Thursday, March 04, 2010

Sorting out the 'Livni law' chaos

So, who are you going to believe?

Depending on which national newspaper you read today, you will come out with a very different impression of what's going on with the universal jurisdiction law - the law which gives individuals in Britain the ability to secure arrest warrants for visiting foreign officials accused of war crimes, and which forced Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni to cancel a visit here a few months back.

From the Telegraph:

The Government is to announce plans to stop politically-motivated campaign groups using British courts to secure arrest warrants for visiting foreign officials.

Under the proposals, the Crown Prosecution Service will take over responsibility for prosecuting war crimes and other violations of international law.

It will end the current system in which magistrates are obliged to consider a case for an arrest warrant presented by any individual.

Writing for the The Daily Telegraph, Gordon Brown says he will set out proposals to put the CPS in sole charge of judging the merits of any case brought under international law.

Labour MPs have been told the changes will be set out to the Justice Select Committee today and the government will legislate after consultation.

Sound exciting, huh?

Then there's the Times:

Britain risks a showdown with Israel today when the Government signals it is in no hurry to ease the threat of arrest for visiting politicians and generals.

Ministers will announce a consultation on the principle of universal jurisdiction, under which private citizens can secure arrest warrants for offences such as war crimes committed abroad... The issue caused embarrassment for the Government, which promised to remedy the matter quickly.Today’s announcement, however, means that the issue will not be resolved until well after the election, expected in May...

The delay is a victory for Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, who has argued that the legal point at stake is too important to rush.

Rather more pessimistic.

How do make sense of all of this? Put these two reports together and you have Gordon Brown coming up with a real solution - which will take a hell of a long time to sort out, and with elections coming up, might never happen. Typical Brown big announcement, then.

The JC this week explains why Brown's change might take so long (link to come later in the day):

The latest compromise now being discussed by the Ministry of Justice will allow the Justice Select Committee to scrutinise the proposed legislative change in advance. This would allay fears that taking away the power to grant arrest warrants from local magistrates would undermine judicial independence.

However, it is unlikely that the committee will have time to do the necessary work before the end of the parliamentary term.

In other words, delay tactics by Justice Minister Jack Straw, who has been the stumbling block all along.

But wait. There is perhaps a temporary solution at hand:

Meanwhile, Hendon MP Andrew Dismore, backed by fellow Labour MPs John Mann and Denis MacShane, has tabled a Private Member’s Bill, due to receive a second reading on Friday.

His bill would require the consent of the Attorney General before magistrates issue any arrest warrant for suspected war crimes.

Mr Dismore said: "While it might not provide a complete solution to the problem of universal jurisdiction, I believe that this reform would prevent the abuse of the law for political purposes by those intent on disrupting progress towards peace in the Middle East."

He added that his bill was "a long shot, but there’s no harm in trying. This is a sticking plaster, not a long-term solution and the prospects are pretty slim. If the bill runs out of time, I will bring it straight back at the next parliament. Whoever wins, I put them on notice."

With Tory support, it could, possibly, pass. And we all know that the temporary has a funny way of becoming permanent, so let's keep our fingers crossed.

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