UK to review extradition laws over fears it's too easy for US to extradite British suspects

LONDON (AP) — Britain is likely to overhaul its extradition laws amid concerns the United States is able to fly suspects out of the U.K. with little proof they have committed a crime, a senior government minister said Wednesday.

A review of current laws would propose changes and consider whether the present rules are "unbalanced" in favor of the U.S. and against British citizens, Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement to Parliament.

It follows worries over high profile extradition cases including hacker Gary McKinnon, who is wanted in the U.S. for allegedly breaking into American military computers, and retiree Christopher Tappin, accused of plotting to sell missile components to Iran.

"I am fully aware there are a number of areas of the U.K.'s extradition arrangements which have attracted controversy in recent years," May said. "This government is committed to reviewing those arrangements to ensure they work both efficiently and in the interests of justice."

Lawyers complain that under "fast track" extradition procedures introduced after the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. is not required to offer substantial proof of an allegation when seeking to extradite a suspect from Britain.

David Blunkett, a former Home Secretary who agreed to the arrangements, acknowledged last week that he may have gone too far in loosening the rules. Blunkett told BBC radio he may have "given too much away" to the U.S.

May told legislators she will appoint a small panel of experts to scrutinize the operation of European arrest warrants and the scope judges have to refuse requests from other countries. The panel will consider "whether the U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty is unbalanced," she said, and is likely to report by September 2011.

The review could recommend new rules to block extradition requests in cases where an alleged crime has been committed largely in Britain but has attracted charges from another country.

The U.S. Embassy in London declined to comment on May's announcement.

Lawyers for Tappin, a 63-year-old golf club official, argue his case should be brought before the British courts. He is alleged by Washington to have arranged to sell specialized batteries for Hawk missiles to Tehran, but to have conducted the purported deals from southern England.

May has already suspended the extradition of McKinnon, a 43-year-old who has Asperger's syndrome, until the review is completed. McKinnon allegedly broke into 97 computers belonging to NASA, the U.S. Defense Department and several branches of the military soon after the 2001 attacks.

Figures released by the Home Office show 62 people, including 28 British citizens and dual nationals, were extradited from Britain to the U.S. between January 2004 and June 2010. During the same period, 33 people, including three people who are U.S citizens or dual nationals, were transported to Britain from the U.S.

"Britain's rotten extradition system is in urgent need of overhaul and we welcome this much-needed review," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of U.K. civil rights group Liberty. "No one should be parceled off to a foreign land without due process or when they could be dealt with here at home."

Jago Russell, chief executive of London-based Fair Trials International, a legal campaign group, said the review must properly scrutinize arrangements between European countries, not just with the U.S.

"Every day, three people are extradited under Europe's no questions asked extradition system and the cases of injustice are mounting," Russell said.

Former Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic was held briefly in British custody, and later ordered to remain in the U.K., earlier this year after he was arrested in London on a Serbian extradition warrant.

After a lengthy legal battle, Judge Timothy Workman rejected the Serbian request, saying the warrant had been used "for political purposes."

Ganic said European rules were flawed and his opponents had "abused the system here, and kept me here for five months."