Process by which one state, at the request of another, returns a person for trial for a crime punishable by the laws of the requesting state and committed outside the state of refuge. Extradition is regulated within countries by extradition acts and between countries by treaties. Some principles of extradition are common to many countries. Most decline to surrender their own nationals. Countries also generally recognize the right of political asylum. In view of the solidarity of nations in the repression of crime, however, countries are usually willing to cooperate in bringing criminals to justice.
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The consensus in international law is that a state does not have any obligation to surrender an alleged criminal to a foreign state, as one principle of sovereignty is that every state has legal authority over the people within its borders. Such absence of international obligation and desire of the right to demand such criminals of other countries has caused a web of extradition treaties or agreements to evolve; most countries in the world have signed bilateral extradition treaties with most other countries. No country in the world has an extradition treaty with all other countries; for example, the United States lacks extradition treaties with over fifty nations, including the People's Republic of China, Namibia, and North Korea.
There are two types of extradition treaties: list and dual criminality treaties. The most common and traditional is the list treaty, which contains a list of crimes for which a suspect will be extradited. Dual criminality treaties, used since the 1980s, generally allow for extradition of a criminal suspect if the punishment is more than one year imprisonment in both countries. Occasionally the amount of the time of the sentence agreed upon between the two countries is varied. Under both types of treaties, if the conduct is not a crime in both countries then it will not be an extraditable offense.
Generally, an extradition treaty requires that a country seeking extradition be able to show that:
These restrictions are normally clearly spelled out in the extradition treaties that a government has agreed upon. They are, however, controversial in the United States, where the death penalty is practiced in some U.S. states, as it is seen by many as an attempt by foreign nations to interfere with the U.S. criminal justice system. In contrast, pressures by the U.S. government on these countries to change their laws, or even sometimes to ignore their laws, is perceived by many in those nations as an attempt by the United States to interfere in their sovereign right to manage justice within their own borders. Famous examples include the extradition dispute with Canada on Charles Ng.
Countries with a rule of law typically make extradition subject to review by that country's courts. These courts may impose certain restrictions on extradition, or prevent it altogether, if for instance they deem the accusations to be based on dubious evidence, or evidence obtained from torture, or if they believe that the defendant will not be granted a fair trial on arrival, or will be subject to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment if extradited.
Some countries, such as France, Russian Federation, Germany, Austria, China and Japan, have laws that forbid extraditing their respective citizens. Others, such as Iraq, prohibit extradition of their own citizens in their constitutions. Some others stipulate such prohibition on extradition agreements rather than their laws. Such restrictions are occasionally controversial in other countries when, for example, a French citizen commits a crime abroad and then returns to their home country, perceived as to avoid prosecution. These countries, however, make their criminal laws applicable to citizens abroad, and they try citizens suspected of crimes committed abroad under their own laws. Such suspects are typically prosecuted as if the crime had occurred within the country's borders.
Less important problems can arise due to differing qualifications for crimes. For instance, in the United States, crossing state lines is a prerequisite for certain federal crimes (otherwise crimes such as murder, etc. are handled by state governments except in certain circumstances such as the killing of a federal official). This transportation clause is, understandably, absent from the laws of many countries. Extradition treaties or subsequent diplomatic correspondence often include language providing that such criteria should not be taken into account when checking if the crime is one in the country from which extradition should apply.
To clarify the above point, if a person in the United States crosses the borders of the United States to go to another country, then that person has crossed a federal border, and then federal law would apply. In addition, taking a flight in the United States subjects one to federal law, as all airports are considered subject to federal jurisdiction.
The matters are often complex when the country from which suspects are to be extradited is a democratic country with a rule of law. Typically, in such countries, the final decision of extradition lies with the national executive (prime minister, president or equivalent). However, such countries typically allow extradition defendants recourse to the law, with multiple appeals. These may significantly slow down the procedures. On the one hand, this may lead to unwarranted international difficulties, as the public, politicians and journalists from the requesting country will ask their executive to put pressure on the executive of the country from which extradition is to take place, while that executive may not in fact have the authority to deport the suspect or criminal on their own. On the other hand, certain delays, or the unwillingness of the local prosecution authorities to present a good extradition case before the court on behalf of the requesting state, may possibly result from the unwillingness of the country's executive to extradite.
For example, there is at present a disagreement between the United States and the United Kingdom about the Extradition Act 2003 (text here) that dispenses with the need for a prima facie case for extradition.
It is important to emphasise, however, that even had the treaty been ratified by the U.S., the treaty would still be one-sided, because it stipulates that extradition requests from the UK to the U.S. must show a "reasonable case" that the suspect committed the offense, but requests from the U.S. to the UK have no such requirement imposed on them.
This came to a head over the extradition of the Natwest Three from the UK to the U.S., for their alleged role in the Enron fraud, with various British political leaders weighing in to attack the British government's handling of the issue . The former leader of the UK's Liberal Democrat party, Sir Menzies Campbell, had argued that the U.S. had not ratified the treaty primarily due to the influence of what he calls the "Irish lobby" — which, he said, is opposed to the treaty because it could make it easier for Britain to have alleged IRA terrorist suspects extradited from the U.S.
The precedent of the Natwest Three may also be used to extradite/prosecute Philip Watts in connection with the Royal Dutch Shell reserves scandal. The press has carried vocal criticisms of the present extradition arrangements from the UK's business community, some of whom stated that they were avoiding doing business with or in the U.S., because of legal concerns such as the extradition treaty, among other concerns.
Notable or controversial cases involving abduction of foreign citizens: