Analysis: Will Straw toe line?

By Martin Bright, January 7, 2010

As the government swirls in a blizzard of plot and counterplot, most commentators agree that two key members of the Cabinet have risen above the fray — Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

There is, therefore, no excuse for them not to get down to business over the issue of who it is within this country’s judicial system who can issue arrest warrants for visiting foreign politicians accused of war crimes: local magistrates or the Attorney General. But can Mr Straw be persuaded to overcome his resistance to new legislation?

Following the aborted visit of Israel’s former foreign minister Tzipi Livni last month, Mr Miliband made it clear that he wanted to prevent any senior Israeli politician facing arrest in Britain again. The JC reported at the time that, although the Prime Minister was on board, the Justice Minister was yet to be convinced.

It is just possible that he or his officials have genuine concerns about removing powers from the lower courts. But there are more likely explanations. Mr Straw has always been close to the Muslim Council of Britain, which is lobbying hard against change to the law. He will also have an eye to the significant Muslim population in his Blackburn constituency.

Baroness Scotland’s long-planned lecture at the Hebrew University was somewhat hijacked by the arrest-warrant issue. Although her office said that there were no developments on the issue and the Israelis expressed their irritation that no definitive announcement was made, in fact she did hint that change was on the way.

Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Justice Minister, has said he will fix the situation if the Tories win power, but there is no guarantee that he will be in the job even if they do.

The real question now is whether Jack Straw will fall in line with Cabinet colleagues who are, it seems, determined to act.

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010