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Accused hacker Lauri Love's extradition appeal begins

Lord Chief Justice to hear Suffolk man's challenge against removal to US

Alleged computer hacker Lauri Love’s appeal against extradition from the UK to the US begins this morning at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

United States prosecutors have accused 33-year-old Love of having “carried out a series of cyber attacks against the websites and computer systems” of a list of American government agencies and private sector firms. It's alleged Love used methods including SQL injections, manipulations of vulns in Adobe ColdFusion and planting backdoors on servers for later exploitation.

The United States has sought Love's extradition so he can answer those charges on its soil.

Love, of Stradishall, Suffolk, denies all wrongdoing but faces a prison sentence of up to 99 years if he goes to trial in America. It is thought that the Americans want to use that lengthy sentence as a bargaining tool to secure a guilty plea in return for a much-reduced sentence.

Today's hearing will see Love's defence team are appeal against an earlier magistrate’s court decision. They are arguing his case before the Administrative Court, a branch of the High Court of England and Wales. His case, titled Love v Government of the United States of America, will be heard in Court Four at the historic Royal Courts of Justice and is scheduled to last for a day and a half.

Sitting in judgement will be the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Ian Burnett, along with Mr Justice Duncan Ouseley. The latter presided over a number of notable cases, including Julian Assange’s unsuccessful 2011 appeal against extradition from the UK, handed down shortly before the chief Wikileaker went to hide in an Ecuadorian embassy broom cupboard.

Three separate indictments with a total of 13 criminal charges have been filed against Love, a dual British-Finnish citizen. The cases have been filed in separate US courts: the Southern District of New York; the District of New Jersey; and the Eastern District of Virginia. Thanks to the vagaries of the US legal system, this would mean three separate trials for the same alleged crimes, giving American prosecutors multiple attempts to secure a conviction. In the UK, this is not permissible.

Love, who suffers from asthma, eczema and depression, has also been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. He says treatment for these conditions is not easy to access in the US prison system. He has also argued that he is very likely to kill himself if extradited to America - something his parents confirmed at an earlier court hearing.

Test case for the "Forum Bar"

In September 2016 District Judge Nina Tempia, sitting alone at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, ruled that Love could be extradited to the United States. In her full judgment (PDF, GOV.UK website, 32 pages) the judge also ruled that the "forum bar" - a doctrine that allows accused criminals to appeal against extradition on because their crimes took place substantially in the UK, or due tocompelling grounds for them to be tried in Britain - does not apply to Love.

The forum bar was a change in British law passed after the Gary McKinnon case, a very similar set of circumstances in which American prosecutors tried to extradite an accused British hacker who also suffered from mental health difficulties. In McKinnon’s case, then-Home-Secretary Theresa May eventually refused to hand him over to the Americans.

Crucially, the forum bar has never been tested in court. Today’s appeal is expected to focus on the forum bar, as well as the state of Love’s health and conditions in the US prison system.

Human rights pressure group Liberty has also been granted permission to be heard before the Administrative Court. The Register will report at intervals from the hearing as it unfolds. ®

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