8 Sep 2010

Review launched into UK extradition laws

Home Secretary Theresa May has launched an independent review of the UK’s extradition laws, to see if the UK’s treaty with the US is “unbalanced”. Darshna Soni meets one woman facing extradition.

'Bizarre' that mother being 'hunted down'
The FBI's wanted list included murderers and armed robbers. It also includes a petite, quietly-spoken mother of three from Oxford.

Eileen Clark left the States and came to Britain 12 years ago, following a divorce. She brought her three children with her, writes Channel 4 News Midlands correspondent Darshna Soni.

When I visited them at home, they were happily cooking lunch together. Two are now at university, one is studying for her A-levels. And yet, the children are also on the FBI list, described as "missing victims."

One of her children, Hayden Clark, told me: "I'm outraged, it's distressing and it's shocking, especially for friends and family who may see me on this list. It's bizarre that a loving, caring mother who has done everything to look after her children, is being placed on a list like this and hunted down, as if she is a terrorist or some form of mass murderer."

Mrs Clark and her ex-husband were initially both given joint custody of the children. Mrs Clark then moved from the States and then came to the UK. She claims she has always told the American authorities where she was living and has never tried to hide. Her ex-husband has never sought custody.

But a few weeks ago, there was a knock at the door and three plain clothes policement arrested her and imprisoned her for two days. She was told that she faces extradition for a new charge of "international parental kidnapping."

It's the first time she's heard of the charge.

Whatever her disagreements with her ex-husband, Mrs Clark says she's never sought to evade the authorities and feels it's unfair that, after all these years, the American authorities can suddenly request her extradition. She and her children welcome today's announcement of a review.

Ms May announced the review into the UK’s extradition laws including the controversial treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States in a written statement to MPs.

The review will also examine the capacity of the Home Secretary’s discretion to intervene in cases.

The proposed shake-up follows a series of high-profile cases, including that of alleged computer hacker Gary McKinnon and the NatWest Three.

“I am fully aware there are a number of areas of the UK’s extradition arrangements which have attracted controversy in recent years. This Government is committed to reviewing those arrangements to ensure they work both efficiently and in the interests of justice,” Mrs May said.

The treaty came into force after the 9/11 attacks in a bid to make it easier to extradite terrorist suspects, but critics say it is being used for other crimes including drug offences and fraud.

Campaigners against the 2003 treaty between Washington and London say it is biased against the UK because the US is not required to provide evidence to request extradition from the UK, while the UK still needs to present evidence to an American court.

In a written ministerial statement, Mrs May outlined the five issues to be addressed.

These include the breadth of Secretary of State’s discretion in an extradition case, whether the US and UK Extradition Treaty is fair and the operation of the European Arrest Warrant.

The government will appoint a panel of experts to conduct the review and report their findings by August 2011.

“I reflect on the importance of the relationship between the UK and the USA, but I am also aware of the comments being made outside this House and inside this chamber. That is why I think it is entirely right for the coalition Government to agree that we will review that treaty,” Mrs May said.

Extradition lawyer, Michael O’Kane, has told Channel 4 News the review is hoped to provide more protection for individuals who are being unfairly targeted.

“There’s been some concern about the extradition arrangements between the US and the UK for some time now. But there are also concerns with other countries. The number of European arrest warrants has gone through the roof in recent years. This is a real concern because it’s very difficult to challenge this type of warrant and it’s being used against individuals for minor offences,” Mr O’Kane said.

Director of civil rights group, Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, has also condemned the “rotten” extradition system that is currently in place.

“It is in urgent need of overhaul and we welcome this much-needed review. No-one should be parcelled off to a foreign land without due process or when they could be dealt with here at home – people in the UK have been vulnerable to accusation and transportation across the globe for far too long,” Ms Chakrabarti said.

Gary McKinnon, who has Asperger’s syndrome, is accused of hacking into dozens of US military computer systems.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have criticised plans to extradite the 44 year-old to the US, where he faces up to 60 years in jail.

Mr McKinnon does not deny hacking into Defence and Nasa computers, but says he was searching for evidence of UFOs.

But Mr O’Kane has warned that despite the review, any changes to the current laws could take years.

“The review is not likely to reach any recommendations until next year and those would require legislative reform. So we are at least a year or two away from any concrete changes, and that could be too late for the case of Gary McKinnon,” Mr O’Kane said.