How we’re ending the law to bring foreign criminals to justice


8:55 am - December 7th 2010

by Imran Ahmed    


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Last year the Israeli politicians Tzipi Livni MK was advised by her government not to visit Britain as she was at risk of being arrested on suspicion of involvement in war crimes. An experienced magistrate, with expertise in international law, had issued a warrant to detain Ms Livni after being persuaded by a private applicant that she had a case to answer.

Israel condemned Britain in strong terms and politicians of all stripes opined that our ability to conduct diplomacy had been impaired. None of this was true.

Tzipi Livni was here to fundraise, and had she been here for diplomacy she would have been immune to arrest. Now the Coalition is delivering for them.

Clause 151 of the new Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill seeks to limit the ability of a private citizen to obtain an arrest warrant for universal jurisdiction offences, that is those offences that are considered so terrible that all must condemn them.

I believe the issue presents Labour with a solid opportunity to constructively oppose the Coalition and in doing so start the necessary process of renewing our credentials as defenders of justice, here and abroad.

You’re just anti-Israel!
It’s not about Israel, it’s about international justice.

According to the Ministry of Justice, 10 such cases have been brought in the last 10 years. President Mugabe, a Chinese minister accused of torture, and others have numbered among the ten cases. The most recent case in the news where victims of war crimes are seeking justice is about the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, who is speaking at the Oxford Union (although as a head of state, he is immune to arrest).

In fact, the only person convicted here under universal jurisdiction laws was an Afghan torturer.

Second, it’s about the fundamental rights of British citizens – one that existed long before there was a Crown Prosecution Service or Department of Public Prosecutions – to hold people to check, no matter who they are.

For the Coalition, who claim to live and breathe by restoring fundamental rights, it seems quite remarkable that the first thing they do is take one of the most ancient and fundamental underpinnings of the rule of law away.

This will allow frivolous prosecutions!
This is just plain ridiculous, especially as it quotes a specious claim from a barrister and minister of such high note as Ken Clarke. When issuing an arrest warrant, a magistrate requires evidence that, if uncontested, would result in the facts being proven.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the Crown Prosecution Service or a private prosecutor that seeks an arrest warrant. The standards are the same and our judiciary is the fairest and most scrupulous in the world. The court that hears these applications – Westminster Magistrates – has specialised judges that understand international law. They will enforce the standards that apply to anyone that appears before them.

This will stop us from conducting necessary diplomacy!
The majority of cases are rejected because the accused has immunity from arrest; judges are obliged to check this before issuing an arrest warrant.

Immune from arrest:
• Heads of State, Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers;
• Diplomats and their staff;
• Members of the government here to fulfil their official functions, which might include travel or diplomatic missions on behalf of their country;
• Members of a Special Mission, which is anyone that is agreed by both countries as being here for a specified reason, a nice catch-all for people not in the above categories.

Who’s not covered?
• A normal citizen
• A former minister or military official in the United Kingdom on personal business that is not on a Special Mission

Wouldn’t this be a change of mind for Labour, given this legislation was first mooted in March by Jack Straw?
We’ve got a new team and new people.

The people that have really changed their minds are the Liberal Democrats, 52 of whom signed an EDM last year saying things shouldn’t change, 16 of whom are on the Government frontbenches today.

Labour’s a renewed party. It’s good that we’re undergoing a root and branch review of our laws. This is an acid test of whether it really is the party of civil rights, international law and human rights.

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About the author
Imran is an occasional contributor and Labour party activist. He blogs here and is on Twitter here.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Foreign affairs ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


“You’re just anti-Israel!”

Well I have no doubt you are.

But I probably agree with your argument.

“Second, it’s about the fundamental rights of British citizens – one that existed long before there was a Crown Prosecution Service or Department of Public Prosecutions – to hold people to check, no matter who they are.”

How odd. We did that for several hundred years, and I could have sworn the Left (and the Little Englanders) disapproved, and called it Imperialism.

“How odd. We did that for several hundred years, and I could have sworn the Left (and the Little Englanders) disapproved, and called it Imperialism.”

You’re right, General Napier only took Sindh because some Sindhi did something really naughty.

What are you talking about Laban?

4. Torquil MacNeil

I think what Laban is hinting at is that this sort of goings on doesn’t look so great when it is not your pet hate at the font end.I wonder, for example, whether anyone would be so pleased if the US forces managed to ‘arrest’ Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro because they held some of their actions to be crimes.

This is a problem that can be easily resolved. Parliament just needs to pass the “pro-israel” act, which grants Israeli leaders and citizens immunity from arrest, extradition and/or prosecution in the UK. After that, nobody is going to moan about war criminals being arrested.

I wonder, for example, whether anyone would be so pleased if the US forces managed to ‘arrest’ Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro because they held some of their actions to be crimes.

I’d be fine with it, if sufficient evidence could be put together. That’s the whole point of law, after all – it’s supposed to apply to everyone.

“I’d be fine with it,”

Me too. Its worth repeating here that the only objections to actual cases of war criminals being arrested have come from the right, who objected to Pinochet’s arrest on the grounds that murdering lefties isn’t a crime.

7 – If there were attempts to arrest Castro or Chavez should they ever come to this country (unlikely I know) you can bet George Galloway and other assorted lefties would be up in arms, including I suspect members of the PLP.

Probably, but they’d also constitute a minority.

FlyingRodent @ 6

An action on these lines has already been launched against Castro in Belgium, citing > instances of torture.

I’d guess that some Chechen group would be able to make a prima facie case against any senior Russian politician.

Pakistan and Morocco have clearly been involved in torture in recent years. I dare say the Kashmiris could come up with evidence against the Indians.

Egypt is not known for having a healthy human rights record, while Saudi Arabia and Iran are notorious offenders.

The government of newly independent Kosovo is regularly accused of having been involved in atrocities against Serbs. Meanwhile the Serb authorities could face actions by Croats and Bosnians. Not that either Croat or Bosnian politicians are all by any means sqeaky clean.

One could go on to the point where, perhaps only Finnish or Canadian politicians would be allowed to visit London.

Do we want this? I dunno.

I’m surprised at the lengths they’re willing to go to just to get Dick Cheney as after-dinner speaker at the Tory Christmas office bash…

Irfan

I’d be interested to see some more of the background to your piece. Is there a list of all the “10 such cases which have been brought in the last decade”, and were they all brought through arrest warrants issued to private individuals at Magistrates Courts? How many succeeded?

You seem to make great play of “specialised judges”, but I note that you say the warrant was issued by a Magistrate. Could you clarify?

At the time the arrest warrant struck me as being a publicity stunt, and that no prosecution would follow.

The EDM you refer to was 502, which is worded very generally:
http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=40074&SESSION=903

“That this House believes that universal jurisdiction for human rights abuses is essential as part of the cause of bringing to justice those who commit crimes against humanity and will oppose any legislation to restrict this power of UK courts.”

The current action doesn’t seem to me to restrict this power of UK Courts; it simply requires an evidential test by the DPP for private applications before an arrest warrant is issued. The DPP is a lawyer not a politician.

I see no real problem, except for people wanting to do arrest warrants as publicity stunts.

I *am* slightly surprised that this is not already on the legal books; I thought the last Govt had made the same change.

“Do we want this? I dunno.”

Well in the long run it is vitally important that international law develops an enforcement mechanism. Thus you would never get to the stage of only Canada and finland having diplomatic, because the deterent effect would prevent people committing war crimes.

This is why the arrest of Pinochet is in my view the greatest achievement of new labour (even if the blairites regretted it). It was to my knowledge unprecedented, and encouraged a process by which former head of states responsible for war crimes had their powers and remaining influence over those states diminished considerably. Rather than risk arrest, the likes of Idi Amin stayed in their compounds in Saudi Arabia and thus had their influence gone. It also set in motion a series of events worldwide that saw several military officials stripped of immunity and prosecuted for crimes committed in the 70s and 80s.

There has also been progress (which may or may not be related to the Pinochet arrest) in bringing former heads of state to face trial for their crimes, for example Milosovic, Karadic and numerous officials from the former Yugoslavia, Charles Taylor is another etc, as are the Rwandan lot. Now many have criticised this process as being the justice of the victor, and pointed out the war crimes of the powerful. And many have thus fallen into the temptation of calling for the war crimes tribunal to be abolished – one thinks of Harold pinter and the far left defence of Milosovic.

However just because the enforcement of international law is going to be largely ignoring the rich and powerful in its initial stages does not mean it should be opposed. At the moment it is the low hanging fruit of war criminals who don’t have the power to escape it, but this fruit is still juicy. The fact that Africa has had one of its least conflict torn decades (and hence most proserous) since the Pinochet arrest and development of the war crimes tribunal I don’t think is entirely unrelated to the development of such an enforcement mechanism.

So in relation to your point, you have to bear in mind that this will take time. Those trying to perform citizens arrests on Israeli’s know full well that the powerful are likely to escape prosecution for the moment. Power still trumps accountability. But if those who are responsible for war crimes have to stop and think about whether they will be able to get away with it, rather than assuming it, then that is progress. There are already IDF conscripts in Jail due to long tireless campaigns by the families of western citizens, and I don’t think the effect this has on IDF actions can be under-estimated.

This is why it is vital that we retain the ability to try and bring war criminals to justice, even when those criminals have the power and influence to regard these actions as mere inconveniences. It strengthens the development of enforcement mechanisms for international law, and at least it legitimises the process of picking the low hanging fruit. Even if it takes decades before we see wealthy nations having their politicians in the dock.

A further note on the 10 “such cases”. What difference would this change make, and how many would be inhibited by this proposed change?

Not Pinochet – that was an International Arrest Warrant from Spain.
Not Mugabe – that was an attempted Citizen’s Arrest by Peter Tatchell (unless there’s a private prosecution I am not aware of).

What about the others?

@Plansshift

>Well in the long run it is vitally important that international law develops an enforcement mechanism.

I agree with that, I’m just not sure that private prosecutions brought by campaign groups which happen to get themselves organised are a practical or fair way of doing it.

How do we react to the arrest of a British Minister or ex-Minister after request of a campaign group in say Iran or ZImbabwe if a Court in that country awarded itself universal jurisdiction? All this is reciprocal, and that’s a bit of a can of worms.

“that private prosecutions brought by campaign groups which happen to get themselves organised ”

There is a way to deal with it, small claims courts have a list of people who are vexatious litigants and thus banned from litigation. A similar thing could apply here to groups making frequent applications without hard evidence.

The point about what a zimbabwe court could do to Britain – well they could do that now if they wanted to create an international incident……it isn’t a reason for us to stop persuing war criminals. Indeed, if we arrested Mugabe it would be a good thing.

17. Arieh Kovler

This is a deliberately evasive piece that fluffs over some key points:

In fact, the only person convicted here under universal jurisdiction laws was an Afghan torturer.

Actually there’s also a Nazi war criminal. And both were prosecuted by the CPS, not by private prosecution. This change doesn’t make the slightest difference to those cases.

Second, it’s about the fundamental rights of British citizens … to hold people to check, no matter who they are.

I think you mean English and Welsh citizens. This ‘fundamental right’ is so fundamental that it doesn’t exist in Scotland.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the Crown Prosecution Service or a private prosecutor that seeks an arrest warrant. The standards are the same

From the point of view of the court, this is true. But the CPS itself uses a higher standard before bringing charges. It will only bring charges if there is a reasonable prospect of conviction – in other words, the CPS considers the evidence on both sides before going to court.

Immune from arrest:
• Members of a Special Mission, which is anyone that is agreed by both countries as being here for a specified reason, a nice catch-all for people not in the above categories.

No. The Special Mission rules are much more constrained than that and only apply to representatives of a Government, not – say- to Opposition figures. Are you really suggesting that we should defend a system that protects foreign Governments but not Opposition leaders?

@Planeshift:

Not so easy, I’m afraid. First, it takes quite a lot of vexatious litigation before you can have someone declared a vexatious litigant. More importantly, though, what’s a “group”? It’d be easy to apply for these warrants in each of the individual names of the activists, in turn, so that each only makes one or two applications but dozens of applications are made. How do you prove any of them is a member of a “group” which may have no formal existence at all? And even if you do, can’t another “group” simply come into existence to replace it, Sharia4UK style?

No more complaints about loss of sovereignty to Europe form Tory trolls please as once again their govt bows down and writes laws for the global international elites.

All over the world the whore politicians who are owned by the global elites strip away peoples rights so that the globe is a play thing for the elites.

Taxes, laws and morality are for the little people.

20. margin4error

Some people here seem to be arguing against the article with arguments that the article already covers pretty well.

For example – this idiotic straw-man notion that only canada and finland (and such places) could come to london for diplomacy.

The article shows that this is not the case as diplomats and national leaders and so on are immune from prosecution.

And I would suggest that people are ignoring such obvious aspects because, in their desire to defend the government, they are trying to argue something that they don’t really have an argument for.

After all – should war criminals really be able to come to the UK on private business (not diploatic or state business) safe in the knowledge that our citizens are not allowed to have them arrested?

@20

>After all – should war criminals really be able to come to the UK on private business (not diploatic or state business) safe in the knowledge that our citizens are not allowed to have them arrested?

Straw Man yourself 🙂 The proposed change does not exclude that possibility.

I’d say I’m defending both *this* government’s position and that if the previous one.

So we’re ending the law to allow someone to decide in their opinion someone else’s actions amount to war crimes and to have the state arrest them on that basis (at least without a review of the evidence)?

Wow – I can see why that would be a problem. It may stop people using the law for political (or other personal) ends.

23. margin4error

watchman

we are ending the law by which members of the public can ask the courts to issue an arrest warant for such people. Not that any individual can just go up and arrest on suspicion. That’s already not how the law works.

24. margin4error

Matt

yes it does. That’s exactly what the law is intended to exclude. People accused of war crimes are demanding we change the law so they can come here on private business and not face arrest by our courts.

That’s why the Israeli’s want the change. That’s why people are pretending it is about diplomacy when in fact the individual at the centre of the complaint was in fact on private business. That’s why the law is being changed.

Granted I’m sure the law could be written in a way that ensures only some war criminals can come to london to do their christmas shopping. But that’s hardly a positive move.

@12 (Matt)

I’d be interested to see some more of the background to your piece. Is there a list of all the “10 such cases which have been brought in the last decade”, and were they all brought through arrest warrants issued to private individuals at Magistrates Courts? How many succeeded?

The number 10 is from a Written Answer to a Parliamentary Question by Nick DuBois MP. As stated in my article (and if you read the Written Answer) it is well known that two succeeded.

http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2010-11-09b.22281.h&s=speaker%3A24859#g22281.q0

You seem to make great play of “specialised judges”, but I note that you say the warrant was issued by a Magistrate. Could you clarify?

The warrant was issued by Timothy Workman, who was what used to be called a stipendiary magistrate (a fully legally qualified, full time magistrate) and is now called a District Judge. He’s an expert on terrorism, international law, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Workman

At the time the arrest warrant struck me as being a publicity stunt, and that no prosecution would follow.

The current action doesn’t seem to me to restrict this power of UK Courts; it simply requires an evidential test by the DPP for private applications before an arrest warrant is issued. The DPP is a lawyer not a politician.

It does restrict the power of UK Courts quite profoundly and uniquely. And your comment about the DPP is just specious. The new law says that courts cannot make decisions based on the facts until someone that works for a body whose head reports into the Attorney General and is funded by money that comes from general taxation. That is just wrong. This is the effective politicisation of the judiciary’s decision-making powers.

@Matt (14)

A further note on the 10 “such cases”. What difference would this change make, and how many would be inhibited by this proposed change?

Not Pinochet – that was an International Arrest Warrant from Spain.
Not Mugabe – that was an attempted Citizen’s Arrest by Peter Tatchell (unless there’s a private prosecution I am not aware of).

What about the others?

Tatchell laid an information before Timothy Workman at Bow Street Magistrates Court (which used to be where such cases were heard before they moved to Westminster Magistrates Court) seeking an arrest warrant for Mugabe. It was denied as Mugabe enjoys immunity ratione personae from arrest. Tatchell then tried to make a citizen’s arrest. That was one of the 10.

Bo Xilai, Doron Almog, Tzipi Livni, you can research the rest yourself.

m4e,

we are ending the law by which members of the public can ask the courts to issue an arrest warant for such people. Not that any individual can just go up and arrest on suspicion. That’s already not how the law works.

If you noticed, I said that a person could apply to have the state arrest someone, not arrest them themselves. I do not see how a private person can be allowed to take those powers onto themselves without any risk to themselves. It strikes me as a recipe for unjust and tyrannical behaviour and political oppression. If you arrest someone yourself you risk your health (see Peter Tatchell for example) and also can be prosecuted for assualt/false imprisonment if there are no real grounds. If you get the state to do it, there is more inconvenience to someone not yet proven guilty (and on the basis of evidence provided by you remember – this need to be balanced) and there is no comeback if there are no real grounds.

Essentially, this law currently allows particular individuals and groups with the knowhow and the funding to present a case to a judge, who regardless of political opinon may not be particularly well informed on the issue, to order the arrest of somebody. It is in effect allowing an arrest through gossip. That is not appropriate in a democracy – where the ends do not justify the means, remember.

@17.

This is a deliberately evasive piece that fluffs over some key points:

I find that amusing. Let’s see if you prove my evasion.

In fact, the only person convicted here under universal jurisdiction laws was an Afghan torturer.

Actually there’s also a Nazi war criminal. And both were prosecuted by the CPS, not by private prosecution. This change doesn’t make the slightest difference to those cases.

You’re wrong on the facts. The War Crimes Act 1991 under which two prosecutions were instituted against Nazi War Criminals only allows the prosecution of people who have since become British citizens or residents. That is, it is not an example of a prosecution of the kind being discussed here. These are crimes pursuant to

Second, it’s about the fundamental rights of British citizens … to hold people to check, no matter who they are.

I think you mean English and Welsh citizens. This ‘fundamental right’ is so fundamental that it doesn’t exist in Scotland.

You’re right. Well done. I used British where I should have said English and Welsh. Of course Scottish law is sui generis.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the Crown Prosecution Service or a private prosecutor that seeks an arrest warrant. The standards are the same

From the point of view of the court, this is true. But the CPS itself uses a higher standard before bringing charges. It will only bring charges if there is a reasonable prospect of conviction – in other words, the CPS considers the evidence on both sides before going to court.

The Full Code Test exists to ensure public money is being well spent, and is necessary for a public body. The whole point of private prosecutions being retained in the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 was that where public prosecutors are indolent or politically affected, justice can be done.

Immune from arrest:
• Members of a Special Mission, which is anyone that is agreed by both countries as being here for a specified reason, a nice catch-all for people not in the above categories.

No. The Special Mission rules are much more constrained than that and only apply to representatives of a Government, not – say- to Opposition figures. Are you really suggesting that we should defend a system that protects foreign Governments but not Opposition leaders?

As per the International Law Commission, it applies to any “itinerant envoy who carries out special tasks in the States to which he proceeds”. So you’re wrong.

So perhaps I wasn’t being evasive, perhaps I was just being, y’know, informed.

Yours,

Imran

@22 (Watchman)

So we’re ending the law to allow someone to decide in their opinion someone else’s actions amount to war crimes and to have the state arrest them on that basis (at least without a review of the evidence)?

Wow – I can see why that would be a problem. It may stop people using the law for political (or other personal) ends.

You’re clearly not reading the article.

A private applicant lays an information, almost always compiled by a solicitor, before a magistrate. The magistrate has to consider the merits of the information and decide whether it comprises a prima facie case. If it does, the magistrate can issue an arrest warrant and ask the alleged criminal to appear before the court. At that point the alleged criminal would be bailed and the Attorney General is under orders to take over the case. The Attorney General can discontinue the case, and REGINA v. DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS, Ex parte DUCKENFIELD REGINA v. SAME, Ex parte MURRAY REGINA v. SOUTH YORKSHIRE POLICE AUTHORITY and Another,Ex parte CHIEF CONSTABLE OF SOUTH YORKSHIRE POLICE REGINA v. SAME, Ex parte DUCKENFIELD REGINA v. SAME, Ex parte MURRAY clarifies what aspects of the Full Code Test can be used to decide how to proceed.

Imran,
Imran,

So my point being that you can bring evidence (unopposed by any legal representation for the accused) before a judge and he or she can order an arrest on the basis of the evidence presented stands?

After all, you admit the accused could then be bailed. This kind of confirms they have been arrested on the say-so of somebody who may not have presented a balanced case but has convinced the judge. I can’t see how suffering bail conditions could be used to inconvenience anyone financially or politically – it won’t cost money, or restrict travel, or anything like that will it? And the very fact someone has been arrested can spread gossip.

And you nowhere disprove that such an arrest can be made on the decision of one person, the judge, on the basis of the evidence presented by one party. Yes, the Attorney General then takes over the case, but the arrest has been made and damage done. In fact, you confirm my narrative.

Furthermore, my key accusation that there is no cost incurrred by wrongly doing this (unless you actually lie to the judge I suppose) seems to have been ignored by you. If you want individual campaigning solicitors or legally-adept individuals and pressure groups to have this power, feel free to support it. But please don’t try to deny it is explicitly what the law allows.

Imran,

Appologies for the beginning of the last post – the double use of your name was a typo, not an attempt to be patronising.

Looks awful as well…

32. margin4error

watchman

why should a private person not have the power to ask the courts to issue an arrest warrant for some one if they have suitable evidence on which to base such a request?

The court still has to judge that the evidence is adequate. It has to judge that there is a case to answer. This is perfectly reasonable and the courts are independent of political interference for just such reasons.

If individuals have no such right then investigation through law is always and exclusively a decision for the state – and that is a terrible situation to be in given the willingness of states to overlook justice for the sake of finance or diplomacy.

Citizens have to have that right, at least in such cases where the crimes are recognised as being so against human rights as to deserve investigation beyond a national jurisdiction.

margin4error,

why should a private person not have the power to ask the courts to issue an arrest warrant for some one if they have suitable evidence on which to base such a request?

Because the person in question has had no opportunity to defend themselves, and there is no possible penalty for the person making the request. That means the system is open to abuse.

The court still has to judge that the evidence is adequate. It has to judge that there is a case to answer. This is perfectly reasonable and the courts are independent of political interference for just such reasons.

Which is not to say judges do not have political leanings and opinions. But if only one party brings their case in an issue outside UK jurisdiction, how likely is that to be balanced, and how can a judge decide? I will happily accept if a recognised war crime has taken place then a judge could, as with any other case where a crime has taken place, could order the arrest of a suspect. But if someone is accused of a war crime which has not been proven to be a war crime, how is a judge able to make an informed decision when the very bringing of the case is a political action? The CPS is at least responsible to politicians on such matters, and would also seek evidence against to present a more balanced case (please don’t claim that such petitions will be objectively balanced in the first place – no-one will honestly believe it).

If individuals have no such right then investigation through law is always and exclusively a decision for the state – and that is a terrible situation to be in given the willingness of states to overlook justice for the sake of finance or diplomacy.

May I suggest we elect a new state if it is that bad?

Anyway, I did not say individuals should not have the right to investigage – merely that an individual should not be able to put their dossier directly before a judge and ask them to order an arrest. There is nothinig to stop people delivering their dossiers to the CPS (with cameras etc for evidence) and pointing out they have two days or whatever to make their decision whilst the subject of the dossier is still in the country. All the CPS need to do is ensure that the dossier contains all relevant information and is not particularly biased – which seems a key stage. And I know they may be political, but if so, our elected representatives should be answering for it.

Citizens have to have that right, at least in such cases where the crimes are recognised as being so against human rights as to deserve investigation beyond a national jurisdiction.

Citizens may have that right, but for those of us not living in a republic, I am less certain. We have the right to investigate and to present evidence yes, but what you seem to be saying is that citizens have the right to present selective interpretations of facts to judges in order to get others arrested. Personally I prefer to ensure any arrest is made on the basis of evidence that has been properly checked.

I would accept the current system, if someone could just tell me what comeback there is for someone who is arrested and then judged to have done nothing worth charging them over? They may not wish to sue or whatever (and have all the flawed evidence that was used before the judge publicised all over again) but there is no penalty otherwise for the person who abused the system. I have asked this repeatedly, but it seems to be the question no-one is answering.

@30

But let’s be clear. That’s how the entire criminal justice system works.

What you’re arguing against isn’t private prosecutions; it’s criminal justice as a whole.

What you’re saying is that an applicant shouldn’t be able to get an arrest warrant or summons for a crime without the defendant being there.

While a lovely thought, what you’ve just advocated is the collapse of the rule of law full stop.

Whoops.

I think it’s also worth noting that Universal Jurisdiction itself is a very recent innovation – far from the talk about “ancient rights” etc.

As such, we are still learning what is appropriate. I support the changes.

Click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-AZ_pdhBMY to see a recent speech by Nick Clegg in which he said:

“If Britain is to play its role in supporting peace talks, then we must be able to deal with the Middle East’s key players, including when they visit this country. The law on universal jurisdiction for war crimes suspects was a landmark piece of legislation of which Britain can be proud. It is right that people suspected of such crimes should be held accountable by the courts. But the framers of the legislation never intended local magistrates to be able to issue politically motivated arrest warrants of people visiting the UK without reasonable grounds for doing so.

“I am pleased that the Coalition Government is moving towards changing the law, so that universal jurisdiction remains on the statute book, but with magistrates no longer issuing arrest warrants. The issuing of such warrants should be a matter for one of central government’s senior law officers, not for local magistrates.

“This will strike the right balance between upholding Britain’s great traditions of respect for universal human rights and avoiding accusations based on poorly justified grounds against visitors to the UK.”

He is absolutely right on this. The law of universal jurisdiction rightly allows people visiting the UK to be arrested on suspicion of war crimes. Having been arrested, such people can only then actually be prosecuted if the Attorney General rules that there is a serious chance of a conviction.

But local magistrates can issue arrest warrants in such cases, including when there is no chance of the Attorney General agreeing to a prosecution. Political activists have therefore been using local magistrates to obtain warrants for the arrest of visiting foreign leaders as a publicity stunt, even when the activists know that there is no chance of the arrest actually leading to a prosecution. Some Israeli leaders have been unable to visit the UK as a result.

The Coalition Government is clarifying the law so that local magistrates will only be able to issue these arrest warrants if the Director of Public Prosecutions agrees that there is a serious chance of a conviction. It will still be possible for war crimes suspects (including Israelis) to be arrested and prosecuted in the UK after this clarification. Israeli leaders must be able to visit the UK if this country is to play a full role in the Middle East peace process.


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    RT @libcon: How we're ending the law to bring foreign criminals to justice http://bit.ly/ecpGMf

  8. Nick H.

    How we’re ending the law to bring foreign criminals to justice http://t.co/Gc9PIZu – but happy to extradite anyone the US wants.

  9. sunny hundal

    @muscularliberal Here is the current govt changing rules so people accused of int'l war crimes don't face justice here http://t.co/8B0e1fWF

  10. sunny hundal

    @scarletstand where's the conspiracy? I'm laying out why I find their actions OTT. Govt care for justice? http://t.co/8B0e1fWF

  11. keith ferguson

    @scarletstand where's the conspiracy? I'm laying out why I find their actions OTT. Govt care for justice? http://t.co/8B0e1fWF

  12. sunny hundal

    @karinjr @matthewburchell …and as for zeal in pursuing international criminals, this govt has sadly little of that http://t.co/8B0e1fWF





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