Universal Jurisdiction, the early years
22 July 2010
The Jewish Chronicle reports that the government has announced measures to amend the law on universal jurisdiction for war crimes. The proposed change will take the power to issue an arrest warrant out of the hands of local magistrates, so that it rests solely with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Joshua Rozenberg's Standpoint blog has the full text of the Ministry of Justice statement.
The government is right to recognise that this law is liable to abuse by extremist groups, that seek to use the law to further their particular political agenda. For example, in November 1977 the National Front tried to have the recently-elected Israeli Prime Minister, Menachim Begin, arrested when he visited the UK. The Daily Express (23 November 1977) reported the story as follows:
Front plan Begin arrest
NATIONAL FRONT chief Martin Webster said last night that the party would try to have Israeli Premier Menacham (sic) Begin arrested as a "former terrorist" when he visits Britain next week.
A former Palestine policeman would try to have an arrest warrant - issued when Begin was an anti-British terrorist with a £10,000 price on his head - executed by a British court, he said.
Just prior to Begin's visit to the UK, he had hosted Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in Jerusalem, to begin the process which concluded in the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Sadly for the National Front, but happily for the cause of Middle East peace, a local magistrate in Bristol turned down their application and Begin's visit to the UK went ahead successfully.