||The Daily Mail’s blog section, Right Minds, carried an article over the weekend on the UK-US extradition treaty written by David Bermingham, one of the NatWest 3. Bermingham argues that the Government’s failure to reform the treaty jeopardises British democracy and the rights of British citizens to justice and a fair trial.
From the Daily Mail:
“You can tell much about the heart and soul of a government by its legislative programme. Being bold takes principles, and an ability to argue the case, cogently and with force.
“Two separate Parliamentary committees have concluded, after lengthy enquiries, that the Extradition Act 2003 needs to be amended.
“The UK is alone in the world in allowing its own citizens to be extradited to another country to face trial, without evidence, and for crimes which, if committed at all, have been committed in the UK.
“The European Court of Human Rights decided last month that the extradition of five alleged terrorists to the US would not breach their fundamental rights, despite the prospect of life imprisonment in solitary confinement in one of America’s notorious ‘Supermax’ facilities.
“Amongst the five is Babar Ahmad, a British Muslim from London, who is accused by the Americans along with Syed Talha Ahsan of running websites inciting violent jihad in places such as Chechnya and Afghanistan over a decade ago. Mr Ahmad has the dubious distinction of being the longest serving remand prisoner in modern UK history, having been in prison contesting extradition since 2004. Like Gary McKinnon, Mr Ahsan suffers from Aspergers Syndrome and like Mr Ahmad, has been held on remand for many years.
“… the idea that we should outsource our criminal justice system for reasons of political expediency is as profound a betrayal of the British public as any imaginable.
“If the boot were on the other foot, you can be sure that the Americans would be demanding that we hand over any evidence so that they could decide whether to try the individual at home.
“Extradition may not be an issue that affects many, but its effects on the few are profound. Habeas corpus and the presumption of innocence are the cornerstones of any democracy. The Extradition Act all but eviscerates them. It is a disgrace that the Government did not give Her Majesty something to say on the matter.”
There have been a raft of issues which have recently brought to the fore questions concerning the UK-US arrangements on the ‘war on terror,’ including agreements on intelligence-sharing which have been used to defend the redaction or withholding evidence in cases involving the UK’s alleged complicity in rendition and torture.
Writing on Politics Home, Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice minister, criticises the Government’s proposals to extend the mandate for secret trials and argues the importance of open justice:
“Any government must ensure that national security information isn’t compromised, but must do so without unduly undermining the principle of open justice. It’s for that reason the Government’s proposed introduction of new secret hearings are flawed.
“Open justice is a central pillar of our legal system: justice must be done and must be seen to be done. The principle underpins our nation’s standing as a beacon of justice and provides citizens with confidence in the workings of our courts. It’s part of the right to a fair trial, both in our common law and under the Human Rights Act.
“At the same time, keeping our country safe means that intelligence information produced by our invaluable security services and our foreign partners cannot, and should not, be disclosed, something both will understandably want to limit.
“… it appears the concerns of our allies are being misused as a Trojan Horse for far-reaching upheavals to our entire civil justice system.
“Proposed are secret court sessions, where evidence is shown only to the Judge and a ‘special advocate’ (an independent lawyer who cannot even discuss the secret evidence with the individual they represent). That evidence stays hidden if disclosure is deemed to be against the ‘public interest’ but it’s the Government, not a judge, who decides the ‘public interest’. The usual checks and balances giving proper scrutiny of government action are not present.
“Balancing civil liberties and national security is tough… Shrouding our justice system in secrecy without proper justification creates damaging mistrust and a dangerous gulf between governments and the citizens it is purporting to protect. Worst of all, it undermines the principle of open justice on which the credibility of our entire legal system depends.”