UK plans change in arrest procedures following Livni row
On heels of attempt to arrest former Israeli FM over her role in Gaza war, Foreign Office plans 'safeguards' in criminal cases against visiting foreign leaders, including attorney general's approval of arrest warrants. Pro-Palestinian groups 'furious' over PM Brown's intervention, Guardian reports
Following the row between Israel and the UK over attempts to arrest former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the British attorney general will be asked to approve warrants before suspected war criminals can be arrested in the future under a plan being negotiated by the Foreign Office, the Guardian reported Thursday.
Earlier this week the Guardian reported that a warrant for Livni's arrest had been issued by a British court, but was rescinded once it was discovered that she was not in the country. The warrant was issued following a complaint that the former foreign minister had been responsible for war crimes during the Israeli operation in Gaza about a year ago.
According to the Guardian, discussions have begun on creating "safeguards" in criminal cases against visiting foreign leaders – not just those from Israel. Lawyers involved said they were outraged by the proposed change, said the report.
"Livni supports a two-state solution. This attempt to secure her arrest has really set alarm bells ringing," a senior Foreign Office source told the Guardian. "No one is talking about removing universal jurisdiction, but it's an anomaly that a magistrates court can issue an arrest warrant before a prosecutor has even said there is a case to prosecute. There need to be safeguards."
On Wednesday British Prime Minister Gordon Brown telephoned Livni and told her he strongly opposes the arrest warrant issued against her.
According to a statement issued by the Kadima leader, Brown said that Livni was "most welcome" in Britain at any time and that he planned to work to change the current legal situation.
The Guardian said news of the prime minister's intervention provoked a "furious response" from lawyers and pro-Palestinian groups.
"I feel honest revulsion at the idea of a case where a judge has granted an arrest warrant and a politician gets on the phone and apologizes," Daniel Machover, a solicitor, was quoted by the British daily as saying. "They have got to stay out of individual cases and legal decisions."
Another attorney told the Guardian, "The Geneva Conventions Act of 1957 places a positive obligation on the UK to pursue those who are alleged to have committed grave offences under the act. In the light of the Goldstone report (into the Gaza war) there is a prima facie case to answer."
News of the plan to involve the attorney general in issuing warrants brought complaints about "selective application of the law, politicization of criminal justice, and violation of the separation of powers," according to the report.
"It's outrageous and the only reason the Foreign Office wants to do it is to avoid embarrassment – there is no good legal reason," Machover was quoted by the Guardian as saying. "If there was an arrest warrant against Livni, it's because there was a case to answer according to a judge who found that there was reasonable suspicion."
Roni Sofer contributed to the report