COUNCIL OF EUROPE: MURDER SUSPECTS LOSE APPEAL AGAINST EXTRADITION TO US
January 17, 2012: European court of human rights dismisses appeals against extradition to US by Briton Phillip Harkins and American Joshua Edwards.
Two murder suspects who claim they may face the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole if extradited to the US have lost their appeals at the European court of human rights (ECHR). The unanimous decision by a panel of seven judges to dismiss their claims will be seen as a significant boost for UK-US extradition arrangements and a blow to those campaigning to reform the controversial 2003 agreement.
Both Phillip Harkins, a British national, and Joshua Edwards, an American, now face removal to the US for trial later this year. They are accused of murder and other offences in separate incidents. Harkins, 34, black, a Scottish national, is alleged to have killed 22-year-old Joshua Hayes during a failed robbery in Florida in 1999. He returned to Scotland after being released on bail in 2002 and was jailed in 2003 for killing a woman in a road crash. He denies taking part in the killing, claiming he had merely lent his car to one of the assailants.
Edwards, 25, is said to have had an argument with two other men about his short stature. He is accused of having left the house in Maryland, returned later with a pistol and shot both men in the head, one of whom subsequently died. In 2007, he was arrested in the UK. Both suspects have resisted extradition to the US following orders made against them by the home secretary. Despite assurances from the US authorities that they would not be given the death penalty, Harkins and Edwards argued that if sent back they could be executed. Lawyers for the two men also told the Strasbourg court they might receive life sentences of imprisonment without parole that would amount to a breach of their rights under Article 3 of the European convention on human rights that prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment. But their claims were dismissed by the ECHR. In a summary of the decision, the court said "the diplomatic assurances, provided by the US to the British government - that the death penalty would not be sought in respect of Mr Harkins or Mr Edwards - were clear and sufficient to remove any risk that either of the applicants could be sentenced to death if extradited, particularly as the US had a long history of respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law".
On the question of life imprisonment without parole, the court said it would not be disproportionate if Harkins or Edwards were given life sentences. Both men have three months to appeal against the judgment to the ECHR's upper chamber and cannot be removed until that period has passed.
Critics of the 2003 Extradition Act claim the Anglo-American treaty, drawn up in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, is unfair because British citizens facing extradition do not enjoy the same degree of legal protection as Americans.
Two other Britons are fighting extradition to the US: Richard O'Dwyer, 23, and Christopher Tappin. O'Dwyer would be the first British citizen to be extradited over the illegal streaming of films. Tappin is wanted in the US on charges of conspiring to sell batteries for Iranian missiles. (Sources: Reuters, guardian.co.uk, 17/01/2012)