Kathleen Hall’s report on the Spanish vote to restrict jurisdiction over extra-territorial crimes under threat of economic sanctions from the Chinese government is very depressing. The vote followed the issue of arrest warrants against an ex-president of China and others over alleged genocide in Tibet.
Spain has been in the forefront of the movement for universal jurisdiction over human rights abuses, led by such courageous lawyers as Judge Baltasar Garzon and Juan Garces, who have inspired human rights lawyers worldwide.
The report quotes a call by Spanish human rights lawyer Alan Cantos to the UK legal profession to encourage Spanish opposition MPs to challenge the constitutionality of the proposed changes and to consider bringing a case against China in the UK. The latter presents serious problems, however, because the UK government and UK law have also restricted universal jurisdiction.
In 2011, following the issue of a warrant for the arrest of the Israeli ex-foreign minister Tzipi Livni, the power of a magistrate to issue a warrant in such cases was made subject to the consent of the director of public prosecutions. Recently, a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has upheld UK decisions granting immunity to Saudi Arabia and state officials from proceedings in the UK alleging torture of UK citizens in that country.
Nevertheless, I hope the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society will give serious consideration to both these important requests.
Geoffrey Bindman, Bindmans, London WC1