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Extradition: Gary McKinnon

Volume 726: debated on Wednesday 23 March 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent discussions they have had with the Government of the United States about the extradition of Gary McKinnon.

My Lords, we regularly discuss a range of extradition matters with the United States authorities, who are anxious to see a conclusion to Mr McKinnon’s case. However, further consideration has been delayed because my right honourable friend the Home Secretary wishes, before deciding the case, to obtain an up-to-date assessment by medical experts recommended to her by the Chief Medical Officer, and Mr McKinnon has not yet granted medical consent for this to take place.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer, but it tells me little more than I already know. Is it not ironic that a Parliament which has voted against the lengthy detention of criminals should keep a young man suffering from the condition known as Asperger’s syndrome in psychological torture for more than 3,300 days? Is it not time for the Home Office to liaise with those who have expertise in autism? Perhaps the department should go to the National Autistic Society and ask for a list of people with expertise in the area rather than relying on the normal line of, “Let’s see what the Chief Medical Officer says”.

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord wishes to question the expertise of the newly appointed Chief Medical Officer. Negotiations are under way about the choice of an expert or a panel of experts, and we are assured by Mr McKinnon’s solicitors that they will consent to this. That is what we are waiting for. We have to recognise that these are complicated legal issues which have to be dealt with by legal means. Further, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that Mr McKinnon was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in August 2008.

My Lords, when I met Mr McKinnon’s mother last week, she informed me that his state of health is deteriorating all the time. I hope that my noble friend will be concerned to learn that Mr McKinnon spends every day behind closed curtains and does not participate in life as he used to. When the Chief Medical Officer chooses an appropriate psychiatrist or a panel, it is essential that the psychiatrist is someone who specialises in adults with an autistic spectrum disorder. That is because to date, the solicitors who have seen Mr McKinnon at the behest of the Government have not been specialists, and at the end of their investigations have openly admitted that this is not their specialist area.

My Lords, the sole grounds with which the Government are now concerned are Mr McKinnon’s medical condition and whether it would be an abuse of his human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights to extradite him to the United States. Some noble Lords may wish to note that this is a case where the European Convention on Human Rights is at the centre of the issue.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that Gary McKinnon had a history of mental health issues prior to any of these legal issues? Indeed, there is a history of mental illness on both sides of the family going back three generations. It is not just a matter of him having been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in September 2010.

It was August 2008, my Lords. I have seen all these pieces of evidence which have been circulated widely among us. But this is an extradition case and we have to be concerned with the legal process and the evidence presented to that process. This evidence has now been presented and we are hoping that there can soon be an examination by expert witnesses who can provide the basis on which the Home Secretary and others can take a judgment.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we are all sympathetic to him personally, for he is the victim of a very unfair, unbalanced extradition treaty? If he has any trouble with the American authorities, will he tell them that he has no more confidence that Mr McKinnon would get a fair trial there than some Americans had that IRA suspects would get a fair trial here when the extradition of IRA terrorists was refused by the United States on the basis that they could not get a fair trial in this country?

My Lords, the Extradition Act 2003 and the agreement with the United States were, among other things, to deal with the problem of extraditing IRA suspects from the United States. We have to recognise that extradition is a process in which there has to be mutual trust and respect between the legal authorities in different countries. This was to improve extradition between the United States and Britain and also between Britain and Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a number of other countries. There are, of course, those in Britain who do not think that it is possible to have a fair trial in the United States and there are those in the United States who think that it is impossible to have a fair trial in the United Kingdom. We have, however, to respect each other’s legal procedures within democratic countries governed by the rule of law.

My Lords, are the Government giving any consideration to the fairness of the extradition treaty and will they revisit it?

My Lords, the coalition agreement stated that there would be a review of extradition arrangements and in September 2010 the Government announced that the right honourable Sir Scott Baker would lead a review, which is now well under way. That review panel will visit Brussels about the European arrest warrant and Washington about the extradition treaty with the United States in May, and it will report this summer. That panel will cover the breadth of the Secretary of State’s discretion in an extradition case, the operation of the European arrest warrant, whether the US/UK extradition treaty is unbalanced, and whether requesting states should be required to provide prima facie evidence. This is a very thorough review by three respected barristers.

My Lords, accepting the requirements of the extradition treaty and given that the Home Office already has reports on Gary McKinnon’s case from two of the best known experts on Asperger’s and autism—Professor Jeremy Turk and Professor Declan Murphy, both of the Institute of Psychiatry and both of whom are regularly relied upon by Her Majesty's Government in relation to these conditions—why has it concluded that it needs a further medical report, and why was it originally looking for a non-specialist report rather than specialist reports, which we now understand the Chief Medical Officer is hoping to provide?

My Lords, it is for precisely that reason that the Home Office has asked another department, the Department of Health, and its Chief Medical Officer for their own, more independent opinion.