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Written Statements

Volume 545: debated on Wednesday 16 May 2012

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Trial of Charles Taylor (Special Court for Sierra Leone)

On 26 April the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) handed down its judgment against Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia. The SCSL found Taylor guilty of all 11 charges against him, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. The judges were unanimous in concluding that Taylor aided, abetted and helped plan the commission of all these crimes through the provision of significant operational, military and moral support.

This verdict is a landmark judgment in the fight against impunity. Taylor is the first Head of State since Nuremburg to be found guilty by an international tribunal for crimes against humanity and war crimes. It is a salient reminder of the importance of accountability, especially in the current climate of events in Syria. We hope that this judgment provides some comfort to the victims whose horrific experiences were recorded by the court.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary led international support for the verdict with his press statement on 26 April. Prosecutor Brenda Hollis applauded the verdict and noted it provided some measure of justice to the victims of Taylor’s crimes. In her words this verdict was also a reminder that,

“no one was above the law”.

The UN Security Council also released a statement reinforcing the significance of the verdict.

The International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Act 2007, which allows for SCSL sentences to be enforced here, was passed with wide cross-party support in June 2007. During the passage of the Bill it was made clear, and accepted by the House, that Charles Taylor would serve his sentence in the UK and that Her Majesty’s Government would meet the associated costs directly. The costs of sentence enforcement are better controlled if they are managed and paid for directly by the country which is enforcing the sentence.

Taylor will be sentenced on 30 May. The verdict and sentence will be subject to an appeal. The plenary of judges will meet soon to finalise an appeals timetable which is likely to take around 12 months to complete. This will have financial implications as the court already has a financial shortfall for 2012 despite the UK’s recent contribution of £600,000 and the UN subvention grant agreed late last year. We will continue to encourage other states to contribute to the court, and to consider making voluntary contributions to fund the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone, to ensure its legacy is protected.

If there is no appeal, or if Taylor is unsuccessful in his appeal, the president of the SCSL is expected to ask the UK to enforce his sentence. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue to work with UK Border Agency and the Ministry of Justice, National Offender Management Service to ensure that all necessary arrangements are in place for any transfer to the UK and detention on arrival.

Home Department

Specified Proceedings Processes

I am announcing proposals to simplify and extend the processes where the police prosecute specified offences, (which currently cover a range of low level traffic cases), to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and ensure swifter justice.

Currently, the police have the power to prosecute uncontested, low-level traffic offences, such as speeding, driving without insurance, or failing to produce a driving licence.

As part of the wider reform of the criminal justice system, I have, with the Attorney-General, been examining the procedures in these cases in order to identify ways of removing duplication, giving the police greater discretion and delivering faster justice.

We will introduce changes which enable the police to continue to prosecute these cases when there is no plea or the defendant fails to appear, avoiding unnecessary adjournments and the handing of cases over to the Crown Prosecution Service.

We are working with police forces and prosecution teams on the details of the process. I will also extend this approach to a wider range of low-level offences for which this simpler police-led model would be appropriate and will update Parliament on which offences this will cover in due course.


Airport Charges Price Controls

Today, I am issuing directions under section 40(9) of the Airports Act 1986 to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) not to make references to the Competition Commission (CC) in respect of mandatory airport charges conditions for Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports. These references would have been made in the context of the economic regulation of these airports under the 1986 Act before the expiry of their current price controls on 31 March 2014.

The Civil Aviation Bill is proposing to remove the Competition Commission reference from the price review process permanently and replace it with a licensing and appeals regime. This will enable proportionate and accountable regulation, and will give airlines and airports a new right of appeal which the aviation sector has not had before—modernising the airport regulatory framework and putting in place a more flexible and responsive regime for the future.

The Civil Aviation Bill has already made significant progress through Parliament, having successfully concluded Report stage in the House of Commons, and will shortly continue its passage through the House of Lords.

In light of this, it would be unrealistic to ignore that a new regime is on the near horizon which will form the basis for the next regulatory settlement due to come into effect on 1 April 2014. Progressing with the mandatory reference under the existing legislation is likely to introduce unnecessary costs and uncertainty into the process for the CAA, the Competition Commission, and the aviation sector, in a manner that would undermine the Government’s objective of reducing unnecessary regulation. I have therefore decided to remove the mandatory Competition Commission references for price controls at these airports now.

The directions that I am issuing follow an informal consultation between 19 January and 29 February 2012 with industry and careful consideration of their responses. I am also publishing today my letter to industry setting out my response to the issues raised in that consultation and my letter to the CAA.