British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has given a warm, but low-key welcome to to the landmark Anglo-American extradition treaty passed by the United States Senate July 17. She sees it as a valuable new element in her government's attempts to grapple with terrorism in Northern Ireland. Treaty will make it much harder for activists of the outlawed Irish Republican Army (IRA) to take refuge in the US. It was passed by the Senate after lengthy delays and a moment some weeks ago when it seemed that the measure was destined never to reach the statute books. But when the Senate finally voted on the measure, the majority in favor of it was overwhelming, and the British Prime Minister has made it clear that she now believes it will be easier to bring wanted IRA members back from the US to face criminal prosecution in Britain.
At the same time, however, government ministers here are disappointed with some amendments that were added to the treaty on its way through the Senate. Under the new arrangements, people accused of possessing firearms and of conspiracy will still be able to avoid extradition; and the US courts will be able to hold up the extradition process if they have doubts about the judicial procedures that will face people when they arrive in Britain.
A government minister with responsibility for Northern Ireland affairs noted last week that if the people responsible for the 1984 Brighton bomb attack on the British Cabinet had managed to escape to the US, they would probably have been able to remain in America under the new extradition treaty. This was because the accused had conspired together to commit their crime.
A possibly more questionable element of the treaty, from the British standpoint, is the discretion it gives judges in the US to decide whether a fair trial awaits the accused when they reach Britain. When the US Senate debated the measure, it was pointed out that the accused in many cases would face trial in courts in which cases of alleged terrorism are tried by judges who operate without a jury.
Many US legislators suggested that the non-jury system did not adequately protect the rights of accused persons. The Thatcher government rejects this argument; government ministers have noted that over one-half of all accused persons brought before such courts in 1984 were acquitted.
Still, the treaty is sure strengthen the British government's hand in dealing with wanted IRA terrorists who seek refuge in the US. The treaty's crucial element is its attitude toward politically motivated crime. For months the measure was held up in the Senate because US legislators retained doubts about whether political crimes ought to be covered by extradition arrangements.
This attitude greatly frustrated Mrs. Thatcher since, in her view, the IRA's record has been one of criminal methods used under the umbrella of a political cause. Ironically, Britain's own attitude toward harboring people wanted in other countries for political crimes has been fairly lenient in the past, and US opponents of the extradition treaty were able to use this point to buttress their case.
In the end, as one British government minister remarked, the common sense of bringing suspected terrorists to trial -- wherever they may be -- has prevailed in the US. He went on to say that the new powers Britain will now enjoy will not be used lightly. The treaty is not perfect, he said, but it removes a major handicap in the battle against IRA terrorist activity.