Act Now to Preserve British Law on Arrest of War Criminals

What is Universal Jurisdiction?

Under Universal Jurisdiction a suspect can be prosecuted regardless of where a crime was committed, or the nationality of the perpetrator or victim. This covers war crimes under the Geneva Conventions act, torture and hostage-taking.

Significantly, Universal Jurisdiction is about preserving the rule of law away from vested political interests, most usually in the home country where the will to prosecute may not exist.

What are the proposed changes?

Currently anyone can apply, as a private prosecutor, for a warrant in respect of such offences for the arrest of a foreign national visiting England. A warrant may quite properly be issued by a court.

However, under intense pressure from Israel and the Zionist lobby after the issuing of an arrest warrant for former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the UK government is proposing to restrict the issuing of arrest warrants under Universal Jurisdiction.

The proposed change, initiated by the previous government and pursued by its successor, would mean that arrest warrants for Universal Jurisdiction offences would in future need to be approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions following evidential and public interest tests being met. This would make securing a warrant practically impossible as the threshold for the tests would be prohibitively onerous – it would have to be shown than any arrest would almost certainly result in a conviction.

The implications

The British Government is changing the evidential requirements for these warrants purely to suit its political friends. It is a politicisation of the UK judiciary; without the spur of arrest warrants secured by private prosecution, the Crown Prosecution Service will not pursue suspected war criminals if the political will does not exist for them to be convicted.

How will the changes happen?

The Government has attempted to introduce this change innocuously, burying it in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill 2010-11. This Bill was presented to Parliament on 30 November 2010 in its First Reading and there was no debate. It will now be on the Order Paper for a Second Reading with the date to be confirmed.

The Second Reading is the second of three stages for any bill going through Parliament and the House of Lords before it becomes legislation. The third and final stage will be the committee stage where each clause is debated and amendments are proposed. It is vital to start lobbying MPs and, even more importantly, sympathetic Lords to oppose the clause in this bill watering down Universal Jurisdiction.

How to oppose these changes

The most effective way to defeat this move to politicise the UK judiciary is to challenge this one clause in this bill that is important to the UK government. If enough MPs and/or Lords oppose this clause, the government may drop it just to ensure the safe passage of the rest of the bill into legislation. If a member (MP or Lord) refuses to back down over this clause the government will be forced to a vote.

The Lords are the most vulnerable targets here as they are very sensitive to attacks on the sovereignty of the UK judiciary. Please lobby MPs but ESPECIALLY sympathetic Lords. Show that this is a politicisation of the judiciary, violating the key democratic principal of the separation of the executive and judicial branch of government.

Known sympathisers in the House of Lords include:

Lord Andrew Phillips,, 01787 370 856

Rt Hon Lord Whitty,, 020 7219 3118

Baroness Ashton of Upholland, 020 7219 5353

Rt Hon Lord Woolf,, 020 7219 3156, Fax: 020 7219 0785

Lords’ contact details can be found here