Yesterday should have been a good day in British-American relations.
In the wake of the "9/11" attacks in 2001, Britain and America hastily drew up a treaty to help in the prosecution of suspected terrorists and organised crime networks by speeding up the extradition process. Replacing the previous arrangements that dated back to 1972, the British Government ratified this extradition treaty in 2003, no longer requiring the Americans to present any prima facie evidence before British citizens might be extradited to America. As with so much of Labour's dismissive approach to legislation*, there was no parliamentary debate or scrutiny of the new treaty. In contrast, the US Congress was more critical of the proposed new treaty, resulting in an asymmetry of justice lasting more than three years that was one of the issues in the debate over the so-called NatWest Three, accused in connection with the bankrupt US energy company Enron of conspiracy to defraud the National Westminster Bank of $20 million and extradited to America last summer.
Finally, yesterday, the Home Office Minister, Baroness Scotland, and US Ambassador, Robert Tuttle, exchanged the Instruments of Ratification at a ceremony in London. However, the treaty remains unbalanced in that if the UK wishes an American citizen to be extradited to Britain, we must submit evidence for an American court to decide whether or not to proceed, whereas America simply has to present an outline of the alleged crime to force a Briton to stand trial in the US.
The treaty also permits the waiver of the "rule of specialty" that had previously protected individuals, preventing them from being prosecuted for any offence other than that for which extradition was granted. Given the Government's
obsession emphasis on human rights, I would have thought they would have wanted to do more to protect the rights of citizens. Clearly they had more important things to focus on.
Once again, the Government seems intent on undermining the special relationship that we have traditionally enjoyed with our transatlantic cousins.
* In the 116 years from 1881 to 1997, 117 bills were subject to a guillotine motion, meaning that time for debate was restricted an average of almost exactly once per year. From the time that Tony Blair came to power in 1997 to the end of the last Parliamentary session, time for debate and proper scrutiny of legislation has been cut short around 600 times an average of more than 60 times a year, much of that since the introduction of so-called programme motions at the end of 2000 that allow just 45 minutes for debate!