Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council (PR 78)

Summary

· This submission comments on Clause 151 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, considers the purposes of the clause and supports its passage unamended into law.

Submission

1. This submission relates specifically to Clause 151 of the Bill, headed "Restriction on issue of arrest warrants in private prosecutions".

2. The Board of Deputies of British Jews is the democratically-elected representative body of the Jewish community. The Jewish Leadership Council comprises the heads of the major institutions of the Jewish community.

3. Many in the Jewish community have specific concerns about the current operation of private prosecution for Universal jurisdiction offenses. According to answers to Parliamentary Questions, there have been ten attempted private prosecutions which relied on universal jurisdiction. Of these ten attempts to prosecute, at least four were brought against Israelis and one other against a Jewish American.

4. The Jewish community’s interest in the principle of universal jurisdiction dates back to the very inception of this body of law, after the horrors of the Holocaust. This support for both the principle and reality of universal jurisdiction continues. We believe that nothing should be done to undermine the UK's commitments or obligations in this area. 

5. However, we are concerned about the abuse of private prosecution in Universal Jurisdiction cases. As explained in a legal opinion written by Lord Pannick QC (obtained by the Jewish Leadership Council), current legislation says that a magistrate must issue an arrest warrant in a private prosecution on the basis of merely prima facie evidence. In the case of a normal member of the public, this would be a significant inconvenience. In universal jurisdiction cases, which tend to target leaders, former leaders, senior officials and prominent figures in foreign countries, such an arrest could provoke a major diplomatic incident, even if the arrest does not result in a prosecution.

6. In effect the system has been used for the purposes of advancing the political motives of those applying for such warrants. This use of private prosecution favours rich prosecutors over poor ones; favours famous causes over obscure ones; and favours popular causes over unpopular ones. None of this is in the interests of even-handed justice.

7. The Crown Prosecution Service only prosecutes if it believes that there is a reasonable chance of securing a conviction and that such a prosecution is in the public interest. This means that the CPS cannot and does not engage in malicious, vexatious or opportunistic prosecutions. The CPS' test is much more robust than the threshold of evidence needed to begin a private prosecution.

8. Some types of criminal prosecution require the consent of either the Attorney General or the Director of Public Prosecutions to proceed. This rule already applies to all universal jurisdiction offences. However, this consent only needs to be sought after someone has already been arrested, potentially causing all the diplomatic and foreign affairs damage before any consent is needed or sought.

9. The proposed changes in the Bill require the consent of the DPP before an arrest warrant is granted for a universal jurisdiction case. This is a small and proportionate change, and is almost identical to that which Lord Pannick proposed. We believe this is a sensible solution to the problem and support Clause 151 of the Bill as it stands at Second Reading.

January 2011