International Arrest Warrants

Oral Answers to Questions — Home – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 13th February 2006.

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Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West 2:30 pm, 13th February 2006

Whether his Department is planning to amend the law on international arrest warrants.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The Government are currently considering a range of issues relating to the issuing of arrest warrants in international cases, but have not yet concluded what changes, if any, are required to current legislation. Any proposals for amending the current legislation would be a matter for Parliament.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

The Minister will be aware of press reports that the Government are considering removing the right of an individual victim to apply to the magistrates court for an arrest warrant against the alleged perpetrator of war crimes. If that right were removed, does he agree that it would leave it open for the UK Government to decide not to proceed against certain alleged war criminals simply because to do so might embarrass a foreign Government? Does he agree that that does not square with the Government's duty, under the Geneva convention, of universal jurisdiction?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Let me begin by assuring my hon. Friend that the Government stand firm behind the principle of the international arrest warrant system and are clear that the UK will never provide safe haven to those guilty of atrocities, but she refers to the process by which international arrest warrants are secured. They can be applied for and granted to private individuals by a district judge, the effect of which is that someone can be arrested and detained with no immediate prospect of any charge being brought. The balance must be right, and the question is whether the prosecuting authority that is required to bring the case should have a role in whether the person is arrested, but I have heard what my hon. Friend has said, as has the Home Secretary, and we will, of course, take her views on board in taking the matter forward.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

What discussions has the Home Office had recently with the Israeli Government about General Almog? Is the Home Office in discussion with other countries about the enforcement of international arrest warrants on their citizens?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The Home Office has had discussions with the Israeli authorities, following the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions, and has held discussions with a range of parties who have had an interest in that case. As I mentioned in my reply to my hon. Friend Dr. Starkey, the issue is whether there is an inconsistency and whether the authorities that would be responsible for bringing a prosecution should have a role in the arrest. It is important to point out that we may be talking about individuals who are not normally resident in the UK and are not under investigation by the British police, and there could be very real practical difficulties in bringing evidence to this country about whether a prosecution should happen here. My point is simply about whether it is right that the prosecuting authorities have a role in deciding whether an arrest should take place in the first place, given that that would deprive an individual of their liberty for a serious amount of time.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if someone from another country comes here and it is found through the great good sense of a district judge that the person may be guilty of war crimes, it is our duty as a nation to prosecute them properly and that, in considering whether the law should be changed, we should weigh in the balance very heavily the great good sense and experience of district judges?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I can say to my hon. Friend that of course the Government remain absolutely committed to the principle that those guilty of atrocities should not find a safe haven in this country. I would also say to her, though, that the duty to prosecute those accused of atrocities falls quite rightly to the public authorities of this country. In hearing what she says and in agreeing with her that the onus needs to be on ensuring that those responsible face up to their actions, we need to consider whether the public authorities that would be responsible for mounting any prosecution should have a role in deciding whether that person should be arrested at the beginning of the process.