By Julia O'Dwyer
Last week the UK couldn’t extradite a serial paedophile back to the US because his human rights would be breached. Yet this is exactly the kind of case that extradition laws were intended for.
Meanwhile the home secretary can’t wait to hurl my son Richard across the pond for the most heinous crime of creating a website with links to films, TV shows and documentaries. There are, of course, no human rights considerations for him. This is despite the fact that 'linking' is not considered to be copyright infringement under UK law. Richard’s website did not hold or provide any copyrighted material itself.
The US wants to extradite Richard on charges of criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, both charges punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment.
Yet this is not all. Extradition is an additional punishment meted out before any trial and for some this has meant eight years in prison before even being sent to the country where they will go on trial. Innocent until proven guilty? Hardly. It is a totally destructive process - it destroys families, relationships and ruins the lives of those close to the victim. It provokes feelings of the utmost rage against our own government, and helplessness at the futility of the situation - causing despair, depression and terror. And strangely enough embarrassment too – yes, embarrassment at what our own government is willing to do to its own people while other civilised nations look on and wonder and ridicule.
The common perception in 'extradition circles' (victims, the public and some lawyers and campaigners) is that the UK to US extradition treaty is imbalanced. The main issue in question concerns the number of times America has sought a British citizen who has never set foot in the US and who has committed, if any, crimes in the UK. At the crux of the matter is the fact that this does not happen the other way around – the UK does not pursue Americans for crimes being committed in the US but allegedly against the UK. In a recent freedom of information request to the Home Office in April this year, it was confirmed that not one American has been extradited to the UK for alleged crimes committed on US soil.
This can be seen clearly by the likes of Christopher Tappin and Ian Norris, both extradited to the US for alleged crimes committed in the UK, while according to the Home Office, another five British citizens currently await extradition to the US for alleged crimes committed whilst in the UK.
This contradicts the Scott Baker extradition review which found no imbalance in the US-UK treaty, something the Home Office regularly quotes to campaigns. However, there are two significant reports on extradition that are rarely publicly mentioned. The first is the joint committee on human rights report, The Human Implications of UK Extradition Policy which recommends that a safeguarding 'forum' should be in place. This would require the judge in an extradition case to consider whether it is in the interests of justice for the requested person to be tried in the requesting country. More importantly, if the alleged offence took place wholly or largely in the UK, the accused should be tried in the UK and the extradition request refused. The significance of this is that in order for extradition to take place the alleged conduct must be a crime in both countries.
The second report is the home affairs select committee's on the US-UK extradition treaty 2012. It also recommends a safeguarding 'forum'. It acknowledged the human cost of extradition as well as the impact on the victim’s family - factors which are completely excluded from the earlier Scott Baker review.
In view of that fact alone, the home secretary would do well to make sure these two reports are under her consideration and to consider the human factor.
The government continues to drag its feet on making the right decision, David Cameron and Dominic Grieve whinge on and complain that the matter is difficult and complicated. The home secretary has lost her tongue and speaks via Damien Green or the faceless minions wielding rubber stamps at the 'extradition team'. It should not be difficult to afford British citizens the same rights as Americans. We do not need to seek favours from the US as our rights are supposed to be the same.
So what’s the problem? The problem is our weak, spineless politicians. It is their "craven subservience to the US", as David Bermingham of NatWest 3 fame recently and so aptly put it at a public demonstration outside Downing Street.
Even American citizens are ashamed at what their government is trying to do, so ashamed and alarmed that one high profile US citizen, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, has taken up the cause to support Richard by launching a petition to our prime minister, deputy prime minister and the home secretary. It has already attracted a phenomenal response in its first week and already MPs such as Louise Mensch, Tom Watson, Julian Huppert and others have signed. Even some extradition lawyers have signed as well as other high profile candidates like Graham Lineham. It's early days with the petition and we anticipate that many more people will sign it.
The internet is a global phenomenon and so quite rightly, support against Richard's extradition is coming from all over the world with thousands of personal messages of encouragement.
Our politicians need to shape up because public outrage is building and will continue to do so. Allowing the US to reach into the UK and grab people for crimes committed in the UK has dangerous implications for many. If it is allowed to continue unchecked it will have dangerous implications for the government too.
Extradition should be a last resort not the first option and should be used to return fugitives from serious crimes like murder and sexual abuse back to where they committed the crime as was intended, not to grab students from their bedrooms who have not even set foot in the US.
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