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Extradition treaty overhaul urged

Vital extradition arrangements between the UK and the United States are being threatened by the loss of public confidence among Britons, MPs have said.

There is a risk that the lack of confidence, fuelled by concerns over a series of high-profile cases, "will translate into wider disaffection", the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee warned.

It called for an overhaul of the controversial 2003 treaty which governs arrangements, saying judges should decide where cases are heard, an initial test of someone's guilt should be considered, and the treaty's text should be changed to ensure it is balanced.

The report comes as Home Secretary Theresa May considers the results of an independent review by former Court of Appeal judge Sir Scott Baker last year, which found the treaty was both balanced and fair.

The committee's review of extradition proceedings comes as retired businessman and all-Kent Golf Club Union president Christopher Tappin, 65, is being held in jail in New Mexico while he awaits trial on arms dealing charges after being extradited last month.

Student Richard O'Dwyer, 23, of Chesterfield, is also fighting extradition after being accused of breaking American copyright laws by using his computer in the UK. And Asperger's sufferer Gary McKinnon, 46, from Wood Green, north London, is still waiting to hear whether he will be extradited over hacking charges.

Keith Vaz, the committee's chairman, said: "The treaty is unbalanced, making it easier to extradite a British citizen to the USA than vice versa. The cases of Gary McKinnon, Richard O'Dwyer and Christopher Tappin have highlighted public concern that these arrangements are one-sided.

"Prosecutors must be required to produce evidence in support of an extradition request and the accused should have the right to challenge that evidence in court. British citizens should also be given the opportunity to face trial in the UK. This would save both time and money."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, said: "No-one should be sent abroad without a basic case tested in a local court and it's time the Government loosened the straightjacket around our judges to let more cases be tried at home."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We thank the Home Affairs Committee for its report on extradition. We will consider the detail of the report and respond shortly."


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