Barack Obama blocks reform of 'one-sided' extradition treaty
Quote:American government sources have said they believe the treaty is "fair" and is essential for the prosecution of people who have committed crimes in America but are in Britain.
However, senior Conservatives and Liberal Democrat ministers, including Nick Clegg, have claimed that the extradition treaty is "one-sided" and does not provide enough protection for Britons.
A series of high-profile extradition attempts, including that of Gary McKinnon, the alleged computer hacker, and three NatWest bankers, have sparked public anger over the arrangements.
The Coalition is committed to reviewing the treaty and is set to appoint a high-profile figure to consider alternatives. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has said it is still the Government's intention to review the arrangements.
However, the issue could now lead to problems in the transatlantic relationship, which is already strained following the BP oil spill.
A well-placed American Government source said: "Our position is any examination of the treaty will show that it is a balanced treaty. "The treaty does not target Britons but criminals sheltering in the UK. It is not about trying to get Britons, it is trying to get criminals, regardless of nationality. Nationality is not a factor."
The source added that if people looked at the "cold hard facts" they would conclude that the treaty did not need to be revised.
"There is a fair amount of misunderstanding," he said when asked if British ministers had unfairly criticised the treaty.
He disclosed that in the majority of cases, the treaty was used to extradite foreign nationals, particularly Americans, staying in Britain.
A spokesman for the American embassy in London said that it was an "excellent treaty".
"We think it's an excellent treaty providing equal justice for both countries," the spokesman said.
It is not thought that the British government has yet approached the Americans about renegotiating the 2003 treaty.
However, the Home Secretary said that she will push ahead with the review.
Baroness Neville-Jones, the Home Office minister in charge of security and counter terrorism, has been appointed to lead the review of the treaty.
It is understood that Lady Neville-Jones is likely to appoint a British judge or someone with a judicial background to review the controversial treaty.
But, the American position on the treaty is a setback for the Coalition.
Last year, Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, described the extradition arrangements as a "mess" and pledged to reform the treaty.
"Our extradition laws are a mess," he said at the Conservative party's annual conference last October. "They're one sided. A Conservative government will rewrite them." Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, previously campaigned to stop Gary McKinnon from being extradited.
The US is seeking to extradite Mr McKinnon who hacked into sensitive American computer systems. He has argued that he suffers from Asperger's syndrome and that his actions were harmless as he was attempting to find evidence of UFOs.
Last December, Mr Clegg said: "This treaty is wrong and Gary McKinnon's extradition to the USA must be stopped. The Government can change this." The British government could unilaterally alter the 2003 Extradition Act but this would be likely to antagonise the Americans.
The treaty has long-proved controversial. It was adopted by the UK in 2003 although America did not ratify the treatment until 2006 following British pressure.
It was initially intended to help deport terrorism suspects although it has been used more commonly for white-collar fraud. In some cases, the alleged crimes were committed in the UK but had ramifications in America.
Ian Norris, the former chief executive of Morgan Crucible, was extradited to America earlier this year under the treaty and is now on trial amid allegations of price fixing.
The Home Secretary has been considering whether to extradite Mr McKinnon for the past eight weeks. She said she was considering "representations" from Mr McKinnon's lawyers.
Asked by Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs select committee, if she was being pressured by the Americans "to make this decision quickly", Mrs May said: "I am well aware about the feelings about this case from a variety of sources.
"I am also well aware that the Home Secretary has a limited, a particular role in this and it is important that I recognise the legal framework in which I am operating."
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