Monday 23 October 2006

Extradition by Order of the USA

The Police and Justice Bill returns to the House of Commons today from the House of Lords. The Lords have amended the bill on a number of issues. One of the most important amendments is to insist that if a person is to be extradited to a foreign country a British court must have the right to decide whether it is in the interests of justice that the extradition goes ahead.

This sounds a reasonable enough safeguard given that it is the primary duty of any state to protect its citizens. Not for New Labour though. John Reid is refusing to budge on this question and will demand that Labour MPs vote to overturn the Lords' amendment.

An extraordinary alliance has been formed to lobby Parliament to maintain the safeguards inserted into the bill by the Lords. The alliance includes Liberty, Justice, the CBI and the Institute of Directors.

The alliance is based upon the fear of the wide reach of the Government's extradition proposals which though designed to counter terrorism is also drawing in businesspeople accused of any felony in the US or with even the vaguest connection with the US.

With the emergence of global business communications it is often the case that more than one state will have jurisdiction over an alleged crime. The effect of the Government's proposals is that a person can be plucked from their home country and transported abroad to be tried and face a long period in custody before the case comes to court even if the British authorities do not believe that there are grounds for a prosecution.

The Lords' amendment to the bill allows a British court to determine whether the trial in the state requesting extradition would be in the interests of justice. This sort of condition is common in most extradition treaties.

New Labour ministers and whips have been touring the Commons arguing that there is nothing controversial in the bill and that the Government is simply tidyng up the law.

Far from it, this bill in fact threatens a fundamental principle of British justice that a British citizen can look to a British court to protect his/her rights.

Surely it is for British courts to determine the guilt or innocence of a British citizen or failing this whether there are sufficient grounds for a British citizen to be held to account in a foreign court.

It is hardly surprising that many view this as an abject failure of New Labour to protect British citizens and dancing once again to the tune of the Bush regime.