Douglas Carswell

29 DEC 2010

Time for an international revolt against supranationalism?

Universal jurisdiction is one of those ideas that sounds marvellous. 

Allowing courts in one country to claim jurisdiction outside their own state's boundaries, and prosecute wrong-doers regardless of nationality, means that Tyrants and Bad People can be brought to justice. Hurray! 

But hang on a second. In doing so, universal jurisdiction seeks to trump the notion of national jurisdiction. With almost imperial presumption, advocates of universal jurisdiction claim authority over nation states’ own jurisdictions.

It is curious how lefties, who a generation ago championed national self-determination against wicked, Western imperialism today want (predominantly Western) jurists to sit in supranational courts adjudicating over those same supposedly sovereign lands.

And who gets to determine who is, and who is not, a Bad Person? 

Thanks to universal jurisdiction, Israeli officials run the risk of arrest when visiting Britain. If Israeli officials can be hauled off ‘planes at Heathrow, why not American (Iraq) or Chinese (Tianamen)? Claiming universal jurisdiction will have big, big consequences. Are the rest of us aware of where the jurists who advocate a universal writ are taking us?  And when in the past decade or two were the rest of us asked if we wanted our jurists to claim global jurisdiction?    

The government claims it will fix this problem with an amendment to the Police Bill in the New Year. Their solution is to treat a symptom of the problem, rather than deal with its cause.  They suggest that we give the head of Public Prosecution, or the attorney general, the final say on each case. 

But surely that merely defers the problem? Visit Britain - and the application to arrest and prosecute you will be heard by a slightly grander official. Enjoy your stay, while the DPP decides if you’re going to be able to leave.

Meanwhile, it is encouraging to learn that in Kenya, MPs have just voted to quit the International Criminal Court. One MP declared that having won her independence from Britain, Kenya was not going to fall down before a “colonial imperialist court”. Indeed.

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