UK proposes law limiting arrests under universal jurisdiction

[JURIST] The UK Parliament [official website] published legislation on Wednesday that would provide visiting foreign officials with more protection from being arrested on war crimes charges while visiting the UK. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill [materials, text] would amend the current procedures under which victims of an alleged war crime can receive an arrest warrant under the UK universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] laws. The bill would remove the exclusive power of granting arrest warrants from local magistrates, requiring that all such warrants receive approval from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) [official profile]. The amendment is seen as a move by the UK government to improve relations with Israel after several Israeli government officials were forced to cancel [JURIST report] a trip to the UK earlier this year out of fears of being arrested. The bill states:

Where a person who is not a public prosecutor lays an information before a justice of the peace in respect of an offense to which this subsection applies, no warrant shall be issued under this section without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. ... Subsection (4A) applies to (a) a qualifying offense which is alleged to have been committed outside the United Kingdom, or (b) an ancillary offense relating to a qualifying offense where it is alleged that the qualifying offense was, or would have been, committed outside the United Kingdom.
Advocacy groups believe that the amendment makes the UK look soft on crime. [Guardianreport] Amnesty International [advocacy website] was particularly critical of the bill, calling it a dangerous and unnecessary change [press release].

UK officials had promised Israel that a change in the law was coming for some time. Former UK attorney general Patricia Janet Scotland gave a speech early this year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, stating that UK officials were working to resolve the issue [press release] and protect senior officials traveling to the UK. Last December, former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni [official website, in Hebrew] canceled a UK trip [JURIST report] after a British magistrate court issued, and later revoked, an arrest warrant for her on war crimes charges relating to Israel's Gaza offensive [JURIST news archive]. In October 2009, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon [official profile] called off [JURIST report] a scheduled trip to the UK after legal advisers from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] said that he may be arrested over his involvement in a 2002 airstrike that killed a Hamas leader and 14 civilians. In September, Israel called for an end [JURIST report] to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] investigation into Israeli actions during the 2008-2009 Gaza campaign.

 

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