In a statement, the U.S. Justice Department said it was “disappointed” in the decision to block the extradition of the hacker, Gary McKinnon. But it sidestepped a direct response to Britain’s intention to limit the scope of the treaty, saying, “Our extradition relationship with the United Kingdom remains strong, as is demonstrated by the extradition of five alleged terrorists from the United Kingdom just last week.”
Theresa May, Britain’s top authority on domestic affairs, also outlined a sweeping move, first announced Monday, under which London would withdraw from a series of European Union justice and policing measures.
Tuesday’s developments pivoted around the decade-old case of McKinnon, 46, who is described by U.S. authorities as having committed “the biggest military computer hack of all time.” May issued an unprecedented ruling blocking the hacker’s extradition on humanitarian grounds. McKinnon, who has Asperger’s syndrome, was deemed by two psychiatrists brought in by May as being at high risk of committing suicide if sent to the United States, where he faces up to 60 years in jail.
May told the House of Commons on Tuesday that McKinnon was accused of “serious crimes,” but she said that he also was “seriously ill” and that the sole issue at stake was whether the extradition would “breach his human rights.”
“A decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr. McKinnon’s human rights,” she said.
But May also proposed a wider shake-up to the extradition treaty with the United States, amid widespread concerns here that it is too easy for British citizens to be sent to the United States for trial and that a document that critics say was initially intended to cover only terrorism suspects is being used far more broadly by U.S. prosecutors.
Last year, an independent review led by retired judge Scott Baker concluded that the U.S.-British treaty did not operate in an “unbalanced” manner. But legal analysts here said sentiment that the treaty was lopsided persists, partly because U.S. prosecutors are more aggressive than their European counterparts in pursuing suspects outside their territory.
The measures outlined by May could take some time to come into effect, because proposed new legislation requires the approval of both houses of Parliament.