news analysis - the new extradition act


Under new European Arrest warrants, British citizens could be swiftly extradited to EU countries, where they may not get a fair trial. This measure is part of the Extradition Act, which came into force last January, itself a result of the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam.

The act was based on two fallacies: that proceedings under the Extradition Act 1989 were unnecessarily lengthy, and that we should have blind faith in the legal systems of other EU countries.

As Blackstone's, standard guide to the act, notes, the act sacrifices liberty "in the interests of speedy (and cheap) justice" leaving "few remaining safeguards for extradition defendants". The act "aims to speed up extradition by removing protections for defendants". For the first time, defendants can be extradited for conduct that is not criminal under Britain's domestic law and may face unfair trials.

France and Italy are routinely cited for police brutality and non-respect of defence rights. Stephen Jakobi of Fair Trials Abroad observes that British citizens could face "dysfunctional judicial systems" that "virtually guarantee the conviction of the innocent foreigner due to sub-standard interpretation, legal advice facilities and judicial quality". The trial of the British plane spotters in Greece was a good example of this.

Before this act became law, extradition was forbidden if there was a real risk of flagrant denial of justice in the requesting state, for example if the trial was based on evidence obtained by torture, or if there was "a real risk of ill-treatment" of the defendant, or if there was a real risk of the defendant's being sentenced to death. In 2002, a British court quashed the Home Secretary's decision to return a Mr Ramda to France because of unanswered allegations that the French police had obtained evidence against him through torture. Under this Extradition Act, our courts would have to enforce all such unjust decisions.

But, characteristically, this Labour government seeks to subject us not only to the EU's reactionary laws and practices but also to those of the USA. In 2003 the Labour government signed an Extradition Treaty with the USA, in which it was agreed that Britain would extradite British citizens to the USA with no US obligation to produce prima facie evidence of their guilt. Typically the agreement was one way only: there was no similar obligation on the USA. The USA is clearly a state where there is "a real risk of ill-treatment" of defendants, a real risk that defendants would be tortured, and a real risk of defendants being sentenced to death.