The Foreign Office this week put pressure on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to support government efforts to end UK exposure to 'lawfare', a little noticed minister's speech released by the department reveals.

Foreign Office minister of state Lord Ahmad was dispatched during the election campaign to the International Criminal Court's 18th Assembly of State Parties in The Hague to call as ‘a strong proponent of an effective ICC’ for a broad reform agenda.

The ICC has an ongoing ‘preliminary investigation’ into ‘alleged war crimes committed by United Kingdom nationals in the context of the Iraq conflict and occupation from 2003 to 2008’.

Speaking at the assembly Ahmad said: ‘The UK believes the court’s relationship with national jurisdictions is of particular and fundamental importance. The ICC is a court of last resort… this assembly and the court must review the relationship between the court and national jurisdictions, and how complementarity should operate in practice.’

Ahmad had to perform a delicate balancing act in positioning the UK as a critical friend of the court. The UK is promoting its own candidate for a judicial post, Joanna Korner QC, in the current appointments round. In addition, the ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is stepping down and the UK wants to influence the appointment of her successor.

The Foreign Office is also in an uncomfortable position when pushing ‘lawfare arguments’ too hard. Its arguments rely on the ICC recognising the UK as a ‘competent jurisdiction’, with a justice system where allegations of military wrongdoing can be adequately investigated and judged, and where criminal sanctions and redress for established wrongs are available and obtainable. However the government's consultation on ‘legal protections for armed forces personnel and veterans serving in operations outside the United Kingdom’, which closed in November, contains proposals to reduce the MoD’s exposure to civil claims. That weakens Foreign Office claims that the UK is competent jurisdiction.

The Foreign Office has put its arguments on competent jurisdiction in the context of a wider reform agenda. Lord Ahmad argued for raising the standard of the ICC’s judicial appointments and for a new prosecutor to be appointed on merit and experience. He also urged the ICC to demand more from states’ own judicial nomination procedures.