The rationale behind universal jurisdiction is that certain crimes – piracy, war crimes, genocide, torture, crimes against humanity and hostage taking – are so harmful to international interests that states are entitled, and in some cases even obliged, to bring proceedings, regardless of the location of the crime and the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim. In accordance with that principle, in December 2009 a British judge granted an arrest warrant against Tzipi Livni, who had been the foreign minister during Israel's assault on Gaza a year earlier. It was withdrawn when it emerged that she had not travelled here after all, but the Labour government, backed by the Conservative leadership, expressed outrage that the warrant had been issued.
The coalition government claims that it is in favour of applying universal jurisdiction here. But it has brought forward proposals to change the law on arrest warrants requested by private individuals in international cases that will, in practice, deny access to criminal justice to victims from those countries allied to Britain who are prepared to withdraw intelligence co-operation or use other political or economic pressure to achieve immunity for suspects.
If the law is changed, suspects from a list of "protected countries" that includes Israel, America, China, Saudi Arabia and potentially others, such as Bahrain, will visit our shores with impunity, making us a safe haven for some war criminals and torturers. This outcome would be a sick parody of true universal jurisdiction.