Law Review: The right to arrest war crime suspects

The right to arrest war crime suspects

Guardian Letter 29th July 2010

[I have reproduced the Guardian Letter in full]

We are horrified at the proposals by justice secretary Kenneth Clarke to give the director of public prosecutions a veto over arrest warrants in private prosecutions for international crimes (Report, 22 July). The justice secretary’s statement appeared to question the ability of magistrates themselves to weed out flimsy cases. To imply that any previous arrest warrants were issued without judges being satisfied of the existence of serious evidence against the person concerned is an insult to the British legal system and the senior magistrates that preside over such cases. Involving the DPP risks adding a political dimension to a legal decision and introduces a source of delay when urgent action may be required to stop a suspect escaping justice.

Since we call on other countries to uphold human rights and international law, our legal system also has to abide by those principles, in particular bringing to justice those responsible for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and hostage-taking. It’s no secret that this move is the result of pressure from the Israeli government to try to ensure that ex-ministers and military staff will not have to face warrants for their arrest on entering this country.

Rather than bending to pressure to change the existing law, our government should be issuing a statement of intent that all those responsible for serious international crimes, whatever their nationality, will be brought to justice if and when the evidence supports criminal prosecution. The proposed changes will apply to everyone, making it more difficult to prosecute all suspects, whether from Israel or any other country involved in systematic human rights violations. Britain must not be seen as a safe haven for anyone suspected of committing such grave international crimes.

Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC

Daniel Machover

Louise Christian

Alexei Sayle

Miriam Margoyles

Keith Sonnet Deputy general secretary, Unison

Hugh Lanning Deputy general secretary, PCS

Sally Hunt General secretary, UCU

Kevin Courtney Deputy general Secretary, NUT

Andy Dark Assistant general secretar, FBU

Tony Woodley Joint general secretary, Unite

Simon Dubbins International director, Unite

Betty Hunter General secretary, Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Rev Canon Garth Hewitt

Benjamin Zephaniah

Lindsey German Chair, Stop the War

Daud Abdullah Director, Middle East Monitor

Chris Doyle Director Council for Arab-British Understanding

Mohammed Sawalha British Muslim Initiative

Farooq Murad Secretary general, Muslim Council of Britain

Diana Neslen Jews for Justice for Palestinians

Diane Abbott MP

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Emily Thornberry MP

Bruce Kent

Karma Nabulsi

Ahdaf Soueif

Caryl Churchill

John Austin

Eleanor Kilroy

Karen Mitchell

Victoria Brittain

Sarah McSherry

Katherine Craig

Ian McDonald

Penny Maddrell

Jackie Alsaid

Andrew Sanger

David Halpin

Bill Benfield

Yvonne Ridley

Andy Newman

Mohammed Asif

7 thoughts on “Law Review: The right to arrest war crime suspects

  1. Good to see some noise being made about this, but it’s a shame they focused in on the “Israel issue” – there’s more to this than that, and it risk turning a general issue about UK approach to international law into just another iteration of the domestic off shoot of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

    I’ve written a little about this yesterday ( arising from comments on a piece by Joshua Rozenberg (piece here Rozenberg was himself responding to a piece by Michael Manfield, which took a Palestin-centric line).

    Having thought about it, I’ve come to the view that it is better that the Attorney General have to give consent for the issue of an arrest warrant, and not the DPP – this ensures that the decision is a political one, for which politicians are accountable. Introducing the DPP into the mix, especially where (as Joshua Rozenberg highlighted in his piece) the likely attitude of the AG will be a factor) undermines the DPP’s independence and amounts to little more than giving political cover to the government of the day.

  2. MTPT makes a very good point in saying that it ought to be the Attorney-General who consents to an application.

    If the Attorney has to consent to a warrant then he can be questioned about his decision in Parliament. [At least with this Government, the Attorney is in the Commons].

    The letter to The Guardian (set out above) refers to the need for HM Government to issue “a statement of intent that all those responsible for serious international crimes , whatever their nationality, will be brought to justice if and when the evidence supports criminal prosecution.”

    I don’t see any such statement being all that likely because, quite simply, the UK is not necessarily “squeaky clean” in terms of its involvement in the interrogation and rendition of various detainees. That’s apart from the whole question of the legality of the Iraq War – discussed at length in the admirable book “The Iraq War and International Law” (Ed. Phil Shiner, Hart Publishing 2008).

  3. It is all about Israel whinging and British spinelessness in the face of said whinging, though.

    It’s a great shame that Milosevic is dead and Sharon is next best thing to dead – They’d make great cellmates at the International Criminal Court.

  4. The nonsense from white rabbit is typical of what happens when ironically in this case the rabbit sees the Israeli greyhound.

    The signatories of the Guardian letter grind their own axes; some sharper than others. A matter of what is government policy should be considered by an appropriate official. To have a District Judge in London no matter how senior rule on such matters was always ludicrous. It allowed political apologists to make merry with the law.

  5. @The JP: There were always, in my view, two seperate decisions to be made here: one as to whether, in law, an arrest could be made, and another as to whether, politically, an arrest should be made.

    A decision as to the law should be made by a independent judge, while political decisions should be made by politically accountable figures. While there are areas – judicial review, most obviously – where the boundaries are blurred, I don’t it can be argued that the District Judges who have considered applications for universal jurisdiction offence arrest warrants have been ruling on government policy.

    The current system is open to abuse, but I am not sure that it can be shown that it has been abused. I’m not persuaded that the application to arrest Tzipi Livni, for example, was an abuse (which is not the same as saying I believe she should have been arrested or tried) just because it was indisputably politically motivated.

    @ObiterJ: I agree entirely with you on the “statement of intent”; the Iraq War, and its potential implications for senior military, civil service, and political figures preclude any such approach for a generation. A narrower commitment on certain offences – the crime of genocide, for example – could usefully be given, but the inconsistency of approach would require some heroic political honesty!

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