The British government has approved a change to the controversial universal
jurisdiction law, used by activists to obtain arrest warrants for alleged war
crimes aimed at Israeli dignitaries who visit the UK.
The law previously
allowed private complaints of war crimes to be lodged against military personnel
even if they were not British citizens and the alleged crimes were committed
elsewhere. High profile targets in recent years have included Kadima leader (and
former foreign minister) Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud
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Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said on Thursday that the change
ensures that only those who have perpetrated heinous war crimes, and with solid
evidence, will be brought to justice using universal jurisdiction.
are clear about our international obligations and these new changes to existing
law will ensure the balance is struck between ensuring those who are accused of
such heinous crimes do not escape justice and that universal jurisdiction cases
are only proceeded with on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to
a successful prosecution,” he said.
Despite sustained campaigning over
the past year, anti-Israel activists failed to have any impact on the
government, which before coming into office in 2010 pledged to change the
Royal Assent, when the queen formally approves an act of Parliament,
was given on Thursday to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act,
turning the act into law.
The change means that the director of public
prosecutions will now be required to give his consent for an arrest warrant to
be issued on the grounds of universal jurisdiction. Previously, a magistrate was
able to give consent.
Matthew Gould, British ambassador to Israel, said
on Thursday that the change would “ensure that the UK’s justice system can no
longer be abused for political reasons.
“The Police Reform and Social
Responsibility Act, which has now received Royal Assent, includes an important
amendment to ensure that the UK’s justice system can no longer be abused for
political reasons. The change will ensure that people cannot be detained when
there is no realistic chance of prosecution, while ensuring that we continue to
honor our international obligations.”
Speaking at a Kadima Party event on
Thursday, Livni expressed relief at the change.
“Today I received a phone
call from the British ambassador,” she said. “There is no longer a warrant for
my arrest, because the queen of England signed the order canceling the
[universal jurisdiction] law.
“I am happy not because I can travel to
England, but because true justice has been done. IDF soldiers and officers can
visit England without fear of arrest,” she explained. “The law will
differentiate between leaders and commanders who defend their countries against
terror, from real war criminals, for whom the law was intended.”
cancelation of the law “brought about the end of the cynical exploitation of
British law,” Livni said.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, which worked
hard over the years to get the British to amend the law that cast a cloud over
Israeli-British ties, had no official reaction on Thursday evening, though
government officials expressed satisfaction that Israeli leaders could now
travel to Britain without concern of arrest warrants.
officials stressed that this was not a strictly bilateral issue, since the law
affected the citizens of other countries as well.
Gould told The
Jerusalem Post that the bottom line of the change was that “nobody can now abuse
the law to bring cases for political and frivolous reasons.”
said that the universal jurisdiction was never specifically aimed at Israel, it
did affect the relationship.
“There were well known reports of people who
were advised not to go to the UK, and who didn’t go, and now that can change,”
he said. “This was an obstacle to building the relationship. Now that the
obstacle is out of the way, it means we can take the relationship up another
Gould said that as soon as the law was changed in the afternoon,
he spoke to officials in Israel’s Foreign and Defense ministries, and in the
Prime Minister’s Office, as well as to people who were affected by this
legislation in the past, such as Livni, Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan
Meridor, former defense minister MK Shaul Mofaz and former OC Southern Command
Maj.-Gen. (res) Doron Almog.
Gould said that Cameron pledged during the
election campaign last year that if elected he would change the law. He
delivered on his pledge, Gould said.JPost.com staff contributed to this report.