UK passes law limiting arrests under universal jurisdiction

[JURIST] The UK Parliament [official website] on Thursday approved the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill [materials], making it more difficult for ordinary citizens to obtain arrest warrants for suspected war criminals present in the UK. The controversial act [AP report] removes 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]. Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke of the UK Ministry of Justice said [press release] about the bill, "[w]e 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." The amendment is seen as a move by the UK government to improve relations with foreign countries such as China and Israel, after several government officials were forced to cancel trips to the UK 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.
The bill was proposed [JURIST report] last December.

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. In December 2009, 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 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.

 

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