The UK is playing a leading role in supporting the Ukrainians in their fight against Russian aggression. Over recent weeks, I have had the privilege of speaking to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, Iryna Venediktova, for whom I have the greatest respect, as she fights tirelessly for justice and accountability for the people of Ukraine. She and I have signed a memorandum on co-operation, which underlines the UK’s support for accountability and reinforces our joint efforts to gather and preserve evidence for use in future criminal trials.
A month ago today, this aggressive war of Putin’s was unleashed on Ukraine. We continue to stand with the people of Ukraine as they fight for peace. However, I question why the UK’s sanctions, which continue to be slow, have also failed to be robust. Mr Usmanov is clearly laughing at this Government; he has moved hundreds of millions of pounds into irrevocable trusts. Why did the Attorney General not insist that the sanctions regime be made watertight?
I reject that characterisation of our sanctions regime. The UK is leading the world and our allies in terms of the extent and the unprecedented nature of our sanctions package. We have sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and entities; there were 65 more announcements today. We are seeing the impact, and that is what counts—the impact of the sanctions is having a huge effect on the Russian economy. The rouble has plummeted in value. The stock market has crashed. Inflation has risen. That, not political point scoring, is what is going to beat Putin in this war.
The Government are very quick on announcements, but very slow on action. The Attorney General will be aware of the SLAPP—strategic litigation against public participation—litigation being used by Russian oligarchs to wear down investigative journalists and campaigners. The purpose is not to take them to court, but to bury them under a whole load of requests to produce documents and answer questions; it is to wear down their resources. We need urgent action. Can she say what she is doing to shut down, urgently, the use of SLAPP litigation?
Absolutely. The Deputy Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor recently announced urgent action he will be taking to target exactly the SLAPP litigation to which the hon. Gentleman refers. He will be introducing measures, in the public interest, so that we stop the abuse of our legal process and ensure that legal tools are not abused and misused in this way.
We have allowed the system to be misused for a very long time and that is why we are running to catch up now.
What are we doing to gather evidence of war crimes? It was good to see the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally accuse Russia of war crimes in Ukraine. Will the Attorney General say what role the UK’s sexual violence in conflict experts could play? It seems clear that rape is being used, once again, as a weapon of war, in Ukraine.
The hon. Lady raises an incredibly worrying point. It does look as if there is very strong evidence to support claims of sexual violence being used in this conflict, which is completely abhorrent and horrifying. We have a strong track record. A few years ago, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office led the way, alongside Angelina Jolie, in raising the profile of this weapon in conflict and in taking concrete action against it. The Foreign Secretary will make an announcement on the issue very soon. On evidence gathering, as I mentioned, I have reached an agreement with the Ukrainian Prosecutor General. My hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is working to lead an international coalition with the International Criminal Court, focusing on evidence gathering and on building resources to assist an independent prosecution, so that we bring war criminals to justice and secure accountability.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome very much the establishment of a war crimes taskforce, on which my right hon. and learned Friend serves, and the additional funding that the Ministry of Justice has given to the International Criminal Court.
The war crimes that are undoubtedly being committed in Ukraine are being committed on the territory of a country that adheres to the conventions of the ICC, which therefore has jurisdiction. Will the Attorney General take on board the very important point made by the chair of the Bar in a speech last night, that even though Putin and his cronies may be beyond our reach at the moment, the bringing of an indictment is itself an important signal that we stand up for the rule of international law? Will she take up the suggestion of working with the legal professions and seconding British lawyers to the ICC to strengthen its investigations team?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. He has almost taken the words out of my mouth. I am very pleased in my capacity as leader of the Bar to be working with the Bar Council. There is a huge opportunity to build on the wealth of expertise in the English legal system. We have renowned experts in public international law, and I echo the call made by the chairman of the Bar for all of those in private practice who wish to serve, whether through working with the ICC or to support the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, to get in touch with the Bar Council and the Law Society so that we can channel their efforts to the best possible use.
The Levelling Up Secretary has been boasting for weeks that the Government will seize oligarchs’ mansions, but they have no idea how to do so legally, and by the time they work it out the culprits will be clean away. The Justice Secretary is a sudden convert to anti-SLAPP legislation, biting the hands that used to feed the Tory party, but shows no urgency to legislate. The Attorney General is investigating her own Serious Fraud Office for failures to prosecute, yet the SFO is so starved of money that its yearly budget would not buy one of Abramovich’s yachts. It is pathetic. Do the Government lack the means to bring international criminals to justice, or do they just lack the will?
I am very disappointed by the hon. Gentleman’s charge, which is completely unfounded. The reality is that the actions that we have taken are world leading. We introduced emergency legislation not so long ago. We are considering the confiscation of assets, of course at all times within the legal remits and according to due process. What we are doing, and the effect of our actions, is clear: we are starving the oligarchs and those who are funding Putin’s murderous activities of access to their finance. We are going after his corrupt cronies and key businesses directly. We are paralysing the military-industrial complex, and that will be how we strangle the economic funding for this brutal activity.
Given that Russia is not a member of the ICC and will almost certainly refuse to recognise its jurisdiction, what discussions has the Attorney General had with her international partners on alternative forums for prosecution? Does she agree with former Prime Ministers John Major and Gordon Brown that a court could be set up for that purpose, as was the case in Nuremburg?
Of course, all options are on the table, and I will always defer to my counterpart in Ukraine, the Prosecutor General, in my efforts to support her and her choice of route for redress. While we welcome the focus on accountability, we believe that the International Criminal Court is the right place for those responsible for committing these atrocious crimes in Ukraine to be held accountable for their actions. That is why, led by the Deputy Prime Minister, we are focusing all our energy, all our assistance and all our resources on the ICC prosecutor’s independent investigation.