British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is defending his decision to change the law allowing private people to demand arrest warrants against foreign leaders and officers visiting Britain.
Al Manar TV, 4 March 2010
The government's decision to change the law was made following an arrest warrant issued against Israeli Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, who was scheduled to visit London last year.
The former Israeli foreign minister reportedly cancelled a trip to Britain in December for fear of being arrested after a court issued the warrant following an application by Palestinian activists.
The affair acutely embarrassed the British government and Brown pledged to change the law that allows judges to consider a case for an arrest warrant for alleged war crimes suspects brought by any individual.
According to a Daily Telegraph report on Thursday, the British 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 Daily Telegraph, Brown said he would set out proposals to put the CPS in sole charge of judging the merits of any case brought under international law. "The only question for me is whether our purpose is best served by a process where an arrest warrant for the gravest crimes can be issued on the slightest of evidence," he said.
According to Brown, the introduction of the right to prosecute international crimes in Britain had been right and necessary but that the process had been abused by activists.
"As we have seen, there is now significant danger of such a provision being exploited by politically-motivated organizations or individuals who set out only to grab headlines knowing their case has no realistic chance of a successful prosecution. Men and woman can then be held in prison on the basis of 'information', when the serious nature of such cases means that in any event they can only proceed to prosecution with the consent of the attorney general."
Brown, who did not specifically address the warrants issued against Livni or other Israeli officials, hinted that "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."
Attorney General for England and Wales and Northern Ireland Baroness Patricia Scotland visited Israel recently and said that Britain sees an urgent need to change the policy allowing arrest warrants to be issued against senior Israeli officials.
A London court last year issued a warrant for the arrest of Livni over her role in Israel's 22-day war against the Gaza Strip, launched at the end of 2008 in which more than 1400 Palestinians were killed, including 420 children and over 5300 others were injured. Livni was foreign minister at the time.
Livni was not the only one to be hurt by the legal situation in the United Kingdom. A similar request for an arrest warrant was filed in the past few months against Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, but was rejected. Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon called off a visit to the kingdom for fear of being arrested. Major-General (Res.) Doron Almog avoided getting off a plane in 2005 after being informed that he would be arrested in London.
Judges in Britain can issue arrest warrants for war crimes suspects around the world under the Geneva Convention Act 1957, without any requirement to consult public prosecutors.
Livni on Thursday welcomed the proposed changed and attacked the original decision to issue the warrant as "absurd". "The current situation in (Britain) enables the more cynical elements to take advantage of the system. The warrant that was issued against me according to the legislation was an absurd use of this law," she told the paper.