Jurist reports that the Spanish government is contemplating limiting the scope of its universal jurisdiction. The principle of universal jurisdiction does away with traditional conditions for a state wanting to exercise jurisdiction in criminal cases (such as for a personal or territorial condition to be present), and stipulates that the state has jurisdiction regardless of where the alleged offence took place, regardless of nationality of the alleged perpetrator and victim, and regardless of where the alleged victim and perpetrator reside. The principle was famously relied upon in the Pinochet case, where former the dictator of Chile Augusto Pinochet was arrested when visiting London to receive medical treatment following the issuance of an arrest warrant in Spain. Jurist reports that the aim of the proposed changes is to limit the application of universal jurisdiction to cases in which Spain has a substantial link.
While the changes are likely to be met with criticism from certain quarters, it could be argued that the need for Spain (and others) to exercise universal jurisdiction is diminishing given the increasing role that the ICC is likely to play in the future. At the same time, opponents of universal jurisdiction will be happy to see the power of judges being curbed. On the other hand, it could be argued that the activism exercised by e.g. Spain in pursuing alleged perpetrators of serious crimes is in some instances needed as there will inevitably be cases where the ICC has not got jurisdiction – regardless of how influential the Court may become.
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