Governments often struggle to be seen to take a consistent stance on human rights issues, and in recent weeks the coalition has proved no exception.
After many years of litigation through the UK and European courts, on 6 October Abu Hamza and four other alleged terrorists were extradited to the USA, the day after the High Court rejected their final judicial review applications.
On 16 October, the Home Secretary announced her decision to block the extradition of Gary McKinnon, wanted by the US for hacking military computers. She considered that whilst he was accused of serious crimes, the medical evidence indicated that he was seriously ill with aspergers and a depressive illness, and that he would be a suicide risk if extradited. Extradition would therefore be incompatible with his human rights.
Whilst each case is different, the McKinnon decision has drawn comparison with the position of Talha Ahsan, a British citizen understood to have been diagnosed with aspergers in 2009, but who was extradited with Abu Hamza. The Home Secretary has also proposed changes to extradition law, which may have the practical consequence of putting decisions in cases like McKinnon in the hands of judges rather than politicians. Given the scope for political and diplomatic controversy over high profile extraditions, this is not wholly surprising.
Meanwhile, the UK’s Commission on a Bill of Rights continues its consultation work on proposals for a UK Bill of Rights, and how any new legislation might interact with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Commission’s report is due by the end of the year. Whether it will result in changes to the Human Rights Act or the UK’s relationship with the Strasbourg court remains to be seen, but we will provide an update when the report is available.