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Government will consider implementing 'forum bar' to extradition, Attorney General says

Individuals subject to extradition from the UK to face criminal charges abroad could be tried in the UK despite a recent review of UK extradition laws recommending otherwise, the UK's top legal advisor has said.21 Nov 2011

Attorney General Dominic Grieve told Parliament that recommendations contained in the 'Review of the United Kingdom's Extradition Arrangements' by Lord Justice Scott Baker were merely "guidelines" and that Government was not compelled to follow them.

Under the UK's Extradition Act provisions exist that would enable judges to prevent UK citizens being extradited if "it appears that a significant part of the conduct alleged to constitute the extradition offence is conduct in the United Kingdom, and in view of that and all the other circumstances, it would not be in the interests of justice for the person to be tried for the offence in the requesting territory".

However, those 'forum bar' provisions of the Act have not been implemented and in his review the Lord Justice said he did not think there was a case for them to be. Instead he said that "formal guidance" was more appropriate for "prosecuting authorities" to follow "when deciding whether or not to prosecute in the United Kingdom a case involving cross-border criminal conduct".

He said in his report (488-page / 1.66MB PDF) that he took this view because there was "no evidence that any injustice is being caused by the present arrangements".

This has angered campaigners for computer hacker Gary McKinnon. McKinnon was arrested in 2002 on suspicion of hacking into US computer systems, including those belonging to NASA and the Pentagon. US authorities have called for McKinnon to be extradited but McKinnon is fighting the summons on medical grounds.

The UK-US extradition treaty agreement allows either country to surrender a criminal suspect to the other if the crime carries a minimum punishment of a year's prison sentence.

In Parliament Grieve was asked whether he had considered "implementing a forum bar" that would "give judges more discretion in deciding whether it is in the interests of justice for cases to be tried in the UK, such as the case involving Gary McKinnon, or where the offence was committed in the UK and it is difficult for the defence to bring witnesses and evidence to a foreign jurisdiction?"

In response Grieve said that the prospect of implementing a forum bar Government "will have to be taken into account" when the Government responds to Lord Justice Baker's review.

"Lord Justice Scott Baker’s proposals are guidelines, rather than an implementation of the forum bar. That is something that the Government will have to consider," Grieve said.

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