Proposed Amendments to UK’s Universal Jurisdiction Laws

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Some months ago we noted that the UK’s coalition government was planning to introduce legislation that would restrict the application of universal jurisdiction in the UK. The government was not proposing to restrict the scope of jurisdiction of UK courts over universal jurisdiction offences but to restrict the right of private persons to secure arrest warrants in respect of such offences. This was a matter of concern to some foreign governments most notably Israel after attempts to arrest a number of Israeli officials in the UK. As Ruvi Ziegler notes in a comment to my earlier post, the government has now put those proposals in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill published last week. Section 151 is titled “Restriction on issue of arrest warrants in private prosecutions”. It amends the UK’s Magistrate Court Acts 1980 to require that no warrant of arrest shall be issued, with respect to certain offences,  by a justice of the peace at the request of a person who is not a public prosecutor, without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutor. The offences covered include grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, piracy and torture.

On a related note, Bill Schabas has written recently on his blog (though not specifically about the UK law) that:

Many states require some form of political control before prosecutions [basd on universal jurisdiction] can be launched, usually in the form of authorization by the Minister of Justice or something similar. What is striking is the number of states that say this is necessary in order to prevent ‘politicization’ of the process. This is really quite droll. Do we really ‘depoliticize’ a process by taking its control out of the hands of judicial officials and by requiring a minister to give the green light? What they mean, I think, is that they want to control the politics of the process, so that it can deal with an African tyrant but not a NATO general.

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