It is ironic that while David Blunkett was in Spain at the end of last week to discuss the faster processing of extradictions between Britain and Spain, the Spanish government should have been in the process of informing the American government that it could not extradite to the United States the eight men it has arrested and charged with complicity in the September 11 attacks.

The sticking point for Spain – as it presumably will be for other European countries including Britain – is that the death penalty is still operative in the United States and the signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights have specifically renounced it.

In the past, in certain cases the United States has negotiated conditions – such as undertaking that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty – in order to enable an extradiction request to be met. But the issue of the September 11 terrorist suspects has been made much more difficult by President Bush's announcement that emergency military courts are to be set up and used to try those charged with terrorism. From what has already been said it is clear that these courts would operate in a way quite removed from the normal civil procedures whose observance are pre–requisite of extradition applications being granted. The eminent British expert on international law and human rights, Geoffrey Robinson, said at the weekend that “Military trials would be the worst of all possible worlds if you wanted to get people back from Europe. The proposed American tribunals fall far short of the fair trial standards required by a key passage in Europe's Convention of Human Rights.

Ray Fleming

A job for the Lords

Although the British government has got its Anti–Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill through a rather reluctant House of Commons it is likely to face much greater difficultiies in getting the House of Lords to process it in the fast lane. The Lords is still packed with legal eagles and they will use their experience to do what the Lords is supposed to do – prevent rushed and flawed legislation from passing into law unamended. A great deal of attention will be given to the Bill's provision for extending the existing crime of incitement to race hatred to cover religious belief also. It is not altogether clear why the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has insisted on retaining this controversial proposal. Although no one supposes that it will bring the force of the law on to traditional “There was an English, Scotsman and Welshman” type of jokes there is a strong feeling in both Houses of Parliament that the provision will prove to be both unnecessary and unenforceable. Mr Blunkett has said that it will benefit Muslims, in particular, but this seems only to underline that the Home Office has been unduly influenced by recent and, one hopes, not necessarily repeatable circumstances. The existing race hatred sections of the Public Order Act have been little used and in most instances have proved extremely difficult to pursue to a satisfactory legal conclusion. The House of Lords will do everyone – including Mr Blunkett –– a favour if it removes this part of the new Bill before it is returned to the Commons.



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