It’s a common-sense idea that criminals should not be able to escape justice in one country simply by fleeing to another. In this Internet age, it’s also common sense that citizens of one country should not be able commit crimes electronically in another without fear of punishment. This is the problem that extradition is intended to solve.
Of course, it’s also true that all democratic nations have the obligation to protect the rights of their citizens and uphold their national sovereignty. Thus, any system of extradition must balance the national obligation not to become a safe haven for criminals with the vital importance of sovereignty.
The current extradition treaty between the U.S. and Britain, signed in 2003, has become controversial in Britain because, it is alleged, the treaty is biased in favor of the United States. The controversy has centered on the case of Gary McKinnon, a British national accused of hacking into U.S. government computers to confirm his belief that Washington was withholding information that proves, among other things, the existence of unidentified flying objects, the U.S.’s refusal to publicize the anti-gravity technology it acquired from the UFOs, and a 9/11 conspiracy. The British government has asked Sir Scott Baker, a senior judge, to conduct a review of the treaty, a review that is due to conclude this coming summer.
Last year, Heritage published a study of the treaty that concluded that, while extradition from Britain was too easy, this was not the fault of the U.S.–U.K. treaty. Rather, it was because the Labour government of Tony Blair wanted to make it easy to extradite individuals from Britain. Blair’s government therefore created low standards for extradition and applied them to many countries, including the U.S. The U.S.–U.K. treaty is compatible with higher standards if Britain chooses to apply them. In a paper published yesterday by the Foreign Policy Centre in London, Andrew Southam, a former extradition case officer at Britain’s Home Office, agrees that criticisms of the treaty are misconceived.
Southam also makes a series of well-considered recommendations for British policy going forward, including the need to work with the U.S. and other democratic countries to review the handling of complex crimes committed over the Internet and the need to monitor best practices in extradition, as both the U.S. and Australia have done.
Most important, though, is his final recommendation: The Baker review was a response to public pressure. If its findings agree with those of Heritage and Southam, British ministers need to make the case for the U.S.–U.K. treaty. The Labour ministers who negotiated it have done a disservice to U.S.–U.K. relations by badmouthing their own work. David Cameron’s government should make a calm, clear statement that the treaty works, and both sides should demonstrate a willingness to uphold its provisions conscientiously.