PCHR and Hickman & Rose Oppose Proposed Changes to Universal Jurisdiction in the UK; Political Considerations Must Not Be Allowed to Triumph over the Rule of Law

1 August, 2010 — PCHR Ref: 66/2010

PCHR and Hickman & Rose Oppose Proposed Changes to Universal Jurisdiction in the UK; Political Considerations Must Not Be Allowed to Triumph over the Rule of Law

On Thursday, 22 July 2010, UK Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced that the British government intends to give the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) the power to veto the issue of arrest warrants for universal jurisdiction offences in the UK. The proposal is the direct result of political pressure applied by the government of Israel, following the issue of warrants for the arrest of Doron Almog in 2005, and Tzipi Livni, in 2009. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and Hickman & Rose Solicitors (UK) have been involved in numerous universal jurisdiction cases, both in the UK and elsewhere, beginning with a case brought against Shaoul Mofaz in the UK in 2002.

The proposed change is a purely political move designed to block the arrest of war criminals, from ‘friendly countries’ in the UK.  It is an effort intended to grant immunity under the veil of the law. The proposed change sends out the wrong message to perpetrators, and will lead to the UK  being seen as a ‘safe haven’ for international criminals.

Currently, victims can act quickly and ask the court to issue a warrant for the arrest of a suspect. They must submit evidence that the suspect is present in, or intending to travel to, the UK. The court would only issue an arrest warrant if credible admissible evidence had been submitted which is to a very high threshold, capable of proving all elements of the offence, and the personal criminal liability of the suspect.

Ms. Livni, suspected of having committed war crimes in Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, and others, have alleged that the current system for arrest warrants is open to “cynical exploitation” by those wishing to make political points. However, this claim cannot be substantiated. The current system has not been abused and no single example has been put forward to show that British judges have failed in their duty to screen out baseless or poorly evidenced cases, when issuing arrest warrants.

In 1978, Lord Wilberforce stated that the right to bring private prosecutions is “a valuable constitutional safeguard against inertia or partiality on the part of authority”. Lord Diplock described this right as “a useful constitutional safeguard against capricious, corrupt or biased failure or refusal of those authorities to prosecute offenders against the criminal law.” These words are equally  pertinent today and in this context.

The UK is subject to a duty to apply the criminal law uniformly: the proposed amendment could breach both that obligation, and the UK’s legal obligations arising from the ratification of, inter alia, the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and the UN Convention against Torture.

The rule of law must be respected and enforced equally across the board. As legal representatives of victims of international crimes, we expect the British Parliament to reject this attempt to promote the triumph of politics over the law and individuals’ fundamental human rights.
For more information on universal jurisdiction, see ‘The Principle and Practice of Universal Jurisdiction: PCHR’s work in the occupied Palestinian territory’ released by PCHR in 2010.

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