We rightly outlawed the death penalty in the UK last century. So I find it shocking that the Government suddenly changed its attitude to this barbaric practice, and has not objected to the United States potentially executing two men who grew up in London. Both were British citizens until they were stripped of their citizenship.
Make no mistake, the crimes these two men are accused of committing are abhorrent. These alleged terrorists, currently detained in Syria, are accused of murder, torture and other crimes. If guilty, they should of course be punished. But do these circumstances justify the Government ripping up a key principle of our justice policy – our total opposition to the use of capital punishment?
This is a huge departure for the UK government. In similar cases of extradition, it has always been UK policy to demand written assurances that suspects will not be put to death. In the Commons yesterday, I pointed out that we would not send these suspects to the US if they were likely to end up in Guantanamo Bay – but for some reason, the death penalty is more acceptable to the government.
And it’s not just me that sees the danger in eroding the UK’s stance on the death penalty. MPs from all parties, including former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, questioned this in the Commons yesterday.
When I challenged Justice Minister Ben Wallace, his response showed that the Government has not even properly considered the legal implications of this momentous decision.
We have a proud history of fair judicial process in the UK. It is particularly incredible that one argument for extradition to the US is to get a guilty verdict, as the necessary burden of proof is lower in the US than in the UK.
Like all suspected criminals, these men must be tried fairly. Anything less would be a betrayal of the victims and their families, who want to see justice done. Both defendants are accused of brutal and abhorrent acts, including executing captives. Our government must not be complicit in sinking to the same level. Demonstrating our respect for human rights and the rule of law is the best response we can give.