against them. And a properly effective "forum bar", allowing our judges to prevent extradition where an alleged offence takes place partly or wholly within the UK, and it would be in the interests of justice to do so, should be introduced.
Despite much rhetoric from politicians of all stripes on the need for reform, so far we’ve seen very little positive change. Worse still, some of the few safeguards which remained in 2003 have recently been stripped away.
How can I get involved and take action?
Sign up for email updates
Tell me more about Extradition Watch
At Liberty we’ve long called for the introduction of an effective “forum bar”. This would enable our judges to prevent extradition where an offence is allegedly conducted partly or wholly within the UK, and it would be in the interests of justice to do so.
If a “forum bar” had been on the statute book, it would have been possible for a UK judge to halt the extraditions of Gary McKinnon, Richard O'Dwyer, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan.
A forum bar has now been introduced, but it falls far short of an adequate safeguard. It can be vetoed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, it’s skewed towards extradition and heavily hinders judicial discretion.
CPS guidance for British prosecutors in forum cases has also been issued but, taken together, the two reforms are so restrictive that they are of no practical benefit.
Prima facie case
Following the Extradition Act (2003) British residents can be removed to stand trial in another country under a “fast-track” extradition system. This means that a British court never gets to consider whether there is evidence to justify the charge. Liberty believes no-one should be extradited to stand trial in a foreign country without evidence being presented in a British court to prove there is a basic (prima facie) case against them.
Automatic right of appeal
The automatic right of appeal against extradition has been scrapped. Once in force, this reform will have a very negative impact on unjust extradition requests.
The automatic appeal right – allowing people to present all up-to-date evidence to the High Court, and challenge the reasoning of the initial order – is a key protection against wrongful extradition, particularly given the lack of other safeguards.
Human rights considerations
The Home Secretary’s duty to bar extradition to “Category 2” countries (all of those outside of the EU which have an extradition treaty with the UK) where she considers removal would breach human rights has also been repealed.
Some progressive extradition reforms have been introduced with regard to extradition to “Category 1” countries within Europe. While such changes could go further, they are nonetheless welcome and should now be extended to extraditions to countries beyond the continent – such as the US.