Archive for the ‘Criminal Justice’ Category

Whip round note.

This is a “whip round note”, when I post something on facebook where I feel a particular need to draw attention to my waffle, and tag anyone I think would (or should) take an interest in a leading issue. Obviously, that doesn’t apply at all here (this is technically another archive, from a few days ago), but it explains the title.

The issue is Extradition. The Catalyst is Gary McKinnon.

I wish to focus more on the former than the latter because, like it or not, Gary McKinnon is only one small piece in the overall larger picture of concern that is laid before is from time to time. I sympathise with his case, and strongly object to his being extradited, but in fact much more is at stake with this issue.

Gary McKinnon committed a serious crime, but moreover the fact is that at every point the American approach has been wrong.

Firstly, they have unequal arrangements constitutionally. It cannot be in doubt that were we to try and extradite an American citizen in similar circumstances, it would most likely be blocked at the first hurdle, due to the superior constitutional protections for US citizens.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson was correct to argue that the legislative conditions of the treaty were more or less equal, but only technically. One cannot divorce a law from it’s constitutional connections, and our lack of constitutional protections re: extradition makes the arrangement a lop-sided one.

Secondly, the are attempting to bring a prosecution on what amount at best to highly unreasonable charges, and at worst outright malicious ones. Had Mr. McKinnon been tried in Britain, he would have been tried for the actual crime. In the US, they wish to try him for terrorism charges, and, to put it bluntly, exercise the maximum possible punishment for exposing the inadequacies of their network security.

The Pentagon asserts that Mr. McKinnon’s actions cost them “$800,000” — one wonders, from the information available, this was merely the price of installing competent network security.

Thirdly, it is possible that the severity of the charges pursued are intended as a leverage to ensure Mr. McKinnon’s cooperation and secure a plea bargain to save the irritation of seeing the process of justice through.

For those of you who might think this justifies the excessive charges, let me persuade you to think again.

The entire concept of plea bargaining is anathema to the concept of justice. It creates an assumption of guilt; not only generally, which we know of Mr. McKinnon, but that the entire approach of the prosecution is correct, which is far more in doubt. It assumes that the the process of a fair trial is merely an inconvenience, not the centrepiece, something that should be brushed aside by those prosecuting as easily as possible. It is perhaps one of the most abhorrent institutionalised mechanisms to load the trial in favour of the prosecution and against the defendant. It is fundamentally unjust.

When regarding the extradition treaty, we should bear in mind just as much the concern over the US process of justice as we do individual cases such as Gary McKinnon’s, or the weighted nature of the treaty arrangements. Even in cases where guilt seemed as clear-cut as the Natwest Three, plea-bargaining has rendered the process murky.

Finally, the galling conclusion is that this ongoing case is that of a country that is only pursuing such a disproportionate reaction against this person because of reasons of government embarrassment. By all accounts, the US network security was laughable. But instead of acknowledging the fact, the US seems hell-bent on bringing disproportionate charges against a conspiracy-obsessed hacker, and ignoring far more real cases of terrorism.

The case of Gary McKinnon against his extradition should be supported across the board, but more to the point the legislative case for amending the treaty arrangements, currently being brought by both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, should be supported with equal passion. For there will be more abuses of justice unless the root cause is targeted and attacked.