Is extradition a one-way street?
It is the basic unfairness of the extradition treaty which sticks in the craw
By Ben Griffiths | Published 11:16, 16 April 12
The case of these former Greenwich NatWest bankers was the first to be tested under the then new 2003 Extradition Act, a non-reciprocal arrangement with the US, which was designed in the wake of the 11 September terror attacks to fast track the deportation of terrorism suspects wanted on the other side of the Atlantic.
At the time the white collar case of the three - David Bermingham, Giles Darby and Gary Mulgrew - made front page news, involving as it did the dangerous precedent of allowing the US authorities to extradite British citizens without the need for prima facie evidence. In other words, without the need to present proof any crime has been committed.
The NatWest Three lost their case and various appeals and served time in a Federal prison in Houston, Texas during 2006. But the issue of extraditions to the US remains vitally important and unresolved six years on.
Legitimate business people, as well as innocent members of the public, can easily find themselves being extradited to the US on very thin evidence.
Take the case of Chris Tappin. The 65-year-old former freight company chief is accused of trying to ship missile components to Iran. He was extradited in February without being able to challenge the allegations in a British court.
In order for Britain to try and extradite any US citizen to face justice here, a US court would have to decide whether the move would infringe their rights under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which determines that probable cause must be demonstrated.
It is the basic unfairness of the arrangement which sticks in the craw. Figures obtained last year by one British newspaper showed that since the treaty came into force nine times as many Britons had been extradited as US citizens. More than 30 British citizens have been sent to the US for trial. Just three Americans have come to the UK to face justice.
Where any alleged misconduct or illegal actions have occurred in the UK, then suspects should go to trial here. That argument was a key plank of the NatWest Three’s defence. And yet it failed. The trio subsequently pleaded guilty to charges related to the collapse of US energy trading giant Enron.
One could argue that the men were ultimately treated justly given that they admitted to the crime.
And yet the focus of much of the media coverage at the time, of which I was part, rightly in my view emphasised the principle that was at stake.
It’s time for the government to take another look at our treaty with the US and ensure extradition is not a one-way street.