Fast-Track Extradition: Is Now Too Soon?

Author:Mr Stephen Gentle
Profession:Kingsley Napley

The Government is intent on demonstrating an immediate legislative response to the events of September 11th. Curtailing the ability of suspects (or "criminals" as the Home Office web site revealingly calls them) to manipulate an "out moded" extradition process is high on the agenda. However, recent intemperate and often ill-formed remarks about delays in extradition do not publicly address underlying problems and fail to do justice to what has been a lengthy and rather low-key consultation process into this complex area of law. The result is that proper reform may be a casualty of the political imperative to "do something".

Extradition can be a slow process. Delays of many months can be caused, for example, by failures of requesting states to initially provide anything but the most flimsy documentation, by constraints of court time and by files sitting in the Home Office. Legal argument also takes time. If a suspect is to be sent to an alien jurisdiction with an unfamiliar language, a system of justice about which he or she may know nothing, away from family and contacts, it is only right that the request for extradition should be rigorously tested. In any event, extradition to a country which has ratified the European Convention on Extradition, even under the current "cumbersome" procedure, does not require the requesting state to produce prima facie evidence - simply a statement of facts. Other countries, such as the United States, must produce only evidence sufficient for an English committal for equivalent criminal conduct - generally not an insurmountable hurdle.

The debate over problems in extradition is not new - particularly within the European Union and particularly in the context of increased cooperation in the judicial sphere. The 1995 and 1996 EU Conventions on Extradition began to address such problems by, inter alia, simplifying uncontested committals, reducing the scope of speciality (by which a suspect can be tried in the requesting state only for those offences for which committal is granted) and by abolishing the political offence exception to extradition. The UK has not ratified either of these conventions. The 1999 Tampere Summit on the creation of a European "area of freedom, security and justice" recommended the abolition of extradition of convicted persons and its replacement by simple transfer. It also recommended fast track extradition (without definition) "without prejudice to the principle...

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