As published by the Mail on Sunday:
Most distressingly, any Briton can be seized from their home and taken to a prison in a foreign country purely on the say-so of that nation’s lawyers if they claim the person is guilty of some – as yet unproved – crime.
For the UK is one of most amenable nations in the world to the surrender of its citizens to overseas courts – but we do not insist on corresponding arrangements with other governments.
We have witnessed the human toll of this shocking imbalance in recent years, with the US, for example, making strenuous efforts to haul Britons before American courts.
On the other hand, our Government allows its foreign counterparts to obstruct us when we ask for their citizens to come here to stand trial.
The most egregious current example is America’s refusal to send intelligence officer Anne Sacoolas back to Britain to face justice after being charged with causing death by dangerous driving over the death of a teenage motorcyclist on a road in Northamptonshire.
I totally understand the need for justice and global security but the great risk is that our over-willingness to co-operate means injustice for our own citizens.
Last week saw the latest example when a judge at Westminster Magistrates’ Court agreed to the extradition of one of our most successful entrepreneurs to the US.
Mike Lynch’s firm Autonomy was based in Britain, did its business in Britain and was governed by English law. He became embroiled in a legal wrangle after he sold Autonomy to US giant Hewlett-Packard a decade ago for about £8 billion. The deal soured and the US authorities are now trying to extradite him to stand trial there, alleging he fraudulently inflated Autonomy’s value. He strongly denies the claim and his lawyers have accused the US of behaving like ‘an overweening, international police force’.
The Serious Fraud Office here investigated and decided not to proceed.
It is crucial to understand the very important ramifications of this case. America has a ferocious legal system with a 97 per cent conviction rate, where prosecutors, not judges, set the sentences. Defendants, too, are subjected to coercive plea bargaining. For example, people are encouraged to admit an offence and get a lesser jail sentence rather than continue to plead innocence and, if convicted, get a much longer term.
This is not a question of Britons such as Dr Lynch avoiding trial. They simply want a fair one in the UK. However, last week, a British judge ruled that it is ‘in the interests of justice’ to extradite him.
It was a grim irony that this judgment against one of our most successful entrepreneurs – who created multi-billion-pound, artificial-intelligence technology firms – came on the same day that Ministers announced a plan to help UK businesses create world-leading, high-tech products and services.
The only conclusion to draw was: Invest in science and technology in the UK but be careful not to fall out with the Americans, otherwise the consequences are grim.
Dr Lynch is not the first such victim. Giles Darby was one of a trio of NatWest staff jailed in the US after being extradited from Britain to America in 2006 – accused of fraud for alleged links to the Enron scandal while working at the bank.
He ended up in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day in a Pennsylvania penitentiary, without a clock and thus unable to know what time of day or night it was.
He and his co-charged were treated like criminals long before any trial began – placed in chains, frog-marched and strip-searched.
It is now up to the Home Secretary to decide whether Dr Lynch should stay in this country or be sent to a US cell.
I, and many others, urge Priti Patel not to submit to this grotesque and unjust process. She must wait for the outcome of a separate High Court trial examining the fraud allegations against Dr Lynch.
Also, she must clear up the mess that is our extradition system – one that was hurriedly established by Tony Blair’s Labour government after 9/11 to tackle terrorism.
The truth is that the system has been extended far wider than tackling terrorists. In recent years, ten times as many Britons have been extradited to the US as Americans surrendered to Britain, the vast majority for non-violent crimes.
Our extradition agreements with EU nations need reform, too. For 20 EU countries are refusing to guarantee that suspected criminals among their own citizens can be extradited to the UK.
Until such reforms are achieved, I believe all pending extraditions of Britons to the EU or the US should be put on hold for all but serious violent and sexual offenders.
At a time when Ministers are not shy about standing up to the EU, this is a great opportunity to sort out a system which has become shamefully corrupted and which, as the ordeal of Michael Lynch and his family shows, is causing a great deal of harm.