Tories champion Nasa hacker in parliament

In a House of Commons debate, the two main opposition parties have called for justice for Gary McKinnon and a review of the UK-US extradition treaty
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The Conservative Party has championed the case of Gary McKinnon, the self-confessed Nasa hacker, in an opposition day debate in parliament.

On Wednesday, the Conservatives called for the extradition treaty between the UK and the US to be reviewed to avoid injustice to those accused, citing the case of McKinnon (pictured) as an example.

Conservative shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said that in cases such as McKinnon's, which could be tried in two jurisdictions, the UK "appears to be subcontracting justice to other countries" by opting not to prosecute at home.

McKinnon, who has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, faces extradition to the US for what prosecutors there have described as "the biggest military hack of all time".

The London resident is accused by American prosecutors of causing $700,000 (£400,000) in damage to US military systems, a charge that he denies. McKinnon has admitted breaking into Nasa and other US agency systems, but he claims he was looking for evidence of UFOs.

In the debate, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs argued that the UK-US extradition treaty is unbalanced, as it is non-reciprocal. The US does not have to provide prima facie evidence of wrongdoing to request an extradition, whereas UK authorities must provide probable cause to the US.

Backbencher Kate Hoey was among the Labour MPs who supported a review of the UK-US arrangement, saying it is "not working in terms of natural justice".

"When will we change [the treaty] so we won't get a ridiculous situation the public just won't accept, as with Gary McKinnon?" said Hoey.

However, home secretary Alan Johnson told parliament that the current government will not respond to the calls for change. "A case has not been made to review the extradition act," he said. "The 2003 act has simplified extradition procedures while being instrumental in bringing criminals to justice."

Johnson added that he could not aid McKinnon's efforts to avoid extradition. "The home secretary is legally obliged to order extradition except where there is a possibility that the person could be sentenced to death, where there are inadequate arrangements, or if the person to be extradited has previously been extradited from another country," said Johnson.

Autism experts and McKinnon's legal team contend that the Briton will be at risk of serious psychological difficulties and suicide if he is taken to the US and away from his family.

McKinnon's MP David Burrowes, who is also the shadow minister for justice, said in the debate that "those that have special needs often do not get the justice they deserve."

"We are concerned with justice for the innocent, as well as for the guilty," said Burrowes. "There needs to be justice for all, which there hasn't been in the case of Gary McKinnon."

McKinnon has been going through a legal process in the UK for seven years. Currently, two high-court judges are reviewing whether former home secretary Jacqui Smith was right to turn down McKinnon's second appeal for clemency, and are considering arguments from McKinnon's defence team that the director of public prosecutions was wrong not to prosecute McKinnon in the UK.

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