Brown: I'll change war crime arrest law

By Martin Bright, February 25, 2010

Gordon Brown has personally intervened to unblock the logjam over a change in the law that allows local magistrates to issue arrest warrants for visiting foreign politicians accused of war crimes.

The JC understands the Prime Minister is determined to press ahead with the law change before the election.

Last December, Foreign Secretary David Miliband promised to amend legislation after a warrant was issued for former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni over her role in planning Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

But he has faced resistance from Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who believes new legislation will cause "collateral damage" within the Labour Party and the wider Muslim community.

The Conservative Party has said it will vote with the government on the law change but the government fears a rebellion on its own benches. An early day motion opposing a change to the law has now been signed by 123 MPs.

Amnesty International and the Muslim Council of Britain have also campaigned against a change to so-called "universal jurisdiction", which they believe will undermine Britain's ability to pursue people for prosecution at the International Criminal Court.

The Prime Minister pledged his support for Ms Livni but did not immediately prioritise the issue.

However, he has now called in key ally and fixer Tom Watson to advise on the issue. The MP for West Bromwich is known for his strong views in support of Israel and challenged Mr Straw on the floor of the House of Commons earlier this month.

"Will the threat of prison for visiting Israeli politicians make it easier or harder for the government to secure peace in the Middle East?" he asked. Mr Straw would only say that action was being "considered" by the government.

Mr Watson directed the Prime Minister to the coverage in the JC to back his argument about the strength of feeling in the Jewish community.

On Tuesday, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council met Mr Straw to express their frustration that the law change had taken so long.

A strongly-worded joint statement issued after the meeting by Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies and Mick Davis, chair of the JLC executive committee, said: "The Secretary of State was left with a clear understanding of the strength of feeling in the community and the urgent need to resolve this anomaly.

"He repeated the government's commitment to find a solution but was unable to [say] a remedy to this problem would be implemented by the government before a general election."

A spokesman for the Justice Secretary said Mr Straw recognised that the deadline was tight. "It will have to be resolved in the days ahead," he said.

Last updated: 9:51am, March 26 2010