High risk of suicide if ‘hacker’ Lauri Love extradited to US, court told
Authorities in America have been fighting for Lauri Love to face trial on charges of cyber-hacking.
Extraditing alleged computer hacker Lauri Love to the US would not be in the “interests of justice”, leading judges have heard.
Edward Fitzgerald QC told Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and Mr Justice Ouseley during a hearing at the High Court in London on Wednesday there were “overwhelming reasons of justice and humanity” why any trial should take place in the UK.
Mr Love, 32, who has Asperger syndrome and lives with his parents near Newmarket in Suffolk, sat in the packed courtroom as Mr Fitzgerald listed the reasons for challenging extradition, including a “high risk” of suicide if he is sent to the US.
Authorities in America have been fighting for Mr Love to face trial on charges of cyber-hacking, which lawyers have said could mean a sentence of up to 99 years in prison if he is found guilty.
He is alleged to have stolen huge amounts of data from US agencies, including the Federal Reserve, the US army, the defence department, Nasa and the FBI in a spate of online attacks in 2012 and 2013.
In September 2016 a district judge at Westminster Magistrates’ Court ruled that Mr Love could be extradited. The current proceedings, due to last two days, centre on that ruling made by District Judge Nina Tempia.
It is argued on Mr Love’s behalf that she “misdirected herself and erred in law in her conclusions”.
Mr Fitzgerald said there was a “compelling” need for Mr Love, who also suffers from a depressive illness and severe eczema, to stay in this country with the care and support of his family. He submitted that the “proper place for him to be tried, if he is to be tried, is in the UK and not in the US”.
Mr Fitzgerald told the court: “The very fact that he would be taken away from his family, his home and the support that he desperately needs here is a disproportionate response to his alleged offending behaviour, because he could be tried here.”
The consequences of extraditing him would be “extreme”.
The QC said there was a “virtual certainty” that there would be a serious deterioration in Mr Love’s mental condition if he was sent to the US. He argued that it would be “unjust and oppressive” to extradite him because of his severe mental disorders.
There was further evidence, he said, which had become available since the hearing before the district judge, as to the “inhumanity of the conditions in the federal prison system”.
The courts of this country were the “natural forum” for any trial, and a prosecution here would “accord with the normal practice in respect of hackers who interfere with computers in the US or other countries by means of actions taken in this country”.
Emma Norton, head of casework for human rights organisation Liberty, which is intervening in the case, said: “If someone is accused of having committed a crime here in the UK, this is where they should stand trial.
“Extradition powers exist to stop fugitives escaping justice – not pack vulnerable Britons off to foreign courts and unfamiliar legal systems. When Gary McKinnon was spared a similar fate, Theresa May introduced reforms to prevent extradition if the alleged crime took place here. But this protection has yet to be exercised. Now is the time. The stakes could not be higher.”
Peter Caldwell, representing the US, made submissions inviting the judges to dismiss Mr Love’s appeal.
In written argument he said the district judge’s conclusion on extradition was “reasonably open to her on the findings of fact she made”.
Having identified a high risk of suicide, she “properly assessed whether and how that risk could be managed were the appellant to be extradited”.
He told the judges: “The evidence of the US authorities established that any risk to the appellant would be appropriately managed during transit in custody, and were bail refused, within the setting of pre-trial detention, and if he were convicted, on sentence.”
The hearing is expected to conclude on Thursday morning.