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3 December 2009

Return to sender

By Shami Chakrabarti

A vulnerable young man, Gary McKinnon, will soon be extradited to the US for a crime he committed from his bedroom in London. He’ll be parcelled off to face trial and a long prison sentence far away from his family and a familiar legal system. But it’s not our courts that are to blame: instead it is bad law that has bound the hands of our judges.

Enacted after 11 September 2001, the Extradition Act was introduced with the express purpose of streamlining and fast-tracking the extradition process. What it achieved was to remove vital safeguards built up over time to guard against the real risk that someone could be extradited on the basis of politically motivated charges or on the flimsiest of evidence. So Gary McKinnon can be shipped off without a UK judge deciding where he might most appropriately be tried and the young student Andrew Symeou sent off to Greece to stand trial for manslaughter without the need to make out a basic case in a local court.

An act many once believed was a necessary consequence of the “War on Terror” is now applied to computer hackers searching for UFOs. Of course suspects must be brought to trial, whether here or abroad. But no one should be bundled off to another country without evidence or due consideration given to where they should be tried. Injustice in the name of expediency is still injustice.

Shami Chakrabarti is director of the human rights group Liberty

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