The erstwhile terror of private-sector activity fair and foul, Eliot Spitzer, had legions of wannabe imitators in most states across the United States, as well as in the ranks of DOJ prosecutors. Other countries are tiring of the DOJ’s sanctimonious vigilantism.
Published: March 14 2008 19:25 | Last updated: March 14 2008 19:25
The decision by the House of Lords to reject US attempts to extradite Ian Norris, the former head of Morgan Crucible, on price-fixing charges should be greatly applauded. Regrettably, however, this decision does little to redress the continuing imbalance in Britain’s legal relationship with the US.
The US Department of Justice had sought to extradite Mr Norris for participating in a cartel for carbon products in the 1990s, while he was chief executive of the engineering group.
Mr Norris is no altar boy. … the company that he led has admitted involvement in price fixing … [but] its US subsidiary has already pleaded guilty to price fixing and was fined by the Department of Justice. …
Yet even this limited victory is a hollow one, since it serves to highlight the second-class status of Britain in terms of its extradition arrangement with the US.
… When the Crown seeks to extradite an American, it must show “probable cause” – a standard of evidence that is higher than that required for American prosecutors who wish to secure the extradition of UK subjects.
This would be worrisome in any extradition treaty, but with the US it is intolerable. The American legal system already accords itself a very wide, extraterritorial remit. Its public prosecutors are frequently politically motivated, and the US plea-bargaining system makes it exceptionally difficult for anyone but the very wealthy to resist its onslaught. Innocent people of modest means are too often tempted to plead guilty to avoid the catastrophic consequences of losing in court.
The Department of Justice will no doubt be disappointed by this verdict. Mr Norris has been a priority target for its lawyers in their aggressive pursuit of foreign cartels. Yet this judgment is unlikely to discourage their efforts to bring him to trial in the US. They are now seeking to extradite him on obstruction of justice charges.
Britain, meanwhile, cannot continue to rely on the House of Lords alone to safeguard the rights of its citizens. The law lords showed admirable fortitude in their ruling. It is now high time for the British government to show similar courage and secure a fully reciprocal extradition treaty with the US.