18 December 2014
Robert Brown’s comments on the legal decisions affecting extradition from the UK to Russia published by BBC Russian radio
The head of the investigating committee of the Russian Federation Alexander Bastrykin accused the British Government of taking a principal decision not to return capital (money) stolen from Russia and not extraditing people wanted for crimes in Russian.
However Mr. Robert Brown, vice-president of British-Russian law association, said in an interview to the BBC that this statement is a mistake. Brown, a well-known British lawyer and an expert on extradition law, says that such a political decision is not possible in Britain but that only the courts can enforce this.
Please see a translation of the full article, below, and the original article in Russian can be found here:
Head of the Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin accused the British authorities that they have taken a fundamental decision not to return the stolen assets to Russia, and not to extradite people prosecuted under the Russian jurisdiction.
However, Vice-President of the British-Russian Law Association Robert Brown said in an interview to the BBC that this statement is wrong.
A prominent British lawyer, specialist in extradition, argues that a political decision like this is impossible in the UK in principle.
Speaking at the Federation Council, head of the Investigative Committee Bastrykin said: “The British authorities made a political decision not to return to Russia the stolen investments and assets, and not to extradite persons who are prosecuted by the Russian justice.”
According to Bastrykin, explanation of the situation was given to him recently by the Russian ambassador to the UK. The most famous Russian person who for a long time was hiding in Britain was a former deputy head of the Russian Security Council, businessman Boris Berezovsky, who was accused of committing several criminal offences at home.
Back in September, Alexander Bastrykin said that hopes for a return of assets taken by Berezovsky out of the country back to Russia, are minimal.
Robert Brown, leading lawyer in criminal cases at the law firm Corker Binning, explained that the decision to return the money in the UK can only be made by court. “This in no circumstances can be a political decision. The matter is up to the Russian government or Russian citizens to apply to the court in the UK, says Robert Brown. If this application is submitted, the materials presented and the court decided that the money should be returned, I am sure that it will be returned and the government will not interfere with it.”
The role of the Council of Europe
The Russian authorities also accuse Britain of failing to meet their obligations to extradite Russian citizens suspected to be guilty of criminal offenses at home.
So far there has been only one case of extradition from the UK to Russia – in 2013 Maxim Vintskevich, resident of St. Petersburg accused of murder by negligence, was extradited. All other requests of extradition, including the case of Boris Berezovsky, were unsuccessful because the circumstances of these cases did not fall under the law of extradition.
Robert Brown admits that politics in fact had its influence in many of these cases, but not in the way it is represented by the Russian side.
“Kresty” detention centre
The conditions in Russian detention centres criticised by the Council of Europe is one of the most serious obstacles to extradition to Russia.
“In many cases, the defence managed to convince the court that the Russian authorities trying to have a person extradited were guided by political rather than legal reasons. The Russian authorities wanted to get the runaway back because he was a political opponent of the ruling class in Russia. For this reason many people like Berezovsky were not extradited to Russia. And this matter is irrelevant to the Crimea or Ukraine,” says Robert Brown.
However, Russian diplomats believe that the British authorities, and in particular the Home Secretary, could, if they wished, use their powers and personally make a decision on extradition.
The British lawyer says that he does not remember such a case in legal practice. According to him, there has been no cases in the UK where the government or the Home Secretary took the decision to extradite a foreign citizen to any country in defiance of a court order.
Historically, there have been precedents of the opposite kind: in a few cases, the Home Secretary stopped the extradition, despite the positive decision of the court. The reason for this decision was, in particular, poor health of a person to be extradited.
According to Robert Brown, it is not political issues that are making extradition to Russia seriously complicated, but the decision of the Council of Europe recognising the conditions in the Russian male detention centres as not meeting Russia’s international human rights obligations.
“Following this decision, the London court ruled that until the Council of Europe is not satisfied with the minimum standard conditions in Russian detention centres, extradition to Russia will not happen,” says Robert Brown.
Critics of this idea may recall the case of a radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada deported to Jordan in July 2013.
Initially, the European Court of Human Rights banned the United Kingdom from extraditing Abu Qatada to Jordan, and the English Court of Appeals ruled that he cannot be extradited to a country where he would be subjected to torture.
However, Abu Qatada was eventually deported after London received assurance from the Jordan authorities and the two countries ratified a bilateral agreement by which the British side had a guarantee that a Jordanian court will not take into account the evidence obtained by torture.
The British court refused to extradite Boris Berezovsky, as it decided that the case was politically motivated.
However, according to the British lawyer, it is difficult to compare the cases of Russia and Jordan because Jordan, unlike Russia, is not a member of the Council of Europe.
“The legal context and the international obligations of different countries vary. The legal procedure in the cases of Russia and Great Britain to a large extent are subject to the laws of the European Convention on Human Rights,” indicates Robert Brown.
But could Russia and Britain start diplomatic negotiations in which Russia would give certain guarantees, in particular, that the extradited person will not be tortured?
“In theory, there is an opportunity for this, ” recognizes Robert Brown. “But I think it is difficult at present to imagine that such guarantees can be given and accepted. The state of relations between the two countries in the legal and political spheres has led to distrust, where the parties are unlikely to trust such guarantees.”
“I think it started with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, and recent events in the Crimea and Ukraine and the crash of the airliner, all this means that relations have deteriorated, and it will be difficult to find an understanding,” said the British expert.