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Coroners and Justice Bill

Volume 712: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2009


My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I told the House on 5 May 2009 (Official Report col. 19) that I had met representatives from the Genocide Prevention All-Party Group and they had made a very powerful case for the inclusion of genocide as an extra-territorial offence within our law. Since then I have consulted widely with colleagues about the best way to proceed.

Serious crimes of this nature are best dealt with in the country where the crimes took place. That is where the evidence will be most easily accessible, and where witnesses will be easier to contact. It is also the best solution because witnesses and survivors can see justice being done. Failing that, these crimes should be dealt with by international courts or tribunals where they exist. However, there may be circumstances where these options are not available. We have therefore decided that we should strengthen domestic law in this area.

We propose that, as far is permissible under the legal principles applicable to retrospection, we should seek to cover the categories of crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity from 1 January 1991. It is that date from which the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had jurisdiction to try offences under the tribunal’s statute adopted by the United Nations Security Council.

Making these changes will be quite complex. The offence of genocide, along with offences of war crimes and crimes against humanity, is contained in the International Criminal Court Act 2001. From 2001, we have jurisdiction to try those crimes in the UK if committed by a UK national or resident wherever they took place. The 2001 Act is based on the Rome statute of 1998 establishing the International Criminal Court. While international law existed in respect of all these areas earlier, the offences in the 2001 Act may be wider than those recognised before the Rome statute and any change will need to take account of this.

We propose no change to the categories of people covered by the legislation, which should remain UK nationals and residents (including those who commit crimes, and subsequently become resident). However, we are exploring the possibility of providing more certainty as to who may (or may not) be considered to be a UK resident.

We intend to introduce these changes by bringing forward amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill at Report stage in the House of Lords in the autumn.