High court rules Lucy Wright, arrested in 2007 for alleged drug trafficking, may be subjected to 'inhuman' prison conditions
A pregnant British woman who was arrested on suspicion of smuggling cocaine through a South American airport has won her high court battle against extradition to Argentina on human rights grounds.
The highly unusual decision to allow the appeal by Lucy Wright, from Bolton, was granted on the grounds that she might be subjected to "inhuman or degrading" prison conditions.
The judgment comes at a time of heightened tension over the future of the Falklands Islands with Argentina encouraging other Latin American countries to turn away British shipping.
The case also represents a relatively rare example of English judges blocking an extradition request ? a process that has become increasingly politically sensitive.
Wright, in her late 20s, had pledged to plead guilty to cocaine smuggling charges if her extradition to South America was halted and she was tried in the UK.
Two judges in London allowed her appeal against extradition on the basis that it would infringe her right not to be subjected to "inhuman and degrading treatment" under article three of the European convention on human rights (ECHR). If removed, she could expect to receive a sentence in Argentina of up to 16 years, the high court heard.
Sir John Thomas, president of the Queen's Bench Division, sitting with Mr Justice Silber, stressed they had decided the case on its specific facts, including a lack of undertakings from Argentina relating to the prison conditions she could expect to face.
They stressed there was "no basis whatsoever for assuming or believing" that future attempts by the government of Argentina to obtain extradition orders would fail.
Silber said: "Our decision may well have been different if the government of Argentina had adduced proper evidence or given undertakings."
Thomas emphasised with Silber that the challenge could not have succeeded in relation to countries which are a party to the ECHR.
Lawyers for Wright had argued there was a real risk her human rights would be violated if she was sent back to Argentina, where prison conditions were "inhuman and degrading".
Wright was arrested at Buenos Aires airport allegedly in the act of smuggling nearly 6.32kg (14lb) of cocaine on 14 March 2007. She fled home after she was allowed bail.
If she had lost her battle against extradition, her removal would not have taken place until after the birth of her child, who would then have been looked after by a sister. Her lawyers argued there was UN evidence of "systemic human rights violations" in Argentina's women's penal institutions.
Alun Jones QC, appearing for Wright, said she could expect to be held in custody for over two years awaiting trial, even if she pleaded guilty. She could then expect to serve any subsequent sentence in inhuman and degrading conditions, violating article three of the ECHR.
In interviews, Wright has described herself as a nursing student who came to London from Bolton with her boyfriend to start a nursing degree.
When the relationship ended she became very depressed and tried to kill herself, and then a drug dealer got her addicted to crack cocaine. After she ran up massive debts, the dealer offered her ?10,000 to smuggle cocaine.
At Buenos Aires airport, she was stopped with a suitcase containing the cocaine. She was bailed the following day and fled to the UK via Brazil where she reported her passport lost and got a replacement from the British consulate in S?o Paulo.
Her family wired her money for a ticket home, but when she went to the police they declined to investigate the case. Later she moved into her own flat, got a car, found work as a care assistant and embarked on a university course to become a nurse.
She was arrested in April 2009 after the Argentinian government began moves to extradite her, and the chief magistrate Judge Howard Riddle ruled at Westminster magistrates court that extradition could go ahead.
The home secretary ordered her extradition in July 2010 under the 2003 Extradition Act. It was the magistrate's decision that was overturned on Tuesday.
The high court was told that Wright had "turned her life around" and the right course was for her to be tried in the UK. Jones said a report from "civil society organisations" in Argentina to the UN committee for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women concluded there were systemic human rights violations in women's prisons.
Dr Maria Verdu, an Argentinian lawyer instructed on behalf of Wright, had reported that violations to basic rights were "the rule". They included food shortages, lack of sanitary facilities, and frequent intimate searches in the presence of male staff.
Verdu stated that, as a foreign national, Wright would suffer greatly due to food, clothing and shortages of personal items. She would stand a chance of surviving only if she acted as a "slave" to other, wealthier prisoners in return for commodities.
A major factor in Wright winning her appeal was Verdu's evidence. In addition to the Argentinian failure to give undertakings, the judges ruled, "there was no attempt to cross-examine Verdu on her evidence or otherwise to contradict her powerful evidence".