Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Priti Patel has announced that the UK will suspend all international criminal cooperation with Russia, including its extradition arrangements. For some, this is well overdue. For many years, human rights groups and lawyers have highlighted the fact that Russia routinely breaches its international obligations and assurances that it has provided to UK courts in relation to extradition cases. In fact, there has been no extradition to Russia since 2018 when, in the case of Shmatko, the UK High Court held that the assurances provided by the Russian authorities could not be trusted and that there was a lack of independent monitoring of prison conditions. While the approach of the courts always left the door open for the Russian authorities to ‘shape up’ in order to secure extradition, this move by the Government firmly slams the door shut.
In a move which will surely end the prospect of any extradition to Russia for the foreseeable future, the Russian government has signalled its intention to withdraw from the Council of Europe (“CoE”), and with it, the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”). Even if the UK does reinstate its extradition arrangements with Russia at some point in the future, it’s hard to see how any request would ever succeed. Even while it was a member of the CoE and a signatory to the Convention, it could not persuade the UK courts that it would comply with its human rights obligations. In circumstances where it is not bound by such obligations, doing so seems an impossibility.
In addition to the curtailing of extradition arrangements, there have also been calls by the UK Government for the expulsion of Russia from INTERPOL. This is something which human rights groups have been already been pushing for given Russia’s abuse of Red Notices to pursue political dissidents. INTERPOL has already indicated that diffusions can no longer be sent from NCB Moscow directly to INTERPOL member countries, and instead must go to the General Secretariat to be checked for compliance with INTERPOL’s Rules but, with mounting pressure, expulsion must be on the agenda.
Notwithstanding the position of the courts since 2018, the effect of the breakdown of extradition arrangements between the UK and Russia shouldn’t be underestimated. With Russia reportedly making the most Part 2 extradition requests to the UK, save for the US and Albania, and with a claimed 28 live extradition cases currently with the UK authorities, a significant number of cases will be affected. This will no doubt lead the UK to seriously consider alternatives, such as ad hoc extradition agreements with Russia, to avoid the UK becoming a ‘safe-haven’ for genuine fugitives.