Decision on Gary McKinnon's extradition to the US delayed until October|
LONDON, UK: Britain's Home Secretary, Theresa May, has delayed until October any announcement on whether to extradite the computer hacker, Gary McKinnon, to the United States. McKinnon has Asperger's syndrome.
Home Office lawyers told the High Court in London on July 24 that the delay was needed because of May's "all-consuming involvement in the Olympic security" and her preference to announce the final decision when Parliament was sitting.
Two High Court judges said a hearing for a full judicial review of that decision would be "pencilled in" for late November. The judicial review hearing could be unusual in that medical experts may be called to give oral evidence in court.
Janis Sharp, McKinnon's mother, said the further delay was "morally wrong" as Gary, 46, could not cope any longer after a 10-year campaign against his extradition. "She should have a little bit of compassion and make a decision now. It is absolutely ruining everybody's life. She could make a decision before the Olympics."
Sharp said Gary had been recently examined by four leading psychiatric experts: "The evidence is there. He is unfit for trial and a considerable suicide risk. It is wrong. It is morally wrong."
A Home Office spokesman said: "This is a complex case, in a complex area of the law, and a large amount of material has been submitted, some of it relatively recently. The Home Secretary needs to consider all the material carefully before making a decision."
A spokesman for Liberty, the human rights campaign, said: "Gary McKinnon's ordeal has gone on for 10 years and taught Britain how vulnerable everyone is to being dragged across the Atlantic when justice could be better done here at home. This decision cannot be passed to yet another expert. We need the home secretary to exercise compassion and parliament to put a little common sense back into the Extradition Act."
The court heard that McKinnon's family had declined the Home Secretary's personal request for a further medical examination.
May is reported to be "personally concerned" that McKinnon has not been examined by a Home Office-appointed medical assessor to determine whether there is a risk of suicide if he is extradited.
McKinnon, from north London, could face up to 60 years in jail if he is convicted in a US court. He has admitted hacking into US military computers but says he was looking for evidence of UFOs.
The deadline for his family's response to the request for a medical examination passed on July 19. McKinnon's mother said last week he had "no choice" but to refuse because the expert the Home Office had named to carry out the examination, Professor Thomas Fahy, had no experience of Asperger's syndrome. "It is not a refusal: he had no choice. It is an impossibility because the assessment they want him to have is by someone who has no experience and wouldn't be able to diagnose his suicide risk," Sharp told BBC Three Counties Radio.
McKinnon had three medical examinations in April by three experts in Asperger's and suicidal risk: Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor Jeremy Turk and Dr Jan Vermeulen. They concluded that he was at extreme risk of suicide if extradited, and that he was unfit for trial.
At the last High Court hearing, on July 5, the Home Office said May was "close" to making a decision on the case. The judges heard that the view of two psychiatric experts – Professor Fahy and Professor Declan Murphy – was that the risk of suicide was "moderate".
But Dr Vermeulen asserted for the first time that McKinnon was unfit to stand trial. Counsel for the Home Secretary said there was lack of supporting evidence for that view, but a fresh examination could lead to a resolution of the differing views.
Sharp made an emotional appeal outside court for May "to show a little bit of compassion" and make an earlier decision. Her son's life and that of his family was being "destroyed" by the case and "Gary cannot cope any more", said Mrs Sharp. "She [May] could have made a decision before the Olympics. The evidence is there that Gary is unfit for trial and a considerable suicide risk. We need this decision. This delay is wrong - morally wrong."
The proposed timing for the Home Secretary's decision was given to London's High Court by Hugo Keith QC, representing May. If she decides to allow extradition to go ahead, McKinnon's lawyers are expected to launch a last-ditch application for judicial review to challenge the decision.
Keith told Sir John Thomas, president of the Queen's Bench Division, and Mr Justice Globe that the Home Secretary proposed to give her decision "on or around October 16" while Parliament was sitting.
Sir John set down a timetable for any subsequent legal challenge, expected to take three to four days, to come to court some time after mid-November.
Keith told the court one of the reasons for the mid-October decision date was the Home Secretary's "all-consuming" involvement in the Olympic Games - the biggest peacetime operation since the Second World War.
Sharp said outside court: "If Theresa May has got an ounce of compassion, she would make her decision now, before the Olympics, because she has any number of medical reports - these delays are destroying my son's life. There is already enough evidence from two Home Office-approved experts - one appointed by the Home Secretary - and there are another four in all.
"She should show a little bit of compassion. Gary cannot cope any more. Everybody has been finding it very difficult. It is absolutely ruining everybody's lives. It is now 10 years."
Earlier, Sir John, referring to the length of time the case had been going on, said it was "obviously right that it is brought to a finality".
McKinnon's supporters fear he faces up to 60 years in jail if convicted of hacking into Pentagon and NASA computers between February 2001 and March 2002.
The case was described by Keith as "this rather vexed and perhaps totemic case" with important implications for Britain's extradition laws.
McKinnon's mother argues that the extradition laws were intended to catch international criminals - "not a lone individual with Asperger's sitting in a bedroom on his own".
Sharp says the Home Office "should accept the very clear and incontrovertible evidence provided by the country's leading psychiatric experts in this field. It's time to make the right decision and end Gary's torment of extradition.
"When he's fit and ready, as we have said all along, the CPS could try him in this country for his foolish acts that happened over a decade ago."
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "This is a complex case, in a complex area of the law, and a large amount of material has been submitted, some of it relatively recently. The Home Secretary needs to consider all the material carefully before making a decision."
In an updated statement, Sharp said: "I do not believe that my son, Gary, can continue to live for much longer in a permanent state of virtual terror."
Expressing the hope that May would give "a positive decision on Gary sooner than the court's expectation", she said: "The Olympics is an opportunity for a country to show its heart and courage to the world. Giving a vulnerable man like Gary his freedom from ten years of mental torture would have shown the best side of who we are as a nation.
"The Home Secretary has already had more than enough medical evidence on which to make a positive decision for Gary. It would have been such a huge relief if we too had been given closure to the never-ending mental torment Gary is going through, as we are his family."
Sharp said two Home Office approved specialists, Dr Jan Vermeulen and Professor Declan Murphy, had both concluded after meeting and examining Gary that he was at extreme risk of suicide. More recently, Dr Vermeulen and others had stated that Gary was unfit for trial.
"Sadly, the latest July 2012 medical report shows what a dreadful mental state Gary is now in, which is exacerbated by the extremely long delays and his seemingly never-ending nightmare. It's desperate watching my son like this. Each day that goes by is yet another blow to his mental state.
"The ten years of waiting, worrying and living in fear is unbearable. We would not tolerate an animal being put through such mental torment and cruelty, so how can we allow it to happen to a human being?"
(Sources: The Guardian, The Independent, July 25, 2012)