Simon Hughes challenges Home Secretary over McKinnon extradition

by Stephen Tall on July 7, 2009

Yesterday’s LDV highlighted an article by Lib Dem peer Lord (Alex) Carlile, urging that alleged computer hacker Gary McKinnon not be extradited to the USA to face charges – it is feared Mr McKinnon’s health could significantly deteriorate as a result of his Asperger’s condition. Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes used the opportunity of topical questions to the Home Secretary yesterday to ask Alan Johnson direct if he would intervene to prevent Mr McKinnon’s extradition.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Will the Home Secretary act now to deal with growing anger in my constituency and around the country about the plans to extradite Mr. Gary McKinnon to the United States? Mr. McKinnon has no previous convictions and suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. Given that there is power to try him in this country, where the offence was committed, will the Government intervene to ensure that that happens and that he is not sent to languish in an American supermax jail indefinitely?

Alan Johnson:
First, the case is the subject of a judicial review and I do not think that I can say anything helpful about that. However, there were reports this morning that the hon. Gentleman’s colleague in another place had written to me to ask me, as Secretary of State, to use my “undoubted discretion” about the case. I have no discretion over prosecutions. The High Court confirmed that in January, when it said:

“The decision to prosecute is exclusively one for the Director”—

of Public Prosecutions—

“and not in any way for the Secretary of State.”

As the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts noted in his Parliamentary sketch:

If you believe the Alan Johnson described for us in some newspapers, this unhappy tale of Mr McKinnon would be the sort of case the new Home Secretary would indeed want to grab.And yet the Alan Johnson of yesterday was less brave.

First he said that the case was ‘the subject of a judicial review’ and that he could therefore not become involved.

But in his next breath he said that ‘I have no discretion in the respect of prosecutions’.

It was a matter solely for the director of public prosecutions. Make your mind up, sir. If you indeed have ‘no discretion’ in the case, why can you not tell us your views?

There is no point being talked up as a potential future leader of the Labour party if you are not going to use your clout a little and indicate your views.