Commons backs extradition reform

By Alex Stevenson

The Commons has called on the government to reform Britain's extradition arrangements with other countries "to strengthen the protection of British citizens".

A backbench motion tabled by Conservative MP Dominic Raab was passed without a vote last night, as MPs placed pressure on ministers to look again at the European arrest warrant (EAW) and the US-UK extradition treaty.

The EAW – currently being used to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from the UK to Sweden – is criticised because it assumes standards of justice are the same across Europe.

Under the terms of the 2003 treaty with America, US officials can demand the extradition of a British citizen based on only "reasonable suspicion" – whereas US judges can reject a British application if no "probable cause" is shown.

"It is not about abolishing extradition, which is vital to international efforts in relation to law enforcement," Mr Raab told MPs.

"It is about whether, in taking the fight to the terrorists and the serious criminals after 9/11, the pendulum swung too far the other way."

Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon is the highest profile figure facing extradition to the United States. He has exhausted his rights of appeal but the home secretary can decide to withhold his extradition under the European Convention of Human Rights.

"At root it is about the injustice in dispatching someone with Asperger’s syndrome hundreds of miles from home on allegations of computer hacking when he was apparently searching for unidentified flying objects," Mr Raab added.

"Gary McKinnon should not be treated like some gangland mobster or al-Qaeda mastermind."

Two medical experts are currently working on a report to determine whether Mr McKinnon – who has Asperger's syndrome – would have his human rights infringed by being extradited to the US.

"We hope that the experts will report as soon as possible; but clearly a number of issues will need to be considered in depth," immigration minister Damian Green told the Commons.

Former home secretary David Blunkett said Britain needed a rigorous set of rules which could be applied impartially – in an apparent attack against campaigns to save individuals like Mr McKinnon.

"The rule of law has to apply equally and sensitively, but it has to include rules to which we can all adhere," he said.

"The NatWest three, or the Enron three as the Americans prefer to call them, were totally innocent according to their campaigns, and even I began to be convinced that they were, until of course they reached the United States and pleaded guilty."

Mr Green reminded MPs that the coalition government had commissioned an independent review chaired by Sir Scott Baker, which had concluded the current system was operating fairly.

He acknowledged its conclusions had been "controversial" and said "complex and important issues" had to be assessed.

"The debate has provided much more useful information and analysis, all of which I know the home secretary will take carefully into account," Mr Green added.

"As soon as we can, we will announce what action we propose to take in the light of the extradition review."