07 January 2010

British may abandon important legal precept

When courts in Great Britain issued arrest warrants for former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, a certain diplomatic flutter was to be expected. Livni's warrant was withdrawn when she canceled her planned visit to the U.K. Last September, and Barak avoided arrest by pleading immunity as a serving minister of his government. The warrants were issued under the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, which gives courts in England and Wales universal jurisdiction in war crimes cases. Both Livni and Barak were accused of war crimes committed during Israel's invasion of Gaza early in 2009.

Israel has complained loudly and the British foreign office plans to change the legal process so that the attorney general would have to approve warrants before suspected war criminals could be arrested. Lawyers are outraged at this proposed political interference in the legal system. Daniel Machover, a partner at Hickman & Rose, who obtained an arrest warrant for Israeli general Doron Almog in 2005, asked, "If there is evidence against Israeli leaders and a judge thinks that there is a case to answer, then why does the process need to be changed?"

Good question. Why should the legitimate pursuit of war criminals be hampered for the convenience of political discourse? If British politicians feel they need to talk with these people, they can visit them in their home countries. Indeed, British Foreign Minister Lady Scotland is currently in Israel promising to look at "ways in which the U.K. system might be changed to avoid this situation arising again." How unfortunate that the Lady wants to abandon a measure to hound war criminals. 

War criminals should be hounded. They should be given no rest, even if appropriate measures sometimes inconvenience our friends. And after all, not only Britain's friends would be affected by this change. What other reprobates would be protected? Another Pinochet perhaps?

Let's hope the British government comes to its senses and cleaves to the rule of law.

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