I am beginning to detect a thread running through a number of apparently unconnected news stories, to do with the threat to our liberties that is involved in various bits of dubious legislation (usually the result of some whim of Tony Blair, conceived on his sofa with his cronies) which hands over the power of our own national courts to other courts far away, courts of which – in Neville Chamberlain’s immortal words – we know little.
I wrote last week about our surrender to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg of the jurisdiction which ought (in my opinion) to belong to our own Supreme Court: I think we ought to have the right to extradite an undesirable foreigner (in this case Abu Qatada) to his own jurisdiction, if our own Supreme Court has determined that such an extradition does not transgress our own laws.
But there is a much worse kind of abrogation of the power of our courts: it is when, under the provisions of another truly rotten piece of legislation enacted by the Blair government, we hand over our citizens to the US “justice” system for alleged offences supposedly committed in this country, without any decision from our own courts as to whether any offence has actually been committed in the first place.
The most recent outrage against human decency under the abject 2003 Extradition Act (a gross example of Blair’s outrageous subservience to the Bush administration) is currently being committed against an almost certainly innocent retired businessman called Chris Tappin for the supposed “crime” of exporting industrial batteries from Texas to the Netherlands, allegedly with the intention (which he denies, almost certainly truthfully) that they were actually meant to end up in Iran for use in Hawk air defence missiles. In fact, there could have been no such intention, since the vendor of these batteries, Mercury Global Enterprises (MGE) of El Paso, was a front company set up by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to entrap businessmen engaged in the illegal export of controlled technologies. This is how the Times newspaper reported Mr Tappin’s appalling situation on Saturday:
He’s happily retired in the suburbs – but next week he’ll be in a US jail.
A 65-year-old businessman who was trapped in a ‘sting’ by America in 2006 faces extradition under terror treaty, writes Martin Fletcher.
“I can’t believe it’s happening,” Chris Tappin said over his extradition on charges of shipping batteries to Iran, for use in missiles. Chris Tappin seems an improbable criminal. Silver-haired, bespectacled and slightly deaf, the retired businessman lives in an elegant house in Orpington, heads the Kent Golf Union, representing the county’s 95 clubs, plays bridge and dotes on his grandson. At 9.30am next Friday, however, this apparent model of British middle-class respectability must report to Heathrow’s police station. He will be handed to US marshals who will escort him on a flight to Texas. On arrival in El Paso he will be strip-searched, manacled and taken into custody. Mr Tappin, 65, will probably spend the next couple of years in a violent, gang-infested US prison for a crime he insists he did not commit and for which he will not have been tried in either Britain or America. He will be 5,000 miles from his wife, who has a debilitating illness. He will sell his home to pay his legal bills. He will have a criminal record for the rest of his life. This is the UK extradition treaty that rides roughshod over fundamental British legal principles.
As Mr Tappin’s MP Jo Johnson (who has campaigned for the Government to honour its election manifesto promise to reform the 2003 Act) explained two years ago,
“The 2003 Act removed the need for certain countries requesting extradition to demonstrate there was a case to answer. This applied to all EU countries and 24 others, including the US. However, the US did not reciprocate: while the American prosecution needs only to provide summary ‘information’, rather than ‘evidence’, to trigger arrest warrants and extradition proceedings – the UK is unable to extradite US citizens without prima facie evidence. Reciprocity is an important principle. If the US believes in the constitutional principle that Americans cannot be extradited without evidence, it should not expect us to do just that. In this respect, we are truly the junior partner.”
This whole thing stinks to high heaven. Apart from the dubious business of US “sting” operations, in which American policemen set up fictional “crimes” and then lure suspects into committing them, there is the simple fact that, as Jo Johnson put it (he has, it seems, the same way with words as his brother Boris), “the extradition regime with the US acts like a robotic, mindless catapult that flings people across the Atlantic, at the whim of US Homeland Security” and without any examination whatever by our own legal system. The US doesn’t believe in subjecting its own citizens to international law. But it does very firmly believe in subjecting foreign nationals to its own sometimes grossly unjust legal system, under which, as the Times points out, Mr Tappin, as a foreigner,
“will likely be deemed a ‘flight risk’ and denied bail. He will then be offered a choice: plead guilty to a minor offence with a short sentence, or demand a trial on all three charges, knowing that he would face up to 35 years – the rest of his life – in a US prison, with no possibility of repatriation if he loses. A trial might not start for years. It would bankrupt him as there is no legal aid or reimbursement of costs in the US – he has already spent $65,000 (£41,000) on his American lawyer.”
This case vividly illustrates the appalling state of affairs the coalition began by saying it would reform. The very foundation of this country’s constitution (which Blair, in one way or another, went a long way towards wrecking) used to be the over-arching principle of the subject’s liberty under the law. And what that used to mean was British law: we all knew then that other nations’ laws had no necessary connection with liberty or justice. What has changed since then is that the laws of foreigners have in many countries shown considerable improvement in these respects: but not necessarily sufficient improvement (that’s why, for instance, arrest warrants from Greece should be, but because of the 2003 Act won’t be, quietly disregarded).
What did the Government actually do about its promise to reform the Act? Well, the Home Secretary Theresa May appointed Lord Justice Scott Baker to conduct, dread words, “an official review”. Baker’s conclusions were presented to the Home Secretary on September 30, 2011, and claimed, incredibly, that there is not “any basis to conclude that extradition from the United Kingdom to the US operates unfairly or oppressively”. What? Not oppressively? What about the oppressive treatment of Mr Tappin, lured into supposedly committing a non-existent offence, whose life is about to be effectively wrecked by this supposedly non-oppressive Act?
The Baker review, it should be said, contradicts the findings of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), which called for the Government to renegotiate the UK’s extradition treaty with the United States in order to ensure that British citizens get the same protection as Americans. But what will the Government actually do, now this wretched Baker has given them an excuse to do nothing?
It will ignore the parliamentary committee, that’s what: it will indeed do nothing. And by doing nothing, it will have proved yet again the old adage: that that is the necessary condition for evil to flourish. What is about to happen to Mr Tappin is truly evil: and by doing nothing to defend him, this Government, its Prime Minister, its Home Secretary and its Justice Ministers will have conspired to commit that evil. Shame on them all.