Reply to Our Open Letter on Universal Jurisdiction

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The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill was debated recently in the Commons. Within the bill is Clause 151: “Arrest warrants : Restriction on issue of arrest warrants in private prosecutions”, which gives the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) a veto over whether or not an arrest warrant can be issued for war crime suspects.

As part of our effort to defeat this change, we sent an open letter from Members of Reading PSC to Rob Wilson (Con), Member of Parliament for Reading East.

This is the reply from Rob Wilson, sent 23 December 2010:

Thank you for contacting me about universal jurisdiction.

I believe it is vital for Israeli Government Ministers for example to be able to travel to foreign capitals. A country such as the UK needs to be able to tell Israelis that their actions are not acceptable, and this would not be possible if their travelling to western capitals was prohibited. I do not think it is advisable to further reinforce a bunker mentality within Israel.

As you know, the United Kingdom has asserted universal jurisdiction over war crimes under the Geneva Conventions Act, and over a few other offences of exceptional gravity, because of our international obligations and our commitment to ensuring that there is no impunity for those accused of such crimes. This commitment is unwavering.

It is important, however, that universal jurisdiction cases should be proceeded with in this country only on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to a successful prosecution, otherwise there is a risk of damaging our ability to help in conflict resolution or to pursue a coherent foreign policy. It is unsatisfactory that, as things stand, an arrest warrant for these grave offences can be issued on the application of a private prosecutor on the basis of evidence that would be insufficient to sustain a prosecution.

Currently, anyone can apply to the courts for an arrest warrant. That is a right that the Government wants to protect. However, because the evidence necessary to issue an arrest warrant may be far less than would be needed for a prosecution, the system is open to possible abuse by people trying to obtain arrest warrants for grave crimes on the basis of flimsy evidence to make a political statement or to cause embarrassment.

The Government’s has, after careful consideration, decided that it would be appropriate to require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an universal jurisdiction arrest warrant can be issued to a private prosecutor. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill includes provisions to introduce this change. As such, I will not be signing EDM 108.

However, let me reiterate that this will interfere as little as possible with the existing rights of private prosecutors, and will not prevent them from initiating prosecutions for these offences where the evidence justified that course.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

ROB WILSON MP
Member of Parliament for Reading East

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