Yesterday, I was sent a request to sign a petition on behalf of a husband and wife living in Scotland, to stop their extradition to the USA.
Their names are Brian and Kerry-Ann Howes and they have four children. Their 'crime' is to have supplied two chemicals - both of which are perfectly legal in the UK - to drug rings in America, where it is said they were used in the production of the drug crystal meth - a form of amphetamine that has been crystallised to allow it to be smoked.
Howes had been selling chemicals over the internet for several years. The chemicals he supplied are commonly used in the production of pyrotechnics and for medical use. He always took the precaution of verifying delivery addresses and receiving payment by credit card. His business premises were monitored by Health and Safety officials. He was, by all normal standards, a genuine trader.
The US authorities, however, disagree and say he is part of a global drugs ring which operates bases worldwide.
I have no idea whether the Howes are drug dealers or are innocent of the allegations, but there lies the problem.
Since the letter of request for extradition to the US was presented, they have each spent over 214 days on remand in prison and both are now living under a curfew at home. They have not been officially charged with any crime and no evidence against them has been presented to a UK court. They are presumed to be guilty on the basis of a letter from the US authorities.
How has this come about? Because in the aftermath of the terrible events of 9/11, when the only exercise taken by government ministers was that provided by knee jerk reactions, home secretary at the time, David_Blunkett, signed the Extradition Act 2003 which removed the obligation on US law enforcement agencies to present British courts with prima facie evidence of an offence. All that is now needed, is a letter of allegation before proceedings commence; if they say you are guilty, we believe them without question.
What makes things even worse, is that the change was never debated in Parliament but, instead, was passed using Royal Prerogative.
The treaty is unjust, unethical, unconstitutional and just about every 'un' word you can think of. It undermines the basic principle of our justice system and plays into the hands of a country that has - over recent years - demonstrated its complete disregard for human rights by detaining and torturing people without trial.
As for the Howes, if they are extradited, their lives will be destroyed. Their children will be taken into care and Brian and Kerry-Ann face up to 20 years in a US prison. If they had been suspected terrorists, they could not have been held for longer than 28 days without charge. They have already been held for seven times this limit. They are, seemingly, the victims of a ridiculous law that needs to be changed.
So, without having been able to make a judgement based on anything other than word of mouth, I am going to sign the petition. This is not because I think the Howes are either innocent or guilty of the allegations but because I have always valued the fairness of justice and consider their treatment by the present system has been unfair. I am protesting to bring about a change to the present system and restore it to one based on evidence presented to our courts.
I wish them luck and for the sake of all our freedoms, I hope you do too!