Extradition: the other side of the argument

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Yesterday, David Rawcliffe wrote that, based on the law as it currently stands, Gary McKinnon should be extradited. Today, Tim Worstall makes the case against McKinnon's extradition...

Here's a very gloomy thought for a Wednesday morning. It took our forefathers rather a long time to come up with the various measures that protect us as individuals from the abritrary exercise of State power. There were more than a few revolts and uprisings, at least one civil war and a revolution. We ended up with a system that was by no means perfect but was considered sufficiently robust in protecting the individual that when there was a rebellion against us and our restrictions, the newly formed US codified our mish mash of Habeas Corpus, the presumption of innocence, the right to speedy trial and so on.

Clearly such a system would be no use in protecting those rights of the individual if it stopped at the borders of the Kingdom: thus the imposition of rules upon extradition to other jurisdictions. Whatever was being alleged had to be a crime here as well as wherever they wished to try someone plus at least a modicum of evidence had to be offered that there was indeed a case to answer. It was not possible for a foreign power to simply demand one of us so that they could do as they wished.

This has all now rather changed. The Home Secretary thinks that sending Gary McKinnon off to the US for trial is just fine: despite the fact that as a forigner in the US it is almost certain he will not get bail. This despite the fact that under the higly unequal treaty with that country, no American would be extradited to here on the evidence so far presented. The US Supreme Court would not allow such a breach of a citizen's constitutional rights. (Worth perhaps noting this thought: "British version of the Act is written throughout with American spellings of English: in other words it was produced by US bureaucrats and pushed under the nose of Blunkett for his signature.")

Under the European Arrest Warrant Andrew Symeou is being held in a Greek prison. At no point has a case had to be made against, not to the standards that we would traditionally have demanded. Indeed, under that EAW we are all at the mercy of a number of jurisdictions that routinely bang people up without anything even vaguely resembling what we woudl call a fair trial.

And that is, in the end, my gloomy thought. It opens the way for Government to void all of our protections against arbitrary action. We might still be protected here, even if there are those in the Home Office who would wish that these pesky fair trial things were not so onerous, but we are no longer protected from being banged up in some foreign gaol. So, some assumed to be bad 'un might indeed be protected here, but there is no protection from a manufactured case from abroad.

Of course, I am being paranoid here: no British Government would ever collude with a foreign one to get one of us locked up without a fair trial, would it? By pointing out that this difficult character, while we can't try him in England, if you were to ask for extradition of course we'd have to had him over to rot in your prisons for a while? No, no, no government ever would act against the freedoms of a citizen in such a manner.

Of course, if we trusted governments that much we'd not insist on having protections here, would we? All of which rather leads to the conclusion that if extradition no longer requires the proofs and evidence of old then we are no longer free of arbitray imprisonment. Which isn't, when you come down to it, a great advance in civil liberties.

Stop lobbying yourself

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A new report by the TaxPayers’ Alliance reveals the cost of taxpayer-funded lobbying and campaigning, which it conservatively estimates at £38m last year. Public bodies are spending taxpayers’ money, through consultants, trade associations, policy campaigns and think tanks, to promote themselves and influence the policy process.

That government is spending money lobbying government is as outrageous as it is bizarre. Public bodies, set up to fulfil specified policy objectives, should not be spending our money to compete for government funding, support particular parties and push their own agenda.

However, that money is being spent in this way is not the most worrying thing about this report – the total is relatively small, and the Conservatives promise to ban such spending if they come to power. The greatest concern is what this behaviour reveals: that these bodies have a culture and an organisational structure that permit shameless promotion of particular agendas and a total disregard for the taxpayer.

This is not at all surprising: civil servants have simply responded to the incentives they face. Mandarins have been rewarded for furthering the agendas of their political masters, increasing the size and responsibilities of their departments, and appearing to deliver on specific policy targets; they have naturally adopted the means most conducive to these ends. The public sector, spending money that isn’t its own, remains unrestrained by the financial considerations that necessarily dictate the activities of private firms.

So what should a new governing party do about it? Well first of all, they must limit the size of the public sector – they must abolish scores of useless quangos, privatize suitable functions, and restructure services to reduce spending. But equally importantly, they must restore a culture of impartiality and financial discipline to public service.  They must explicitly include financial targets in the appraisals of civil servants, and base their pay on these results, and they must publish all government spending for public scrutiny, so that wastage can be identified and criticised by those who fund it.

Silliness from the Lib Dems

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As Labour’s popularity is at an all-time-low, the next general election could prove a real opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to make an impact on the two major parties. So, it’s good to see they’re focusing on the major issues affecting Britain today.

The idea that advertisements should be banned from showing airbrushed models is laughable, and yet this appears to be a serious proposal. Their argument is simple: teenage girls see airbrushed women on TV and strive to reach similar levels of unnatural perfection, damaging their health on the way. Therefore, we must ban advert actresses from being airbrushed. This is illiberal nonsense. I used to buy shaving gel advertised by David Beckham; it never tempted me to to cover myself in tattoos or grow a Mohawk!

Long before TV adverts came around, people would go to any lengths to look attractive and acquire what they saw as the perfect body shape, even if it damaged their health. In 1903, for example, Gladys Deacon had hot wax injected into her face to reshape her nose. It destroyed her face, but nobody considered banning candles. There is clearly a human desire to look good. Banning certain TV adverts is not going stop this.

If they are going to take advantage of the massive political opportunity the polls are currently giving them, the Lib Dems are going to have to up their game and tackle the serious problems facing Britain, rather than raising gimmicky minor issues worthy of a fringe party. It will be interesting to see whether Nick Clegg can take them to the next level.

Internet Explorer 8

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It seems that the ASI website is not displaying properly for Windows users who have upgraded to Internet Explorer 8. With a bit of luck, we'll be able to sort that out over the next few weeks, but apologies for any inconvenience in the meantime. The website is still displaying properly in Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera – all of which are available for free download by following the links.

Ten Economic Priorities

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Our latest report – Ten Economic Priorities: an agenda for an incoming government – is released today. In it, City analyist and ASI fellow Nigel Hawkins argues that the next government should draw up a 'Medium Term Financial Strategy' to convince investors that it is serious about bringing the public finances under control and being able to pay off the country's mountain of debt.

The need for such a measure is clear. The government aims to borrow £175 billion this year, and to continue borrowing, until its total debt reaches £1,370 billion in 2013/14 – some 76 percent of the nation's income. And of course, that ignores the £37 billion capital injection into the banks, and the £585 billion of bank liabilities now underwritten by taxpayers. Moreover, the IMF and other leading economists say the government's growth forecasts are far too optimistic. The bottom line is that unless serious action is taken, Britain could go broke.

Hawkins points out that public spending has soared, with the government expecting it to reach £671 billion this year. Extra welfare payments because of the recession could easily drive that figure higher. Accordingly, the report argues for radical, but politically realistic, across-the-board cuts in public expenditure – amounting to real terms reductions of 3 percent per annum over the medium term.

The report also makes clear that taxes have risen substantially on Gordon Brown's watch, and need to be reduced and simplified in order to generate economic growth. Across-the-board tax cuts will not be feasible until expenditure cuts begin to stabilize the public finances. However, swift cuts in corporate taxes, and reductions in other business burdens, are essential in order to boost the UK's competitiveness. In particular, the next government should reduce corporate taxes in order to promote investment, and reduce and simplify income tax and NI to promote employment.

The other seven priorities for the next government are as follows:

  • Closely control the money supply and commit to sound money.
  • Privatize functions such as water utilities, broadcasting, the postal service, and transport.
  • Reduce public sector pension liabilities by closing over-generous schemes to new members.
  • Restore honesty into PFI deals, which are currently not counted on the government's balance sheet.
  • Radically improve the management of public procurement to reduce cost and time over-runs.
  • Overhaul bank supervision, and stress-test the large banks to forestall a future crisis.
  • Progressively reduce government guarantees to the banks and sell its bank shareholdings.

The full report – which is very much worth reading – is available for free download here.

Barclays: £3 billion profits

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The widespread response to Barclays' announcement of £3 billion profits for the first half of the year has been broadly predictable: dismay about suggestions that bonuses might be offered, frustration that many small businesses still have serious difficulties obtaining credit, and a sort of  retributive anger that bankers, vilified justifiably as a factor in the current recession, seem to be back on their feet whilst many struggle during these hard times.

Yet Barclays' did not request support for the government, even if Robert Peston correctly points out that they may have benefitted to a degree from various governmental guarantees and safety nets. Instead, as the global downturn was really starting to bite last summer, they raised £4.5 billion in a rights issue from overseas investors, predominantly in Qatar, China and Singapore. Strong, independent banks will be a vital element in the economic recovery.

On the charge of not providing enough cheap credit, the banks are caught between a rock and a hard place in being urged by government to keep greater capital reserves and be more cautious with lending, whilst also being told to ensure that businesses can get the funding they need to ride out the recession. Furthermore, the high cost of lending is determined by the interest rate of wholesale lending between financial institutions, rather than merely the theoretical Bank of England base rate. Significantly, it is not retail banking from which Barclays is predominantly getting its current profits: profit from this fell 61% to £268m, whilst the amount of written off credit card borrowing soared 92% to £915m. Instead, it is profits at its investment banking division, Barclays Capital, that roughly doubled to £1.05 billion that was a key factor in their positive figures, helped by a gaining former customers of Lehman Brothers.

However, most importantly, we should be glad that a bank is making a profit. Firstly, it provides another possible indication that the recession may have bottomed out, gives investors greater confidence in financial markets and shows other banks that profitability is possible with the right strategy even in the current situation. Secondly, it is vital for Britain to have large multinationals making large profits, creating employment and wealth and contributing to the economy. The more companies get in profit sooner, the better off we will all be: Barclays' results should be greeted with relief more than cynicism or resentment.

It has become politically impossible for Barclays' to return to the system of bonuses for short-term performance that was de rigeur a couple of years ago, as Chief Executive John Varley put it "The year is not over - there are five months to go. We will make our decisions about variable compensation at the end of the year. When we do so..... we will behave responsibly." Providing the bonus system is designed to moderately reward cautious, long term growth rather than reckless risk taking, we should all be happy that a degree of prosperity is returning to a corner of the services sector, still Britain's economic powerhouse. Incentivising the creation of wealth, providing it is done responsibly, is exactly what we need.

Should Gary McKinnon be extradited?

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Not many people agree with me on this. Just looking through today’s papers I see I’m up against the formidable line-up of Boris Johnson, Peter Hain, Nick Clegg, and Sting.

No doubt I’m also in disagreement with many readers of this blog, for whom the recent judgement of the High Court may seem symptomatic of much that has been wrong with the British state over the last decade: a loss of common-sense decision-making, an unprecedented erosion of our liberties, and an unquestioning obedience to our American allies.

Wanting to extradite a vulnerable young man suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, who naively poked around military computer systems to satisfy his obsession with UFOs, and faces a possible life-sentence in a foreign prison, may also seem pretty unfeeling. So let me try to explain myself.

Of course I feel sympathy for the man, but that is not enough: this is not simply an emotional argument. Nor, despite the best efforts of indignant newspaper columnists and opportunistic politicians, is it a moral or a political one. It is a legal debate, and it is properly decided on legal grounds.

Those criticising the extradition have generally relied on three arguments, each of which the courts have considered at length:

  1. That the Home Secretary should never have sanctioned the extradition. Section 93 of the Extradition Act 2003 “requires him to order the person to be extradited unless one of the specified exceptions applies, none of which is relevant to the present."
  2. That McKinnon’s syndrome leaves him too vulnerable to be tried, and potentially imprisoned, in the US. The legal argument is that extradition would breach his rights under Article 3 of the ECHR, and so the Home Secretary has a duty not to extradite him. The Court concluded that “a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome manifestly fails to come within the type of conditions that engage Article 3."
  3. That McKinnon should be tried in the UK. The Court held that there were many reasons to prosecute in the US, not least “the location of witnesses and the location of real evidence, where the harm was done" and that “there is no reason for the Director of Public Prosecutions to seek to prevent his extradition by prosecuting him here and he is under no relevant duty to do so."

I am no expert, but the judgements of the courts seem intelligent, considered and faithful to the law. Perhaps for this reason, there has been very little engagement in the media with the legal arguments but plenty of criticism of the outcome.

To those angry at McKinnon’s impending extradition, it is therefore worth asking what they would recommend instead. Should the High Court have put public pressure and personal pity before the honest interpretation of the law? Should the Home Secretary have ignored the clear procedure of the Extradition Act, or over-ruled the legitimate decision of the Court? Surely the answer is no.

Boris suggests that the Home Secretary’s inaction may prompt us to “wonder why we have elected politicians at all." He already knows – we have elected politicians to represent the people in the production of legislation and the business of government, not to involve themselves in the administration of justice. If the law is to mean anything, it must remain the preserve of the judiciary, and, paradoxically, it must be followed by the courts even when it seems unjust. To put its interpretation in the hands of politicians, however good their intentions, and to throw cases open to be determined by the prevailing mood, is a dangerous and destructive step. Even in a case as difficult as McKinnon’s, we must resist its temptation.

UPDATE: Just to clarify my argument in the light of some comments below, none of this is to suggest that the Extradition Act is not in need of extensive amendment, perhaps affording more circumstantial discretion, accounting for medical conditions, and insisting on reciprocity from US authorities. My point is simply that politicians shouldn't blame judges for correctly interpreting bad laws, or arbitrarily intervene in individual cases because of public pressure.

James Freeland joins the ASI

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I am delighted to have the opportunity to be able to experience a think tank as prestigious as the Adam Smith Institute for two weeks. I have completed A Levels in History, Maths and English Literature and have an offer from Brasenose College, Oxford to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics next year. Whilst I have not formally studied any of the three disciplines yet,  I have enjoyed reading about British Political History, Constitutional Theory and of course Competition and Free Markets!

I am particularly interested in how free-market theories can be applied practically to facilitate an effective recovery from the current recession, and improve the currently inefficient provision of public services. Something I feel  particularly strongly is that educational reforms under the current government have failed to advance opportunity or decrease inequality sufficiently. Furthermore, there are serious implications to the fact that, regardless of the reality, qualifications are constantly being devalued in the minds of the public and employers. The constant creeping infringement of civil liberties is something that also concerns me. Thankfully ID cards have for the moment been undermined and will not be compulsory, but the advent of  increasingly complex technology means that we must be vigilant about the nature of information stored about us and how it is used.

In my spare time, I enjoy casual games of tennis and golf, and travel whenever possible.

ID cards: still a stupid idea

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In his unveiling of the final design for the national identity card last Thursday, Alan Johnson reminded us quite what a monumental failure the whole scheme has been.

Having last month backed down under pressure from all those with sense (including the public, both opposition parties, airline staff and some in the civil service) and announced that the cards would not be made compulsory, Johnson could no longer sell the scheme as the miraculous, one-shot solution to terrorism, illegal immigration and identity fraud that had been promised. At the great unveiling the cards were more humbly presented as “an important addition to the many plastic cards that most people already carry around."

The chief merit of the new card is apparently that it’s slightly smaller than a passport: useful as “a credit card sized travel document" for journeys within Europe. Doubtless those fed up by the burden of lugging about their weighty, cumbersome passports will be happy to shell out the £30 to buy an ID card, but the rest of us may not be so pleased that we’ve already paid a total of £200m towards the scheme, and are looking at another £5.4bn if the scheme progresses as planned.

When faced by a British public distrustful of big state databases, fed up with grossly wasteful gimmicks and unwilling to tolerate further intrusion into their lives, the government should have scrapped the scheme entirely.