UK begins process of changing universal jurisdiction law

British Foreign Minister William Hague sas the current law is an “anomaly” which allows activists to abuse the system.

December 2, 2010 12:05
2 minute read.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague

William Hague looking serious 311. (photo credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

LONDON – The British government has begun the process of changing legislation that allows private individuals to obtain an arrest warrant for alleged “war crimes” aimed at Israeli dignitaries who visit the UK.

Despite sustained campaigning, anti- Israel activists failed to have any impact on the government, which had pledged to change the controversial universal jurisdiction law before coming into office following May’s general election. This followed the attempt last December to issue an arrest warrant for Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, and the attempt to issue arrest warrants against other Israeli dignitaries visiting the UK, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and, more recently, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor.

British Foreign Minister William Hague announced last Wednesday the proposed amendment to the law and the arrangements for obtaining arrest warrants.

It is included in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which was presented to parliament last week. Under the proposed change, the consent of the director of Public Prosecutions would be required before an arrest warrant could be issued to a private prosecutor in respect of an offense of universal jurisdiction.

“The UK is committed to upholding international justice and all of our international obligations,” Hague said. “Our core principle remains that those guilty of war crimes must be brought to justice.

Hague said the current law is an “anomaly” which allows activists to abuse the system.

“This government has been clear that the current arrangements for obtaining arrest warrants in respect of universal jurisdiction offences are an anomaly that allows the UK’s systems to be abused for political reasons. The proposed change is designed to correct these and ensure that people are not detained when there is no realistic chance of prosecution. It is now important that the amendment is considered by parliament in line with normal constitutional practice,” he said.

A sustained campaign by the anti-Israel fringe group Palestine Solidarity Campaign, backed by attempts by pro-Palestinian MPs, to introduce motions in parliament to stop any changes to the law, failed to have an impact.

The PSC group called on people to contact their MP and set up an e-tool to make it easy for people to do this, calling for MPs to vote against the change in a campaign titled “War Criminals Not Welcome.”

Israel has welcomed the British government’s move.

“We see this as a positive initiative, and we welcome this move that is in line with promises made by the British government in the past. We hope that this will be completed as early as possible,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said following the announcement last week.

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