New law would make policing war criminals even harder

For the first time, the director of public prosecutions’ consent will be required before an arrest warrant can be issued in relation to suspected war criminals and torturers present in the UK, if government plans go through.

International justice

By Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK Senior Advocacy Officer

With the future of UK policing still the subject of furious debate after Saturday’s anti-cuts demonstration, there’s another, less high-profile debate on policing occurring in the Commons today.

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is at its report stage and by tomorrow you’ll probably be reading newspaper articles about measures for directly-elected police commissioners as well as alcohol licensing changes and a ban on protest camps in Parliament Square.

All important issues. But there’s another key provision that’s not getting the attention it deserves. Squirreled away at Clause 152 (4a) is the following:

“Where a person who is not a public prosecutor lays an information before a justice of the peace in respect of an offence to which this subsection applies [serious international crimes like torture, hostage-taking and war crimes], no warrant shall be issued under this section without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.”

So, for the first time, the director of public prosecutions’ consent will be required before an arrest warrant can be issued in relation to suspected war criminals and torturers present in the UK.

Why the change? The government argues the present system is open to “abuse” by “political groups”. It claims that warrants can be obtained from magistrates on flimsy evidence and grandstanding campaign groups can vex the courts with applications for arrests simply to embarrass visiting foreign dignitaries.

But this seems to be an imaginary problem that doesn’t need fixing. Pressed to do so by lawyers and human rights organisations opposed to the change, the government has failed to provide any examples of the law being manipulated or of magistrates being over-eager to issue warrants. At the same time foreign governments have been lobbying the UK authorities to change the law.

Apart from a small number of backbenchers opposing the move – Ann Clywd notable among them – the change has cross-party support. If introduced it’s likely to mean delays when speed is of the essence. Those fearing arrest for international crimes are prone to flee at the first sign of danger. This could give them valuable extra time.

Clause 152 sends out the message that the UK is soft on crime if those crimes are war crimes and torture. The move coincides with William Hague and other ministers taking to the international stage to warn foreign dictators and their collaborators that there will be “a day of reckoning” and that “the reach of international justice can be long”. So why make it easier for them to evade justice on our own soil?

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

25 Responses to “New law would make policing war criminals even harder”

  1. Naomi Mc

    Hidden clause in a UK law will make war criminals harder to arrest: http://bit.ly/ido6dW

  2. Amnesty UK media

    Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  3. K. Dick

    RT @NewsFromAmnesty: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  4. Neil Durkin

    RT @NewsFromAmnesty: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  5. Amnesty UK

    RT @NewsFromAmnesty: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  6. Marga

    RT @NewsFromAmnesty: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  7. Mark Dalgleish

    RT @NewsFromAmnesty: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  8. Kirsty Smith

    RT @NewsFromAmnesty: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  9. Gary Loftus

    RT @NewsFromAmnesty: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  10. OneOfTheSmiths

    RT @leftfootfwd: New law would make policing war criminals http://t.co/CufyHnm

  11. Ma

    RT @NewsFromAmnesty: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  12. Christian Guthier

    RT @NewsFromAmnesty: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  13. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: New law would make policing war criminals even harder http://bit.ly/hFiprs

  14. maria m.

    RT @NewsFromAmnesty: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  15. Florian MARCHET

    RT @leftfootfwd New law would make policing war criminals even harder: http://bit.ly/fQ40Zt writes Allan Hogarth

  16. chris star

    New law would make policing war criminals even harder….
    http://j.mp/eKZnYP
    #demo2011

  17. Amnesty Wales

    RT @NewsFromAmnesty: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  18. Amparo Muñoz-Colín

    RT @NewsFromAmnesty: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY

  19. Elena

    This new law, supported by the previous Labour government, is to allow Israeli ministers to visit the UK without fear of arrest. It is not an ‘imaginary problem’ as there have been warrants put out for deputy prime minister, Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni in 2009/2010 when coming for defence talks. It is being misused by pro-Palestine activists when the UK needs to engage with Israel.

  20. Amnesty Int'l NI

    Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY RT @NewsFromAmnesty

  21. Toni. Scurlock

    RT @AmnestyNI: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY RT @NewsFromAmnesty #hrw

  22. Mairi Sutherland

    RT @TNTIran: RT @AmnestyNI: Blogged: New law would make policing war criminals even harder – Allan Hogarth http://amn.st/gbHYvY RT @News …

  23. Allan

    Elena, thanks for your comment. Yes you are correct the Bill is designed to prevent, or at least make it more difficult to the arrest potential war criminals visiting the UK and it is supported by Labour. However, it does not make any distinction on nationality? Even if the government were designing it to stop the arrest of Israeli’s specifically, what is to stop them from using it to prevent the arrest of others? Misuse? The judges in all cases scrutinise the evidence presented to them before issuing a warrant. Surely evidence is the bedrock of the law and the law should not employ double standards?

  24. Allan

    I’ve just seen this piece that Daniel Machover, a human rights lawyer had published on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’. Certainly worth reading – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/30/coalition-criminal-justice-universal-jurisdiction

  25. Charlie Holden

    RT @leftfootfwd: New law would make policing war criminals even harder http://bit.ly/hFiprs UK soft on war criminals? Potentially ..

Leave a Reply