Doubts over universal jurisdiction 'solution'

Arguments over alterations to the universal jurisdiction legislation have continued this week, despite the government’s announcement of a proposal to change the law.
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ustice Secretary Ken Clarke said the coalition would table a legislative amendment which will ensure the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is required before an arrest warrant can be issued, in response to a private prosecution for war crimes.

This would close the loophole which saw lawyers representing Palestinians secure such a warrant for Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni last December.

The JC understands the proposal to include the DPP in the process was an option opposed by Gordon Brown. He felt the criteria for obtaining a warrant would be too low.

The change would also allow applications for warrants to be submitted ahead of a person arriving in Britain, effectively allowing a raft of warrants to be lined up for individuals.

According to Whitehall sources, former Justice Secretary Jack Straw adopted this option in the spring after Mr Brown rejected his blocking of any change to the war crimes law. Mr Straw is said to have been “playing a

Machiavellian game”, believing the DPP solution to be “unworkable”.

But the Israeli Embassy in London welcomed the proposal. An embassy spokesman said: “This is a positive first step in restoring common sense to common law.

The announcement will be welcomed not just by those fighting terrorism in Israel, but also by allies fighting terrorism across the world. The tireless efforts we are making to resolve this problem will continue until the final passing of the legislation.”

The JNF is among the pro-Israel groups ready to test the law once it is passed.

Samuel Hayek, JNF UK chairman, said: “We would certainly invite senior people from the Israeli government to come to Britain. It is not only the Jewish community which has missed out from senior Israelis coming here — the government has missed out, too.”

But anti-Israel groups and human rights organisations have claimed the change will hamper the work of human rights lawyers and “deny the Palestinians justice”.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign called on backers to urge their MPs to vote against the law change.

A Jews for Justice for Palestinians spokeswoman said: “The reason for wanting to change the way the law is applied is pressure on Israel’s behalf to protect those suspected of war crimes from investigation in this country. Changing the law will make it much harder to hold war criminals to account, whether they be in Burma, Darfur or Israel.”

Amnesty International’s senior legal adviser, Christopher Keith Hall, said: “This proposal is unnecessary and sends the wrong signals.

“The current procedure allows victims of crimes under international law to act quickly against those suspected of them. It should remain unchanged.”

Mr Clarke, announcing the change, said: “Universal jurisdiction cases should be proceeded with only on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to a successful prosecution — otherwise there is a risk of damaging our ability to help in conflict resolution or to pursue a coherent foreign policy.”

The Ministry of Justice said the legislation would be enacted “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

The changes are unlikely to be implemented before the autumn, and it may take until November to complete the process.

Last updated: 12:41pm, July 29 2010