International Criminal Court Bill

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Mr. Browne: This is an important debate. The hon. Gentleman is going to argue that the English courts—rather than the United Kingdom courts—should have universal jurisdiction over all those crimes. He must explain why he would want to do that, when it would manifestly undermine the international court that is being established.

The other part of the Bill is more important. It creates universal jurisdiction—at least with regard to the state parties—in an international court that brings people to international justice, rather than to the domestic justice of a single country that decides to bring a prosecution on behalf of the whole world.

Mr. Blunt: It is interesting to hear the arguments of the hon. Gentleman—who is, I understand, a Scottish lawyer—in favour of limiting the jurisdiction of the whole process of the law that we are applying to such serious crimes. He is advocating a position in which people guilty of those crimes will find it easier to escape justice.

Mr. Browne: That is not true.

Mr. Blunt: But it is true, and I will explain why.

Mr. Battle: It is not true at all, because we are not saying that Britain will use the court to try everybody accused of those crimes. However, if a person were accused of those crimes, and their own country was unwilling or unable to try them, we would return them to the ICC and they would be tried there, appropriately, rather than the UK doing the job for the whole world. Surely that is the purpose of building an ICC as an international institution.

Mr. Blunt: There are two problems with the Minister's arguments. The first is technical and relates to the detail of the extradition treaties to which we are referring. As I understand it, and on the basis of the advice being tendered by Michael Birnbaum and Peter Carter to Amnesty International and other organisations, there is a lacuna in the law on extradition treaties. That is not the case with non-treaty bases of extradition, but extradition treaties that we have with different countries—including our most important ally, the United States—are not fireproof. We would have to change all those treaties, by agreement with states that might not necessarily be party to the statute, for the Minister's position to be sustained. That is a technical flaw in the Minister's argument.

Secondly, the Minister's position is strange. Despite having stated throughout our discussions what the intention is, he now adduces arguments saying that it is not suitable for the UK to put the criminals whom we are discussing on trial in this country if the ICC is unwilling or unable to do so.

In putting the legislation in place, we will have to be prepared for the ICC to go any one of three ways. First, it could work in the way in which we wish it to. In those circumstances, we would not want to exercise our jurisdiction, if we claimed it by changing the legislation to include my amendments. Everything would pass properly to the ICC, which would work in exactly the same way as the British courts.

We have discussed at length the possibility of the ICC becoming the tool of people who seek to advance the barriers and definitions of laws in ways in which we would find very uncomfortable, given the UK's previous and current role in global security.

There is also a third option: the ICC might become completely useless. Its institutions might not work properly and the prosecutor chosen might be unwilling or unable to bring people to justice. With the greatest respect to everyone involved in the legal profession, the wheels of international jurisprudence wind terribly, terribly slowly. The ICC might be no different to any other international court and take for ever to get into action, while defendants find out how to use its rules and escape justice. Are Labour Members really saying that, in those circumstances, we in the UK—our courts, our justice system, our country that is signing up—are somehow incapable of exercising fair jurisdiction over people who have committed such crimes?

Mr. Browne: There is a fourth option, which is that other countries might follow the example that the hon. Gentleman is presently giving. Other countries that do not have our standards or history of fairness could adopt universal jurisdiction. What protection would there be for our armed forces, who might find themselves subject to the universal jurisdiction of just the sort of country that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have, for weeks now, been describing as a great threat to our forces' ordinary activities?

Mr. Blunt: I have news for the hon. Gentleman. That has already happened. Countries are already claiming universal jurisdiction. As I understand it—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—29 states have so far ratified the statute. Only four do not, in one respect or another, claim universal jurisdiction over crimes covered by the statute.

I am going to have a bit of fun with this. One of the four countries not to have claimed universal jurisdiction is San Marino. The other three are Gabon, the Marshall Islands and Senegal. Which camp does the hon. Gentleman expect the United Kingdom to sit in? With Senegal, San Marino, the Marshall Islands and Gabon or with Belgium, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland, Germany, Argentina, Austria, Belize, Botswana, Dominica, Fiji, Finland, France, Ghana, Iceland, Italy, Lesotho, Luxembourg, Mali, Norway, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Tajikistan, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela? Which side of the argument does the hon. Gentleman want the UK to be on? He has put forward the extraordinary case that he expects us to be on the side of people who will let those criminals escape justice.

I shall examine the detail of why, at this stage, the Bill is flawed on the issue of residence. In a submission published by Amnesty International, Michael Birnbaum QC gives a clear example of the difficulties with the Bill's definition of residence. The amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross would deal with the issue of residence by amending the wording of the Bill to

    ``present in England and Wales''.

Under the right hon. Gentleman's amendments, if one of those criminals were to enter the UK he would fall within our jurisdiction by his presence. That could not happen if we do not amend the Bill.

Mr. Battle: What happens when one of those people arrives? I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not under the illusion that such a person would escape justice, because that is not so. The issue is whether that person would be tried in a British court or handed over to the ICC as a non-British national. Either way, he would face trial.

Mr. Blunt: The Minister cannot guarantee that. It is a matter for the Attorney-General to decide whether prosecution should take place in the UK.

Mr. Battle: And the ICC.

4 pm

Mr. Blunt: The Minister cannot guarantee any more than I can that the prosecutor or the pre-trial chamber in the ICC would bring those people to justice.

Mr. Browne: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunt: No, not for the moment.

What if UK citizens are the victims of crimes that fall within articles 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the statute? Their global contribution through Voluntary Service Overseas and other non-governmental organisations is second to none. If we want justice for British victims, but the ICC is not prepared to provide it, why should we limit our jurisdiction? That is the question that the Minister must answer because, as it stands, the Bill limits our jurisdiction and is flawed on the issue of residence.

Before the Minister intervened, I was dealing with the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

Mr. Battle: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunt: If the Minister will forgive me, let me complete my argument on residence and then I shall let him intervene.

If the wording were amended from ``resident'' to

    ``present in England and Wales'',

that would deal with the legal nightmare of defining whether someone is a UK resident. There is a heap of different definitions of residency under the law in this country. We would give lawyers a field day by leaving the term ``United Kingdom resident'' in the Bill.

Mr. Battle: That is a serious issue, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising it. However, I want to know where he is coming from. His hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, who normally speaks for the Opposition on such matters, is absent this afternoon. I assume that the Conservative party is at one on the Bill, but varying degrees of reservation have been expressed about the principle of the ICC. If the Bill did not proceed through the House of Commons, would the Conservative party put a commitment in its manifesto unilaterally to create a court to try people for crimes against humanity? Would the Conservative party establish universal jurisdiction without the support of anyone else in the world? Is that the Conservative party's position?

Mr. Blunt: Happily, I am not responsible for the manifesto, so I am not in a position to answer the Minister's questions. However, it is interesting how defensive he has become. He suddenly seems to understand the limitations of the Bill, which he has justified in the broadest possible ideological and idealistic terms—and I have every sympathy with those arguments. During the Committee's proceedings, we have highlighted practical problems with the statute as it stands and we have tried, and so far failed, to include in the Bill some protection for the United Kingdom if the ICC goes sour, which none of us hope it does. However, when push comes to shove and the Government are presented with the opportunity to ensure that the United Kingdom can have jurisdiction to try people who are guilty of such crimes—wherever they were committed and whoever committed them—the Minister declines to take it.

I do not want the Bill to be passed in its current form: I want the amendments that I have tabled to be accepted. That would enable Parliament to have a say over changes to the Bill, and to make a clear declaration on how the United Kingdom expects it to work.

I also want the Bill to have universal jurisdiction. If it is good enough for citizens of the United Kingdom and for the laws to which we will subject our own armed forces, frankly it is good enough for everyone else as well. That argument has been accepted by the Governments of New Zealand, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany—and, indeed, by that of the United Kingdom in respect of torture.

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