US v Dempsey – Extradition Case Clarifies Offence of Perverting the Course of Public Justice
July 24, 2018
On 6 July 2018 the High Court held in United States v Dempsey  EWHC 1724 (Admin) that making a false statement to an agent of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) in the context of suspected international terrorism was an extradition offence. The decision is important in that it clarifies the scope of the English common law offence of perverting the course of public justice.
Dempsey, a US citizen (“the Respondent”), was interviewed by the FBI at Rome airport in 2013, following time spent in Syria. The Respondent provided untruthful answers regarding the purpose of his travel to Syria. Following a second interview with an FBI agent at Rome airport in January 2014, the Respondent admitted that he had lied in the previous interview and that he had in fact fought against the Syrian government. As a result, he was indicted by a Grand Jury in the state of California, and a warrant for his arrest was subsequently issued. The US government requested the Respondent’s extradition from the UK, where he had arrived in September 2014. A District Judge came to the decision that the Respondent did not commit a serious enough offence to warrant being extradited to the US for further prosecution.
However, the High Court came to the opposite conclusion to that of the District Judge. The mere fact of lying to a police officer or other investigator may not of itself disclose the offence of perverting the course of justice. English law required that the action perverted, or tended to pervert, or was intended to pervert the course of public justice. The court found that the Respondent’s lies had the tendency “to put the FBI on to the wrong track”, and the FBI’s investigation was liable to be diverted as a result. The court noted that the offence with which the Respondent had been indicted in the US was not precisely the same as the common law offence. However, the court held that the requirements of the English common law offence included the elements of the US offence, and therefore the Respondent was being pursued for an extradition offence.