The Labour party has struggled with the controversial issue of the extradition arrangements it agreed with the US and other states when in government.
When home secretary Theresa May announced that she would block the extradition of ‘Pentagon Hacker’ Gary McKinnon in the Commons, and start the process of reforming extradition, her Labour shadow Yvette Cooper did about the best job that anyone on the opposition frontbench could.
Cooper welcomed the decision, and pledged opposition support for reforms that should include the creation of a ‘forum bar’ – a court hearing that would determine where a person should stand trial.
Although former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson made an ungracious and self-justifying speech in the Commons, I sense that most of the Labour party would like to move on from their support for this policy.
After all it appears closely bound to the period of Tony Blair’s ultimately unpopular rapprochement with President Bush’s ‘war on terror’, and all the many hypocrisies we are told that the ‘tough’ challenges of government tend to force on those who bear the responsibility of governing little old us.
I imagine the first reaction of most Labour MPs on hearing Johnson was to think ‘I wish he hadn’t said that’. Few people who were at, or watched, the press conference given by McKinnon’s mother and a legal team who had been with her and her son throughout would have wanted to be on any side other than McKinnon’s in this. Certainly his solicitor Karen Todner’s stock is higher than Johnson’s.
But looking back at Cooper’s statements in the Commons, she will have to guard against some Labour party recidivism on this issue. She reminded the House that cybercrime was a serious issue, where an offence could be committed simultaneously in several jurisdictions. She pointed out that the forum bar was already provided for in legislation the Labour government had introduced, but never activated because of various practical difficulties.
All of which could turn what is Cooper’s, I would say, heartfelt support for reform this week into a position that will struggle to break with the legacy of her predecessors when reform proposals come to the table.
If that happens, even for the best of ‘practical’ well-intentioned reasons, I’d say an opportunity had been lost – for law reform, and also for Labour’s frontbench to move beyond, and above, the less good bits of its record.
Eduardo Reyes is Gazette features editor