Archive (Reagan Library)

Northern Ireland: US State Department briefing on Doherty case (US extradition rules) [declassified 2000]

Document type: Declassified documents
Venue: Department of State, Washington D.C.
Source: Reagan Library: European & Soviet Directorate NSC (Thatcher Visit - Dec 84 [3] Box 90902)
Editorial comments: A coversheet (dated 21 December) shows that the brief was sent to the NSC for the President's use at his meeting with MT on 22 December.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 344 words
Themes: Foreign policy (USA), Law & order, Northern Ireland, Terrorism

Declassified F97-013#46
By SMF, NARA, Date 5/17/00



SUBJECT: Doherty Extradition Case

Joseph Patrick Doherty was convicted in Belfast in June 1981 for the May 1980 murder of a British security official, for the attempted murder of other members of the security force and for other related offenses.

Following his escape from prison and location in the US, the UK Government requested his extradition in August 1983, pursuant to our treaty.

On December 13, 1984, a federal district court judge upheld Doherty’s defense to extradition, ruling that his offences were “of a political character”, and were thereby excused under the extradition treaty.

This decision cannot be appealed and extends the UK’s recent winless record (4 denials in the past 4 years) in seeking to extradite IRA fugitives from the United States.

The Doherty decision has attracted strong negative reaction by several MPs and has been privately raised by Foreign Secretary Howe with the Secretary in the margins of the NATO discussions in Brussels.

Howe, while not questioning the independence of US courts, has suggested as possible options: amending our extradition treaty and changing US domestic legislation.

On several occasions in recent years, we have attempted unsuccessfully to amend US extradition law to limit substantially the extradition cases where the “political offense” exception would bar extradition.

There is support in both Houses of Congress for such a move, but an equally strong desire to continue to have the courts decide the political offense issue.

Coincidentally, senior State and Justice legal officials were meeting with UK officials in London this week in an initiative to explore ways to avoid such adverse extradition decisions in the future. Both sides agree that amendment of the treaty would probably be the most effective way to attack the problem.