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Shameful part 7

After the court rulings regarding his extradition the only real hope that Mr McKinnon had (barring any ruling in Strasbourg) was that the home secretary Alan Johnson would change his mind. However that hope has now been dashed. Additional information was provided regarding Mr McKinnon's disturbed state of mind and the risk of suicide if he is extradited. To say this was regarded as extremely high on the medical evidence is putting it mildly. Mr Johnson has nonetheless concluded that extraditing Gary would not be a breach of the Human Rights Act.

There is no reiterating at length the points made in previous articles in this series. It is probably the case that if you refuse to treat extremely long sentences as cruel and inhumane and in particular if you do that without having specific regard to the nature of the crime (in my view one might realistically regard a 60 year sentence for rape and murder of a young child as not inhumane when you could regard it as inhumane for lesser offences) then the sentencing position does not breach his human rights (even though I think in practical terms it obviously does). Similarly if you treat the position of aliens with no right to be here as the same as the position regarding British citizens then you are inevitably putting a very high threshold on allowing human rights to intervene. For example if you ignore the nature of the crime and ignore the distinction between citizen and alien then in fact it is very difficult to come up with a coherent basis for failing to extradite Mr McKinnon unless you would fail to extradite terrorists (although ironically the fact that they could face the death penalty may save them). (I should note that were Mr McKinnon charged with an offence of terrorism committed within the United States than I would have no issue with his being extradited: one of the problems is that in order to really respect people's rights you need to be able to balance the effect upon them against the seriousness of that with which they are charged, which essentially the present process does not permit).

Also somewhat curious was the Home Secretary's attempt to defend the equivalence of the extradition arrangements between this country and the United States. The Home Secretary somewhat ludicrously stated as follows: " This aspect of my evidence to the Home Affairs Committee was designed to correct any continuing misperception that US/UK extradition arrangements somehow operate in a lopsided way to the US's advantage. They do not. For all the reasons I have given, our arrangements are as equivalent as our respective systems allow.". As with any such comment, the devil is in the detail. They are not equivalent because our respective systems do not allow it. Equivalent must mean the same. There is absolutely no point entering into a treaty where one side will not be able to comply with it in the same way because of constitutional requirements. It is disingenuous to suggest the contrary. For example on that logic if you had an extradition treaty with a country whose constitution said that its citizens could not be extradited at all, then you could still say that the arrangements were the same subject to the impact of the respective systems.

It is true that extradition arrangements are important. However that is but one of the factors which needs to be balanced in order to decide what is the right thing to do.

The consequence of all this is that Mr McKinnon has a very tight timescale in which to either challenge the decision in court here or at Strasbourg. The prospects are not good.

If the latest psychiatrist instructed on his behalf is right and Mr McKinnon does commit suicide, and the indication is given his fragile mental state this is a very real risk (and as per the comments of Prof Baron-Cohen referred to in earlier articles, it is not just a question of what would happen in prison but his perception of what would happen that governs his mental state, a distinction which courts possibly did not fully analyse) then Mr McKinnon will have had de facto a capital sentence imposed upon him. However his grieving mother and girlfriend will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that the courts and the Home Secretary did not think that his human rights were being infringed.

Michael J. Booth QC