Friday, July 23, 2010

Pope To Be Protected From Arrest On UK Visit

The Government has moved to prevent the possibility of an arrest warrant being issued against the Pope during his state visit this autumn.

Sky News understands that Whitehall officials have been "seriously concerned" that campaigners would use international criminal rules to try to detain the Pontiff while he is in the UK.

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC were among those campaigners reported to be looking at the options for bringing a private prosecution in relation to the Pope's alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Now Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has proposed changes to the rules on universal jurisdiction, a law that allows individuals to be prosecuted in the UK for serious offences such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture even if they were carried out abroad.

The plans would mean the Director of Public Prosecutions would need to give his consent to any arrest warrant issued under universal jurisdiction.

This would effectively mean taking that power out of the hands of the courts.

Ministers say the current rules are open to abuse because the evidence required to get a warrant is far below the threshold that would be needed to bring a prosecution.

This has meant the rules are often used by those who wish to make a political statement or to cause embarrassment.

The most recent attempt to obtain an arrest warrant for a foreign dignitary was ahead of the visit by former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni who cancelled her trip at the last minute to avoid embarrassment.

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