The period after the expenses scandal where anything was possible is now over, and Labour MPs are back to their craven, authoritarian ways. Take the case of Gary McKinnon, one of a number of people whose rights are being abused by the 2003 Extradition Act:
And so to how the Commons passed Wednesday afternoon. The Conservatives used an opposition day debate to call on the government to review the 2003 Extradition Act, with the specific aim of aiding Gary McKinnon, the Pentagon hacker whom the US wishes to extradite to face trial and up to 70 years in one of its fine prisons. McKinnon has been diagnosed with Asperger’s and the Daily Mail has taken up his case. Without wishing to spoil the ending, no fewer than 74 Labour MPs who had previously signed written motions backing McKinnon or demanding a review of extradition agreements with the US were too craven to defy the party line, and so the motion was defeated.
You need hardly be told that the debate played out to a typically underpopulated chamber, or that government engagement tended toward the half-hearted. Indeed, one had the overwhelming sense that the home secretary really just couldn’t be done with the hassle, and anyway the argument was way over his head. “I accept that I am not a lawyer,” Alan Johnson declared blithely. “I am a hack politician. I go by the advice I get.”
These people really are unspeakable in the casual way they are prepared to sacrifice a man who under British law had not committed the equivalent of a felony, yet whom they were still prepared to sacrifice to a foreign judicial system to face much greater charges. Purely for party-political advantage they were prepared to ignore the rights of a man whose rights they had previously championed (my MP is among them) – this can’t be what we really expect, even as business as usual at Westminster. It does however illustrate the terrible iniquity of the Extradition Act. Want to read its background? It’s chilling:
On 1 January 2004, by Order of the Home Secretary David Blunkett, the UK’s “Category 2” extradition partners were decided. This apparently innocuous measure has the effect of ratifying the controversial Extradition Treaty between the UK and the USA, signed by UK Home Secretary David Blunkett and US Attorney General Tom Ashcroft on 31 March 2003. This agreement removes the requirement on the US to provide prima facie evidence when requesting the extradition of people from the UK, but maintains the requirement on the UK to provide evidence to satisfy the US constitution’s “probable cause” when seeking the extradition of US nationals.
The Order designating the category 2 countries (SI 2003/3334) implements the UK Extradition Act 2003 and opens the way for the extradition of suspects from the UK on the basis of “information” – rather than actual “evidence” – to the US and another 107 countries, many with dubious human rights records. The Act covers UK citizens and third-country nationals.
The entry into force of Statutory Instrument 2003 No. 3334 means that the UK-US extradition treaty will have been signed and ratified with no prior debate and no parliamentary vote. The Home Secretary signed the Treaty with his US counterpart under “royal prerogative” (powers which were never “democratised”) and delegated powers (the 1989 Extradition Act). Parliament was not consulted and did not receive the text of the Treaty until almost two months after its signature.
So a person is able to be extradited to the United States based on information, not evidence, and this rights-denying legislation wasn’t passed by parliament? What a mockery the Labour MPs’ behaviour makes of their party’s recent bleating after the expenses scandal, that the Commons would begin to reassert its authority over the all-powerful executive. The Conservatives even give them an opportunity to do so, but instead they behaved like the immoral, power-hungry machine they have now become. Anita Coles from Liberty says:
Fast-track extradition purely on the basis of administrative convenience and efficiency is justice denied.
She’s right and we should all stand up for Gary. However your MP voted last week, get in touch with them here and keep making his case. New Labour has no interest in the rule of law – it’s up to us to fight to restore it.