A few home truths about extradition from the United Kingdom
Are our extradition laws really favourable to the United States, or is this just a perception issue?
The case of Christopher Tappin, the British businessman recently extradited to the United States to face charges that he sought to supply Iran with batteries for Hawk missiles has sparked, yet again, the tiresome British charge that the 2003 extradition treaty between the United States and Britain raises problems that, as Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC put it, are “not readily curable.”
This charge is in some respects misleading. In the other respects, it is false.
The treaty itself was the subject of a review led by the Rt. Hon. Sir Scott Baker, which reported in October 2011. It found that “there is no basis for seeking to renegotiate the 2003 Treaty.” Sir Scott concluded that, while the U.S. and Britain have different legal systems, “there is no practical difference between the two [evidentiary] tests [in the U.S. and Britain] and the 2003 Treaty does not operate in an unbalanced manner.
Nor is there any basis to conclude that extradition from the United Kingdom to the US operates unfairly or oppressively.”
It would be a service to Anglo-American relations if members of Her Majesty’s Government were willing to stand up and acknowledge the results of this review.
If they disagree with its findings, they are of course free to say so. But they should also state exactly why they disagree. Instead, what we get is a fusillade of vague innuendos that the extradition of particular British subjects to the United States is (understandably, it is usually implied) perceived by the British public as unfair. This perception is completely wrong.
Extradition of individuals accused of serious criminal offenses by fellow democracies is a fundamental part of justice, of compliance with treaties, and with the law of nations, not an offense against any of these. Simply put, nations are not supposed to harbor fugitives from justice, if the charge against them is well-attested and made by a fundamentally law-abiding and friendly democracy.
The mechanisms of the 2003 Treaty were devised, and well-devised, to protect individuals of both nations against frivolous charges. When Americans are extradited to Britain, there is no American hue and cry. As Sir Scott notes, the U.S has not refused a single extradition request made by Britain since 2003, be it for an American or a British national.
I do not blame Mr. Tappin’s wife for wanting to save her husband from extradition. But the fact remains that the British process that considered whether to honor the American request for extradition was lengthy, extending all the way up to and through an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
It is not true that, as Mrs. Tappin has put it, “nobody was prepared to listen to Chris’s defence before carting him off.” Extradition is not a decision on guilt or innocence: it is recognition by one nation’s authorities that there is a creditable case to be answered in a foreign court. The place for Mr. Tappin to defend himself is in the United States.
What is particularly toxic about the British extradition panic is that it is now wrapped up in a broader attack on the U.S. legal and justice system.
Mr. Grieve’s comments are characteristic: “there’s a lack of public confidence in the US justice system, which is a rather wider issue and more complicated than the minutiae of the treaty agreement. There are perceptions in this country that the US criminal justice system can be harsh, its penal policy can be harsh, and its sentencing policy can appear disproportionate by European and British standards.”
The simple answer to that is that if British subjects are concerned about the U.S. penalties for trying to sell weapons parts to Iran from the United States, they should not get involved with individuals who have since been convicted of doing exactly that. If you don’t like the time, don’t do the crime.
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