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The UK-UAE Partnership

Posted by: Gherson White-Collar Crime

In recent years, extradition arrangements between countries have assumed an increased importance as transnational acts of criminality proliferate. Countries are therefore progressively trying to build up a good relationship with one another to establish an effective extradition system – one that works efficiently and in the interests of justice for both parties.

Extradition between the UK and the UAE

The extradition treaty between the UK and the UAE came into force on 2 April 2008. Both countries agreed to extradite any person sought by their respective authorities to stand trial or serve a prison sentence for offences that attract at least one year in prison under the laws of both countries or, in the case of a conviction and sentence, a minimum of 6 months.

The UK-UAE PartnershipThe most recent example is Leon Cullen, a 33-year-old man from Warrington suspected of being the head of a crime group supplying firearms and drugs. He fled to the UAE in 2018, was arrested there in January 2020 and successfully extradited to the UK in February 2021. In May 2021, Liverpool Crown Court sentenced him to 22-and-a-half-years behind bars.

While the treaty intended to facilitate the promotion of mutual assistance in the context of extradition between the two countries, there remains a continuous need for greater cooperation. This is primarily due to the fact that extradition laws and agreements do not, in any event, displace the international obligations placed on countries by human rights considerations when dealing with the rights of Requested Persons. This creates tensions for the law and order prevailing in a particular society.

The UAE have been heavily criticised by the English High Court for its relative lack of engagement in extradition proceedings. In the case of Lodhi v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010], the High Court commented on the poor assurances issued by the UAE in relation to prison conditions (Article 3 ECHR) or the Requested Person’s right to a fair trial (Article 6 ECHR). In the Lodhi case, the court found there was a real risk that the Requested Person would have been tortured or subjected to inhuman treatment had he been extradited to the UAE. The court held that the UAE was “a state which respects human rights in a very selective way”, and pointed to the “brutality in punishments” in UAE prisons.

Similarly, Human Rights Watch research documented allegations of serious violations of due process and fair trial guarantees in the UAE, including prolonged pre-trial detention, the denial of adequate legal assistance and the admittance of coerced confessions as evidence in court proceedings.

The UK-UAE Partnership and its impact on extradition

On 16 September 2021, the UK and UAE established a ‘Partnership for the Future’ (“PftF”) between the two countries to strengthen collaboration in a number of areas including, amongst others, foreign policy, security and defence.

On 17 September 2021, the UK Home Secretary and the United Arab Emirates Minister of State signed the UK-UAE Partnership to Tackle Illicit Financial Flows which has been promoted as an opportunity to “bolster law enforcement by enhancing intelligence sharing and joint operations between the UK and UAE against serious and organised crime networks”.

What will this mean for those living in the UK and will the partnership have any impact on those wanted for extradition by the UAE?

Despite the UAE’s poor human rights record, the UK has nevertheless made a decision to strengthen ties with the Emirates. The PftF seeks to facilitate closer cooperation, enhance intelligence sharing and joint operations between the two countries against those financing terrorism, serious and organised crime gangs and networks. The partnership reached between the UAE and the UK is, however, purely of a political nature and does not amend the law as applied and interpreted by the extradition courts.

Repeated instances of serious human rights breaches in the UAE have left the UK courts unconvinced that a Requested Person would not be subjected to human rights violations in the event of their extradition to the UAE. Since the judgment in Lodhi, there have been no signs that the situation in relation to human rights violations has tangibly improved. The right to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3 ECHR) is a fundamental and absolute right. As long as serious concerns about the human rights of a Requested Persons persist, it is unlikely that the UK courts will change their position anytime soon. It is hoped that any extradition requests from the UAE following the announcement of PftF will still be scrutinised by the UK with care and a healthy dose of scepticism.

As is the case with Hong Kong, some commentators believe that, in the interests of both UK citizens and those living in the UAE, the extradition treaty should be suspended and no further partnerships cemented until the UAE proves it can provide conditions in line with the standards required by the Human Rights Act. Suspension could be a sensible course of action if there was a reasonable expectation that the UAE were moving towards a system of justice offering Requested Persons appropriate prison conditions and fair trials. It would certainly be a significant step towards encouraging the UAE to reform its legal system and offer better protection of fundamental human rights, though of course the political imperatives of closer cooperation with the powerful Gulf state may override these incentives.

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The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please do not hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.

©Gherson 2022


Agniezka Biel 

  Agnieszka Maria Biel


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