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Extradition – paying the ultimate price?

During my time as a trainee solicitor, I have been fortunate enough to gain experience in the relatively niche area of extradition law. I had never studied or had any real knowledge of this area of law prior to my final trainee seat within the criminal law department but it has been an extremely interesting area of law which I am keen to continue working in. A person who has been either charged or accused of an offence in another country, may be sought by that country to be extradited to face criminal proceedings.

I was recommended by my previous supervisor, to read a book entitled ‘A Price to Pay – The Inside Story of the Natwest Three’ by David Bermingham. This is a story told from the perspective of an individual whose extradition was sought by America. The book is an honest, frank and no holds barred account told first hand by one of the three British bankers caught up in what became widely known as the ‘Natwest Three Case’. The somewhat infamous trio, were three bankers men who became embroiled in the Enron scandal of the noughties, which involved the collapse of the US’ seventh largest company following a web of fraudulent activity within the business.

The story tells of how a failure to declare an interest in a business transaction rather dramatically turned into allegations made by the US of wire fraud, a US concept which allows for offences to be committed outside of the US borders if it involves transmissions within the US. The US sought the trio’s extradition to face charges.

One theme which this book encapsulates exceptionally well is the principle that extradition proceedings are not about whether an individual is guilty or innocent of an offence. For the purpose of extradition proceedings, that is all but irrelevant. It also considers at depth the lack of any forum bar under the legislation which could have prevented the trio’s extradition. The ‘Natwest Three’s’ case resulted in debates in Parliament, with widespread media coverage on the peculiar facts of this case whereby British nationals faced extradition to the US when the alleged victim of the fraud was based within the United Kingdom. It provides a fascinating and frightening insight into the way extradition can have a life changing impact upon an individual and their family’s lives.

Whilst the story of the Natwest three may be largely different in terms of facts to the cases which I routinely work on (the majority of which being European countries seeking individuals for relatively minor crimes), the theme running through the book is one I can identify with having worked with individuals in the same position. More frequently than ever, individuals are being extradited away from their families and their lives which they have built to face charges or accusations, and in terms of deciding whether they should be extradited, their guilt or innocence is not considered. The ramifications to both the individual and their families after losing a legal battle against extradition is arguably indeed, the ultimate price to pay.