The lawyer for a Western Australian man due to be extradited to the US on child sex charges has called for an overhaul of Australia’s laws, saying his client would probably die in jail if convicted.
Christopher Lobban, 58, has been in Perth’s Hakea remand prison since Australian federal police raided his home in July 2011 on allegations from the Polk County sheriff in Florida that he encouraged a woman on a BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) website to whip and spank two teenage girls. The woman is alleged to have filmed the acts and sent the video to him via the website’s chat room.
Lobban has maintained he did not know the girls were underage.He has been fighting extradition orders for five years, but the Australian government has authorised an order that would see him handed into the custody of US federal marshals in Sydney on 2 January.
If convicted in Florida, he faces a 25-year mandatory sentence under Polk County’s anti-paedophelia laws. “Given his age, it’s a death sentence,” his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, said.
Collaery, a Canberra-based barrister who was attorney general in the Australian Capital Territory’s minority alliance government from 1989-1991, said Lobban had already spent longer in jail than he would if he had been sentenced in an Australian court.
He called on the federal attorney general, George Brandis, to exercise his discretion and refuse the extradition order, and said Australia’s current extradition laws, which allow people to be extradited to certain countries without a requirement for the prosecuting jurisdiction to show probable cause, left Australians unprotected.
“We just export people on request,” Collaery told Guardian Australia. “Our relationship with the United States is big enough and robust enough for Australia to say no to Washington.” He said Lobban’s case was of “arguable merits” and had not been pursued by Australian authorities.
Sheriff Grady Judd has alleged Lobban was in contact with a woman in Polk County and urged her to conduct and film the sex acts, even instructing her in the construction of a so-called spanking table.
Judd told local media in 2014 that they had a “rock solid case” and described the 15-year-old girls being beaten with a leather paddle, adding: “I just can’t explain to you how brutal this process was.” The woman is currently serving a 20-year jail term.
Collaery said Lobban received a video from the woman which he believed contained consenting adults. He also disputed suggestions the pair were in a relationship, saying it was just a chat room.
Neither Collaery nor any of Lobban’s previous lawyers have seen the alleged videos used as evidence by Polk County, because Australia’s extradition treaty with the US does not require them to provide evidence.
If extradited, Lobban faces charges of two counts of promoting a sexual performance by a child, two counts of solicitation to commit aggravated child abuse and two counts of solicitation to commit lewd or lascivious battery.
Collaery said regardless of the unpleasantness of the allegations, Lobban should not be extradited. “His alleged offence is repugnant … but that’s the real test,” he said. “The real test is to represent or protect the unlikeable. There’s a higher power at play here. We can’t allow this kind of show-trial of a human being.”
A spokesperson from the attorney general’s department said it would not comment on the extradition process “to ensure the safety of all persons involved and to uphold the integrity of the surrender process”.