Clegg orders fresh review of extradition laws headed by Ming

by Stephen Tall on November 19, 2011

It’s two-and-a-half years since Nick Clegg as Lib Dem leader publicly stood up on behalf of Gary McKinnon, a computer hacker wanted to by the US authorities under controversial extradition laws:

The Americans are hell-bent on extradition and making an example of him. He was told if he sat back, pleaded guilty and said nothing about his extradition, he could end up doing a shorter sentence in a British prison. But because he exercised his basic right to challenge his extradition, he’s now classed as a terrorist. … No fewer than three Labour home secretaries have played their part in this fiasco. … The only conclusion possible is that the British Government cares more about its relationship with the United States than it does about the welfare of its citizens. Where is this Government’s moral compass? The truth is this Government has lost its basic sight of what’s right and what’s wrong.

However, it’s clear Nick is having to fight all the way within the Coalition for the government to address the issue. So Nick has taken the decision, as Lib Dem leader rather than as Deputy Prime Minister, to commission a party review headed by former leader Ming Campbell QC to ensure that reform does not get forgotten.

Here’s how the Telegraph reports it:

The deputy prime minister has broken Government ranks to set up a Liberal Democrat review amid fears the Conservatives will not reform the controversial act. Sir Menzies Campbell, who is a QC, is to chair a panel to examine how the arrangements could be reformed.

The treaty has been criticised as unfair by the families of Britons facing extradition, particularly Janis Sharp, the mother of Gary McKinnon, the autism sufferer wanted by US authorities to answer hacking charges. An official review by retired judge Sir Scott Baker concluded last month that the Extradition Act was not biased despite the fact nine times as many Britons have been extradited as Americans.

Mr Clegg, who attacked the treaty in opposition, believes his conclusions were “questionable” but fears the Conservatives will accept them and not attempt to reform the act. He has set up his own review as Lib Dem leader rather than deputy prime minister and it is expected the findings will form a basis for his party’s policy on which to fight the next general election. However, the move will also allow him to deflect criticism if the Coalition Government fails to act.

The paper quotes a spokesperson for Nick Clegg saying:

“There is a strong view among Liberal Democrats that Baker’s findings are genuinely questionable. The fear is that the Conservatives will accept the findings of the Baker Review and nothing will change in the extradition arrangements between Britain and the US. Nick made clear his views on the treaty in Opposition and he wants a second opinion. Menzies led the charge on this issue when he was Leader and Nick thinks he is the perfect person to head up a Liberal Democrat review of the issue.”

Janis Sharp, Gary McKinnon’s mother, described the Lib Dem review as “fantastic news” and praised Mr Clegg (and attorney general Dominic Grieve) for “standing up for the rights of British citizens”.