UK

Phillip Harkins extradition battle: Final appeal hearing

Phillip Harkins Image copyright Other
Image caption Phillip Harkins says he was not at the scene of the robbery

A Scottish man who has fought for 14 years against being tried for murder in Florida has a final appeal before judges on Wednesday.

Lawyers for Phillip Harkins argue it would be a breach of his human rights to send him to the United States.

The appeal before the European Court of Human Rights' highest panel is the final stage in what is thought to be the UK's longest extradition battle.

Harkins denies murdering a man in a failed robbery in 1999.

The 38-year-old, originally from Greenock, moved to the US with his family when he was 14.

Shortly before his 21st birthday he was accused of shooting dead a man in Jackonsville, Florida. Harkins says he was never at the scene.

He returned to Scotland after being released on bail in 2002 and was jailed for causing death by dangerous driving the following year after he killed a woman in a road crash. While he was serving a five-year sentence for that killing, US prosecutors demanded his extradition.

Almost 18 years on, Harkins remains in prison until the Strasbourg court's Grand Chamber decides his fate.

His legal battle has involved three challenges against extradition before the British courts and two appeals to Strasbourg.

Analysis

Image copyright Council of Europe
Image caption Strasbourg court: Ruling could set precedent

Dominic Casciani, Home Affairs Correspondent

Two of the longest and most legally controversial sagas involving the European Court of Human Rights and the UK come together in the case of Phillip Harkins.

The first is extradition. The UK fought a drawn out and bitter battle in Strasbourg over sending terrorism suspects to face trial in the United States.

The European judges backed the UK and Harkins lost his original battle on similar grounds.

The second - and equally politically explosive - was over life sentences without parole. In 2013 judges concluded that whole life sentences breached human rights - leading to political uproar in Westminster.

After the Court of Appeal in London rejected Strasbourg's analysis, the judges ruled in a separate but similar case that whole life tariffs didn't violate human rights after all. However, the Grand Chamber is still to have its final word on the issue. The outcome may set a precedent with enormous implications.

All of his appeals have so far been thrown out but he successfully petitioned for a final hearing in Strasbourg after arguing that the European judges have reinterpreted the law for cases such as his.

The case has been funded by his lawyers, rather than the public purse.

He argues that if he is convicted he will receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole and that would violate the European Convention on Human Rights which bans inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

While the European Court has previously thrown out this argument, saying the United States had given guarantees over his treatment, Harkins's lawyers say it has since changed its mind in related cases.

In 2013 the court ruled that "whole life tariffs" in England and Wales breached human rights - effectively reversing its long-standing position.

That ruling triggered Harkins's fresh attempt to stop his extradition - leading to Wednesday's session before the judges.

Yasmin Aslam, Harkins's solicitor, said: "If we win, Phillip Harkins will not be extradited - and therefore neither will anyone else who faces the same possibility of life without parole.

"This case will have serious ramifications for the UK and we believe the law is on our side."