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Thoughts on extradition and its limits

“Perhaps the most annoying thing about Julian Assange (yes, I know it’s a long list) is that he is in danger of giving the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) a good name. Maybe my memory is failing, but I don’t recall any of his supporters being critical of the EU’s fast-track extradition system when it was being debated 10 years ago.”

Philip Johnston, in today’s Daily Telegraph. It is an interesting point to make. Leaving aside Assange for a minute (there’s no need to hurry), the power of extradition creates an interesting point for those concerned about liberty and the importance of due process of law. Some extradition agreements between states might be acceptable if, for example, an offence for which a person is to be extradited to country B from A is recognised as a criminal offence in both nations. However, with the EU Arrest Warrant, you can be extradited into a country from another where the offence in question is not recognised in the place where the person happens to be staying at a particular point in time.

As we have seen with recent controversy about the UK’s extradition agreement with the United States, a person can be moved to the US – and vice versa – without a prima facie establishment of guilt having to be shown in the country where the person is being transferred from. Given the plea-bargaining lottery that the US adopts in certain cases, for example, this seems to involve serious abuse of due process.

These points need to be aired because, amid all the other issues kicked up by the Assange affair (the alleged sex crimes, the activities of Wikileaks, potential damage to military forces in the field, etc) the specifics of extradition principles can be obscured. Unlike some more isolationist types, I don’t have a problem with treaties between states to shift suspected criminals around to see that justice is done, provided there is a reciprocal recognition of the rules of procedure. For instance, there is simply no way that a country such as the UK should have such an arrangement with a state enforcing shariah law, say, or with a country such as Russia, which is a police state, or for that matter, Ecuador.

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2 comments to Thoughts on extradition and its limits

  • Thomas Gibbon

    ‘provided there is a reciprocal recognition of the rules of procedure’

    I agree, but surely that’s unattainable: take your first example. The US system allows the Feds to set your trial for the indefinite future then lock you up (or cuff you) until your money runs out & you have to cut a plea. Happened with the NatWest Three. Mark Steyn says it’s the rule (98% of cases, from memory), not the exception. That’s a gross and deliberate violation of the right to a trial by your peers.

    The Assange case similarly. The man’s liberty has been taken away without due process of law – just on the say-so of a Swedish prosecutor.

    So I would ban extradiction of British citizens.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Extradition is tricky. Many of those who flee prosecution from a country where the rule of law is shaky are among those who subverted the rule of law there. It is usually the powerful and wealthy who have the means to flee overseas.

    To exempt such a person from extradition on that basis would be like granting mercy to a parricide because he is now an orphan.

    Bringing such persons to face the law is a powerful step toward establishing proper rule of law.

    But such cases may be full of ambiguity. I don’t think a bright line is possible.

    Also, even where the rule of law is partially corrupted, there may still be genuine criminals who have been genuinely found out by police. They should not automatically escape punishment by getting out of the country.