McKinnon extradition to be put on ice

The UK coalition Government has agreed to postpone hacker Gary McKinnon's next High Court hearing while it reconsiders its loose promise to do something about the man's plight.

Both coalition parties, before their election into Government on 6 May, were vocal in support of McKinnon, who is fighting an order to be removed from his country and put before US prosecutors to face hacking charges.

McKinnon's legal battle to be tried before a British court became uniquely sensitive when in 2008 he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism that makes him socially vulnerable.

McKinnon was due to take his case before the High Court next week for a second judicial review of the last two home secretaries' insistence that his medical condition would not influence their decisions to allow the extradition to go ahead. But Theresa May, the coalition Government's Home Secretary, said this morning that she had agreed to postpone the court hearing.

McKinnon's lawyers had asked May to postpone the court hearing while she reconsidered the hacker's case. Both parties approval would be required for the court to agree an adjournment.

Karen Todner, McKinnon's solicitor, said in a statement: "The Secretary of State, having recently taken office and having received further representations from the claimants representatives wishes to have appropriate time to fully consider the issues in the case.

"I hope this may be a signal of a more compassionate and caring Home Secretary and one that is willing to defend the rights of our citizens," Todner said.

May, who was elected on a ticket of open government, did not say why she had agreed to the adjournment. A Home Office spokeswoman said: "It's not something the Home Secretary needs to explain".

McKinnon was due to ask the High Court to stop his extradition on the basis of medical evidence that his seven-year legal battle against the order had severely inflamed his mental condition, causing a deterioration in his mental health.

Medical experts had already claimed that removing an Aspergic man from his home and country and putting him through the ordeal of a foreign trial and lengthy jail term might prove such an ordeal as to cause him to take his own life.

Asperger's is said to make people susceptible to becoming deeply distressed by the weather patterns that shape ordinary society. McKinnon had argued therefore that he should be tried for his hacking crime before a UK court, in the bosom of his own country and family, where his mental state was less likely to become aggravated.

But McKinnon only had the Human Rights Act within which he could argue his case. The High Court ruled that there was no reason in human rights law to stop McKinnon's extradition, no matter how extraordinarily traumatic it would be for him.

Next week's High Court hearing was to consider whether McKinnon might find protection in the Human Rights Act on the basis of his fragile mental health, where it had proved ineffectual to help him on the basis of his mental condition.

The adjournment request, which will be made today, must still be approved by the Court.

May will now reflect whether and how she might intervene to prevent McKinnon's extradition. The coalition parties had said before the election that it would be unjust to allow the extradition to proceed, but also that they could not interrupt the legal process once it had started.

The last Government believed it was powerless to stop the extradition because it owed a duty to the principle that politicians must not be allowed to interfere in the law for whatever prejudice, no matter how apparently honourable.

During the Government's last reappraisal of McKinnon's case in December, Alan Johnson, the last home secretary, repeated the same position the Government has taken ever since it was first drafted by government lawyers in 2008: that the 2003 Extradition Act required the Government to honour US requests to bring British citizens before its courts; and that unless reason could be found in the Human Rights Act for an intervention, the extradition could not be stopped.

Enshrined in this was the principle that the US and UK were so closely aligned in history, politics and law, that each could trust their own citizen's to the retribution of the other's judicial system. The coalition parties had wanted to rewrite the extradition act because it overlooked the trust that one country might invest in another by allowing it to prosecute one of its own citizen's on its behalf.