Finally, Britain to end arrest threat to visiting Israelis

By Martin Bright, November 25, 2010

Measures to stop magistrates issuing arrest warrants for foreign politicians and military figures accused of war crimes could be introduced as early as next week.

Legislation to reform "universal jurisdiction" will be published as part of a Home Office Police Bill which is due to be published on Monday or Tuesday. As the JC went to press, the new bill was still awaiting a final sign-off from parliamentary business managers but ministers are known to be keen to push the measures through as soon as possible. Under the new legislation, any arrest warrants would have to be signed off by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

During William Hague's visit to the Middle East earlier this month, Israel announced that it was postponing a strategic dialogue meeting on security until Britain could guarantee that senior Israelis would not risk arrest in Britain.

An arrest warrant was issued last December for Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni after an application from Palestinian activists. Ms Livni cancelled her planned speech to the Jewish National Fund conference in London as a result. The Brown government pledged to change the law, but failed to do so before the election following resistance from then Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

The new coalition government announced it would reform the law, a promise reiterated by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at his speech to Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel two weeks ago. Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor cancelled a trip to London earlier this month after he was warned that he might face a warrant for his arrest. He had been due to speak at BICOM dinner.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The government intends to amend the arrangements for obtaining arrest warrants in respect of universal jurisdictions offences imminently."

Shadow Home Secretary Ed Balls received rapturous applause at the Board of Deputies on Sunday when he pledged Labour's support for changing the law.

    Last updated: 2:06pm, December 1 2010