New home secretary Theresa May has paused Gary McKinnon's extradition proceedings so she can fully consider the issues in his case.
May has applied for a judicial review hearing, scheduled for Tuesday next week, to be adjourned, the Home Office said on Thursday. The hearing had been arranged to consider whether May's predecessor, Alan Johnson, was right in law to allow the Nasa hacker's extradition to go ahead despite fresh evidence of McKinnon's worsening psychiatric condition.
"The Home Secretary has considered the proposal from Gary McKinnon's legal team and has agreed an adjournment should be sought," the Home Office said. "An application to the court is being made today."
McKinnon's solicitor, Karen Todner, said in a Thursday statement that May "wishes to have appropriate time... to consider the issues in the case".
"I hope this may be a signal of a more compassionate and caring home secretary and one that is willing to defend the rights of our citizens," Todner said. "I will be lodging further representations shortly. In the meantime Gary will remain in the UK."
Johnson was the last in a string of Labour home secretaries to reject pleas from McKinnon's supporters to halt the extradition. Indicted by the US Justice Department in 2002 for hacking into US military systems, McKinnon faces up to 70 years in a maximum security federal prison if convicted in that country.
McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger syndrome, a condition on the autistic spectrum, has always admitted the hacks, but claims to have been looking for evidence of extraterrestrial life. He denies having caused the levels of damage — $700,000 (£485,000) — alleged by the US authorities.
Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who now govern in coalition, have expressed doubts about the extradition, and the Lib Dems have explicitly called for the extradition to be stopped.
The government also said on Thursday that it would "review the operation of the Extradition Act — and the US/UK extradition treaty — to make sure it is even-handed". A major criticism of the proposed McKinnon extradition is that the US can demand the UK send over criminal suspects without just cause, but there is no reciprocity in the deal.
ZDNet UK asked the Home Office on Thursday whether May's decision to pause McKinnon's extradition proceedings had anything to do with this planned review, but had received no answer at the time of writing.