International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Blunt: I am sure that membership of the Joint Committee would be chosen according to the rules of the House. All that the inquiry would be invited to do is to come to a conclusion on whether the actions of the ICC are reasonable in taking to itself the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, in violation of the principle of complementarity, when the United Kingdom is not prepared to put its own subjects on trial for serious crimes. That would be the only test for the Committee. How the Joint Committee should organise itself and conduct that inquiry should properly be a matter for the Committee at the time. We could not anticipate how it would do that. The principles governing Joint Committees of both Houses of Parliament are well established, as are the processes of selection.

The amendment would simply place a duty on both Houses to set up that Committee, which would conduct that test and come to a conclusion on reasonableness. That Committee would make a recommendation to the Government and it would then be up to the Government to decide what they did in answer to that request. The purpose of the amendment is simply to say that, if the United Kingdom is in dispute with the ICC, there should be some mechanism for testing the reasonableness of the ICC's position.

Let me explain why I believe that the amendment is necessary. It sits with the way in which the statute has been drafted and how it could work—not how I hope that it will work, or how I expect it to work—

Mr. Browne: We are coming to the Johnny Foreigner element now.

Mr. Blunt: That sedentary intervention is unworthy. It is important that the ICC works. The United Kingdom has a proud record in international jurisdiction, going right back through history—on slavery and on piracy, and, under the previous Government, on war crimes. Such remarks are inappropriate.

Mr. Battle: What underlies the hon. Gentleman's argument, and undermines his commitment to the ICC, is his view that, if someone is handed over to the ICC, it is as if they are being handed over to some sort of rogue body, but that body will be governed by international law. I suspect that what lies behind his remarks is a lack of faith in the principle of the ICC. He does not believe that the ICC can get up and running, and do a good job.

11.30 am

Mr. Blunt: That is not true. I expect that body to work in the way that the signatories intended. However, it is the duty of this Parliament, at this stage, before we pass the Bill, to make clear what will happen if the ICC does not work in the way that is intended.

We are in the happy position of having someone—Lord Renton in another place—who was part of the team that negotiated the 1951 convention that led to the European Court of Human Rights. Fifty years on, when debating the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000, he made it quite clear that he, as one of the negotiators of that agreement, had never intended that it should apply to the armed forces of the United Kingdom. However, as a result of that Act and of the European court, we shall be forced to change the way that our courts martial work in administering discipline to our armed forces. No one has ever convincingly made the case to me that our military discipline system is anything other than just. Having seen it in operation, I can assure hon. Members that it is just, but we have been forced to change it because of an agreement made 50 years ago.

We hope that the ICC will be up and running, and will be successful for far more than 50 years. As the Bill is drafted, the ICC will be the main basis of international law for crimes under articles 5, 6, 7 and 8, but, as the decades go on, it could become a body with much wider powers.

Mr. Browne: I am trying to understand why the hon. Gentleman is making this point. Surely it is not part of his argument that the ICC and its jurisdiction should be set in stone. Does he not hope and expect that we shall, for the first time, through the court, develop a truly international jurisdiction, which will be independent of political decision makers? That seems to be the thread running through his arguments about the amendment. He wants a truly independent court, and a court that will evolve its own jurisdiction and jurisprudence. It will be different in 50 years, and if it is not, it will not have been a success.

Mr. Blunt: I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. Over time, the court will have opportunities to extend the range of crimes that it considers. For example, international drug smuggling—a trade that causes appalling damage to societies all over the world—is not one of the offences covered by articles 5 to 8. There is a strong argument that that trade should be policed on an international scale. I am sure that the Minister will have been negotiating with Governments agreements to allow Customs and Excise to co-operate with their authorities, to enable it to get a handle on the international drugs trade and to find out where the stuff is coming from so that we can interdict it within our own jurisdiction. If people can be brought to justice in front of an international court, it makes it easier to deal with them.

I am sure that whether such things should be brought within the remit of the court is a debate that will go on within the institutions of the court and the Assembly of States Parties as the decades unfold and as the nature of international crime changes.

The institution is important because it will grow, just as the European Court of Human Rights has grown into areas where none of us expected it to operate. It is therefore all the more important that it works in a responsible way. The court will establish its own way of working. All institutions, as they grow, attempt to accrete available areas of influence, and the world is the ICC's oyster. If it is to be successful, which is important to all of us, it must be developed in a responsible fashion.

I am sure that every hon. Member here has read the statute in detail. My first point focuses on the importance of personalities to the functioning of the court. The prosecutor will be its most important personality. He will be elected by secret ballot by a majority of the members of the state parties, which means that a prosecutor with a certain personality and a certain style of prosecution could be selected by the representatives of 12.9 million people in the teeth of opposition from the representatives of 2 billion people. That is the position in which the statute places us.

If that does not raise a potential problem with that situation, why did the Foreign Secretary, when making his case for the Bill on Second Reading, trumpet the United Kingdom's achievement in establishing the pre-trial chamber in the operation of the court? The reason that he gave for the importance of the pre-trial chamber being inserted in the statute—negotiated by Sir Franklin Berman, the legal adviser at the Foreign Office—was that it places some control over the prosecutor. When victims or states make complaints about actions of individuals or other states who are accused of crimes under the statute, the pre-trial chamber can form its own conclusion about whether the investigation should continue.

Mr. Browne: Before we come to the role of the pre-trial chamber in relation to the prosecutor, can we revisit the election of the prosecutor? The statute clearly says, in article 42.3:

    ``The Prosecutor and the Deputy Prosecutors shall be persons of high moral character, be highly competent in and have extensive practical experience in the prosecution or trial of criminal cases. They shall have an excellent knowledge of and be fluent in at least one of the working languages of the Court.''

Does the hon. Gentleman want to add to that and say what other characteristics he would expect in a prosecutor, or is the job description that is part of the statute good enough for a prosecutor of the ICC?

Mr. Blunt: The hon. Gentleman makes it clear that the statute includes the prosecutor's job description. To be elected to Parliament, we should all be people of high moral character, and I am sure that everyone on the Committee is. However, we are all elected by secret ballot, as the prosecutor will be. We do not actually have any control over it. The United Kingdom, a nation of nearly 60 million people, will carry the same weight in deciding who the prosecutor will be as—to take the most extreme case—the state of San Marino, which has a population of 23,000.

Mr. Battle: It has gone down—it was 28,000 before.

Mr. Blunt: Has it? I shall check my notes. The Library says that the population of San Marino is, in fact, 27,000. I think that that is the smallest state of those that are signatory to the treaty, although we might check the Marshall Islands.

However, the point is that a nation of 1 billion people has the same influence as a very small nation and, because the prosecutor is elected by a secret majority ballot, the nature and personality of the prosecutor chosen will be extremely unpredictable.

Mr. Gapes: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that judges and prosecutors operate in the interests of their own Government? For example, did Judge Goldstone, in the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, operate on behalf of South Africa? Such suggestions impugn the integrity of some highly respected international lawyers.

Mr. Blunt: I am saying nothing of the sort and I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not extend my arguments to the point of absurdity. He knows perfectly well that that was not my point. My question is, why did the state of Israel—this example may be of particular interest to the hon. Member for Ilford, South, who is a leading member of the Labour Friends of Israel—find it necessary to make its declaration when signing the statute? It is because Israel has been on the receiving end of endless motions from the United National General Assembly that are extremely critical of the conduct of that state. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who are supporters of Israel have found that those motions have not represented a realistic appreciation of its position. The institution that will be established under the statute will work in the same way that resolutions are made in the UN General Assembly, not in the way that security policy is decided by the UN Security Council, whose decisions are subject to the veto of its permanent members.

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