UK extradition procedures may breach human rights, say peers
UK extradition procedures may breach human rights and those facing removal should encounter fewer obstacles in obtaining legal aid, according to a report.
In a detailed examination of law and practice, peers found no “systemic problem” but highlighted flaws – particularly in the way assurances given by foreign states seeking suspects were not always being honoured.
The protracted nature of extradition cases, the absence of a requirement for prima facie evidence, use of the European arrest warrant (EAW) for sometimes trivial offences and harsh US detention conditions have all made the regime the subject of fierce political controversy.
The 150-page study by the House of Lords select committee on extradition law acknowledges that recent changes have improved the way in which cases are handled – especially the introduction of a “proportionality bar” to prevent EAWs being enforced for minor allegations.
But the report suggests that assurances volunteered by extraditing countries – to guarantee decent treatment of detainees – may not be kept. Prison conditions promised in different cases by Lithuania, Poland and Trinidad and Tobago had not been respected, peers noted.
“Arrangements in place for monitoring assurances are flawed,” the report states. “It is clear that there can be no confidence that assurances are not being breached, or that they can offer an effective remedy in the event of a breach.
“The UK has an obligation to avoid foreseeable risks of human rights breaches … Without an effective monitoring system we cannot know whether assurances do in fact avoid the risks foreseen by the courts. Therefore, it is questionable, in our view, whether the UK can be as certain as it should be that it is meeting its human rights obligations.”
On the question of whether legal aid should be readily available for those contesting removal to a foreign jurisdiction, the report observes: “Extradition proceedings are different to other types of criminal law in not pronouncing on individuals’ guilt, but instead deciding whether or not they should be sent to other jurisdictions to stand trial.”
Peers dismissed a cost-benefit analysis previously provided by the government to an earlier review as “neither a sufficient nor a credible response to the concerns raised about means-testing for legal aid”.
A fresh exercise should be undertaken, the report urges, and unless it “very clearly favours” retaining means-testing then the interests of justice should take precedence and legal aid should be provided to suspects automatically.
The select committee report does not recommend reintroducing a requirement for prima facie evidence to be presented to a UK court before extradition can be authorised. “We believe this would be a retrograde step,” peers state. “We conclude that the existing law and practice provide sufficient opportunities to prevent inappropriate extradition.”
Lord Inglewood, the chair of the select committee, said: “The committee’s investigation has found that there is no systemic problem with the UK’s extradition regime. It provides a suitably swift extradition system to support the administration of justice, whilst ensuring that there are safeguards for those whose extradition is sought.
“[However] the government must examine the practice of extradition taking place on the basis of assurances from the issuing state. Assurances are given when there is a real risk of a person’s human rights being breached if they are extradited.
“I am disturbed that the main case for not retaining legal aid in this area appears to be an economic one, with little regard for the interests of justice. This is especially worrying as extradition can be a harsh and distressing process frequently affecting people who have yet to be tried for a crime.
“We conclude that the EAW is a vital tool in fighting crime across the EU but we recognise that it has been in the past overused and, on occasions, misused. We want the government to work with the European commission and other member states to make sure EAWs are used as an instrument of last, rather than first, resort.”