The High Court has reserved judgment on a human rights bid by an American paedophile to block being returned to the US where he is wanted for allegedly abusing three girls in the mid-Nineties.
Lawyers for fugitive Shawn Sullivan, 43, said he could face detention with no hope of release under a controversial US sex offenders’ treatment programme.
No one on the programme has yet been released, said counsel for Sullivan who has been described as one of the US’s most wanted alleged sex criminals.
Two judges were asked in a day-long hearing by Sullivan, who has joint Irish-US nationality, to block the British Home Secretary’s decision in February last year to order his extradition to Minnesota.
He is also seeking to overturn a decision of district judge Howard Riddle at Westminster magistrates’ court in December 2010 that there was no legal reason why extradition should not go ahead.
Sullivan is accused of raping a 14-year-old girl and sexually molesting two 11-year-olds in Minnesota between 1993 and 1994.
He left the US as prosecutors filed charges against him and was later found to be living in Ireland. He then came to London using an Irish passport with his name spelt in Gaelic as “O’Suilleabhain”.
While living in Ireland he was convicted of sexually assaulting two 12-year-old girls and given a suspended sentence.
He was arrested in London in June 2010 whilst living with Ministry of Justice policy manager Sarah Smith, 34, in Barnes, south-west London. They married while he was held at Wandsworth Prison, before he was granted bail.
Today his counsel Ben Brandon argued that the extradition decision could not stand because of a failure to properly consider that Sullivan was at risk of being subjected to a legal process known as “civil commitment” that violated human rights.
Mr Brandon said civil commitment involved people declared “sexually dangerous” to be confined indefinitely for treatment in secure facilities operated by the Department of Human Services in Minnesota.
Commitment usually followed a person completing a prison sentence but a conviction was not necessary for it to be imposed, argued Mr Brandon.
He told Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Eady: “Minnesota has never released a ’sex offender’ committed to indeterminate detention since the program began in its current form in 1988.”
It was a process alien to the European justice system and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Aaron Watkins, appearing for the US government, told the court that Sullivan did not satisfy the criteria for commitment.
He said: “On the evidence we have, there is a solid basis to say he will not be subject to civil commitment ultimately.”
Even if commitment did take place, there were sufficient safeguards in the US legal system to protect his rights, he added.
Lord Justice Moses indicated that the court had “a real anxiety” about Sullivan’s right not to be deprived of his liberty without due process under Article 5 of the European human rights convention.
He asked Mr Watkins why, if Sullivan did not satisfy the criteria, the US authorities would not give an undertaking that he would not face commitment.
Mr Watkins said the authorities were taking “a principled stance” as it was not possible to say what would be the position at the end of any prison sentence Sullivan might be required to serve.
The judge suggested that what was really important to the people of Minnesota was that Sullivan stood trial and, if he himself were a citizen, he would be “fed up about it” if the question of commitment got in the way of a trial taking place.
Mr Watkins said he had no doubt that if the High Court was sufficiently concerned about Article 5, he would “seek to revisit” the issue with the Minnesota authorities.
Later Mr Moses also asked Mr Watkins what was “going wrong” with the commitment rehabilitation programme and why no one had succeeded in winning their release.
Suggesting the evidence was, on its face, “horrific”, the judge said: “Not one case has been successful.”
He added that it was beginning to look more like the aim of the programme was: “Don’t let these people out.”
Mr Watkins said there were problems with the administering of treatment and “the unwillingness of people to participate”. But there was “a high degree of trust” in the system and the question of release was being taken seriously.
Mr Watkins also said he rejected allegations that the system was a “”fig leaf“ that allowed political capital to be made by finding a way to ensure those convicted of sexual offences were indefinitely detained.
The judges said they would give their ruling at a future date.