Law will make it harder to arrest Israeli officials in UK after critics said pro-Palestinian groups had been exploiting the system
Nicholas Watt, 1 December 2010
See earlier postings e.g. URGENT: War criminals not welcome here, 1 December 2010; a JfJfP statement on Universal jurisdiction, posted 12 March 2010; and a letter to the Guardian on 2 December from Sir Geoffrey Bindman and others, protesting against the proposed changes.
Britain was accused by Amnesty International of handing a “free ticket” to suspected war criminals after the government published parliamentary legislation designed to make it more difficult to arrest Israeli officials and ministers on British soil.
Kate Allen, the UK director of Amnesty International, warned that Britain had gone “soft on crime” after the government decided that the director of public prosecutions will have to approve arrest warrants of suspected war criminals.
“This is a dangerous and unnecessary change,” Allen said of the measures, which were included in the police reform and social responsibility bill.
“Unless a way of guaranteeing a means of preventing suspects fleeing can be built into the proposals, then the UK will have undermined the fight for international justice and handed war criminals a free ticket to escape the law.”
The goverment indicated over the summer that it would change the way in which arrests of suspected war criminals can be made in Britain under universal jurisdiction. Israel postponed a “strategic dialogue” meeting with William Hague during his first visit to the country last month in protest at the current rules, which allow magistrates to order the arrest of suspected war criminals.
Critics say that pro-Palestinian groups have used the system to target senior Israeli figures visiting Britain. Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister who now leads the opposition as leader of the Kadima party, was forced to cancel a visit to Britain a year ago amid fears that she would be arrested for alleged war crimes committed during the war in Gaza.
The Israeli government has been pushing Britain to amend the law since 2005, when a warrant for the arrest of Doron Almog, a former military commander, was issued for alleged war crimes in Gaza. Almog refused to leave his plane when it landed at Heathrow after he was tipped off about the arrest.
The government explained the change in the explanatory notes to the police bill. It says the legislative amendment will “require the consent of the director of public prosecutions (DPP) before an arrest warrant can be issued on the application of a private prosecutor in respect of offences over which the United Kingdom has asserted universal jurisdiction”.
Amnesty International said the current system allowed victims of crimes to act quickly against suspected perpetrators. It said there was no need to change the law because there is no evidence that magistrates, who have to screen each request for a warrant with care, have acted on the basis of flimsy evidence.
Allen said: “This sends exactly the wrong signal. It shows that the UK is soft on crime if those crimes are war crimes and torture. It risks introducing dangerous delays that could mean people suspected of the worst imaginable crimes are able to flee from justice.”
The new bill also outlined plans to create locally elected police commissioners and to force pubs to pay towards policing costs. Nick Herbert, the policing minister, said local communities would be given a greater say over licensing laws after the “disaster” of Labour’s experiment with cafe culture.
Herbert told the Today programme: “We are going to propose a late night levy which will allow councils to charge for late night licenses to pay for the extra policing that is needed. Half of all violence is alcohol related.
“There is an important principle here which is that the polluter pays. Where you have problem premises, where you have premises that are benefitting commercially because they are staying open late, it is right that they should pay more for the policing.”
Herbert indicated that the government will introduce plans next year to prevent the sale of alcohol below cost price. “We are working on that. We will announce those proposals shortly.”
Labour claimed that plans to establish locally elected police commissioners would cost £130m in the first year. Ed Balls, the shadow home secretary, said: “At its heart this goes against a 150 year tradition of keeping politics out of policing. It raises the very real prospect of a politician telling a chief constable how to do their job.” Even the government’s own consultation confirms the very real fear that plans for elected police chiefs will see money spent on bringing politicians into running the police instead of on the frontline.”
Arrest warrants for alleged war crimes
2 December 2010
We are appalled to learn that the government is pressing ahead with ill-considered restrictions on judicial powers to order the arrest of suspected war criminals. Not only is it morally right, but it is also our international obligation to bring war criminals to justice, wherever their crimes were committed. The government’s claim that arrest warrants are handed out on the basis of “flimsy evidence” is not backed by evidence. The experienced senior district judges who hear the very few cases of this kind have only issued warrants where there is serious evidence that a war crime may have been committed and that the suspect has a case to answer. It is deeply insulting to the knowledge and expertise of these judges to suggest that they would issue warrants on the basis of flimsy evidence.
It is a long-established right for individuals to apply for an arrest warrant to be issued, even if they cannot make the arrest or bring the prosecution themselves. This allows the courts to act quickly when a suspected war criminal is in this country. Requiring the prior consent of the director of public prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be issued introduces delay, making it easy for the suspect to leave the country, and risks introducing political interference. With all due respect to current incumbents, the DPP is after all appointed and supervised by the attorney general who is a government minister. We urge all parliamentary political parties to reject these changes.
Sir Geoffrey Bindman Bindmans LLP
Michael Mansfield QC
James Lewis QC
Joel Bennathan QC
Bob Marshall-Andrews QC
Steve Kamlish QC
Lionel Blackman Chairman, the Solicitors’ International Human Rights Group
Daniel Machover Chair, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
Carla Ferstman Director, Redress
Tayab Ali Partner, Irvine Thanvi Natas solicitors
Simon Natas Partner, Irvine Thanvi Natas solicitors
Andrew Katzen Partner, Hickman and Rose
Anna Mazzola Partner, Hickman and Rose
Ole Hansen Partner, Hansen Palomares
John R.W.D. Jones