Britain to Limit Arrest Warrants Under Its Universal Jurisdiction Law

by Julian Ku

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced (h/t Jurist) proposals to circumscribe the applicability of Britain’s universal jurisdiction law.  The modification will likely cut back on the ability of private citizens to seek arrest warrants, by requiring a determination by a public prosecutor before issuing such warrants.  The details are not clear, but the policy underlying it is:

There is already growing reason to believe that some people are not prepared to travel to this country for fear that such a private arrest warrant – motivated purely by political gesture – might be sought against them.

These are sometimes people representing countries and interests with which the UK must engage if we are not only to defend our national interest but maintain and extend an influence for good across the globe.

Britain cannot afford to have its standing in the world compromised for the sake of tolerating such gestures.

This seems like a common-sense move, and I only wonder it hadn’t been done already.  The UK joins Spain and Belgium in cutting back on its universal jurisdiction laws.  Do I sense a trend?

3 Responses

  1. Perhaps on the contrary, the move may serve to strengthen UK universal jurisdiction laws in the long run.  The problem here is that by using private prosecutions, people can obtain arrests based on a minimum amount of evidence – the process isn’t scrutinised by the Crown Prosecution Service. So it’s more about tidying up a procedural loophole that is not specific to universal jurisdiction. By rectifying this, the British courts will be more likely to stick to serious, well-founded universal jurisdiction cases rather than having to entertain spurious cases – exactly the kind of cases that have caused Belgian and Spanish universal jurisdiction laws to cave in somewhat.  So it may be a case of having to take a step back in order to take a step forward.

    I hate to be an idealist though, because admittedly there certainly are political undertones to this.  The move by Gordon Brown comes, of course, following the furore over his mates Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak. Even if we look at the Pinochet precedent, the arrest was probably only made possible by the Labour government’s acquiescence – whereas Thatcher was of course famously opposed to the whole affair. Well, that’s something we might just have to accept. In the meantime, this move does seem like a positive development towards universal jurisdiction’s rehabilitation.

  2. I guess George Bush wants to visit!

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