Britain altered the law on universal jurisdiction today so that arrest warrants must be approved by the government’s chief prosecutor, rather than by judges. The change is being portrayed as a minor one, almost a technicality. According to Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke in a Ministry of Justice statement released today,
We are clear about our international obligations and these new changes to existing law will ensure the balance is struck between ensuring those who are accused of such heinous crimes do not escape justice and that universal jurisdiction cases are only proceeded with on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to a successful prosecution.
‘These changes are essential to ensure we do not risk damaging our ability to help in conflict resolution or to pursue a coherent foreign policy.
The intent, according to the government, is to assure that arrest warrants are not issued for political reasons and foreign relations remain unharmed. But how is taking away the judiciary’s independence not political? Even if universal jurisdiction has been abused in Britain, is there any guarantee that ‘foreign relations’ will not filter into the chief prosecutor’s decisions about which cases to pursue? The government should call the legal change on universal jurisdiction what it is: a political escape clause.
See more on this in my previous post, “Traveling under Arrest Warrant.”