British extradition policy and the problem of the political offender (1842-1914)

Adams, Nicholas

Political science; Public administration; History
June 1989

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© 1989 Nicholas Adams. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The aim of this study is to examine the nature of the British approach to extradition with particular reference to the definition of political offences and the position of political refugees in extradition law and practice. The attention of policy-makers and public opinion was always mainly focused upon these two issues, and this study will therefore concentrate upon them. In abstract terms, the definition of political offences was found to be generally impossible, although attempts to define them generated much important and interesting discussion. In practice, some guidelines were laid down in individual cases, but they did not amount to a solution of the general question.Before 1870, fears that efficient extradition would necessarily endanger political refugees prevented Britain from establishing a system of extradition treaties, with the result that many common criminals escaped punishment. A shift in opinion took place, and it came to be accepted that efficient extradition and security for political refugees could co-exist, but even after 1870, efficient extradition was still hampered to an extent by statutory safeguards for the position of political refugees. Furthermore, on several occasions, amendments of the law that were desirable in the interests of the efficient administration of the law were abandoned on the grounds that they might endanger political refugees.Foreign states resented British devotion to protecting political refugees, both because it hampered efficient extradition and because they resented British protection of refugees who were considered a threat to the security of foreign regimes. There was considerable pressure from abroad, and from certain sections of opinion within Britain, for her to abandon, or at least modify, her traditional stance vis-a-vis political refugees within extradition law and practice, and more generally, but it remained largely unaltered throughout the period under discussion. Up to 1914, political refugees were better protected by Britain than by any other nation. Thereafter, things began to change, as the peculiar conditions which had made such a policy both desirable and possible gradually altered and eventually disappeared.

Department of History, The University of Hull
Porter, Bernard
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