British war crimes legislation receives royal assent


LONDON -- Queen Elizabeth II has given royal assent, despite opposition from the House of Lords, to war crimes legislation, paving the way forprosecution of suspected Nazi war criminals living in Britain.

The Conservative-led government invoked a dormant parliamentary act last week for the first time in 50 years to send the bill to the queen for royal approval. Under terms of the act, royal assent was ensured without debate and her approval came Thursday.


The Parliament Act, last used 50 years ago to override the upper House of Lords, came into play this year when the lords quashed the War Crimes Bill even though it was endorsed by an overwhelming majority of all sides in the elected House of Commons.

The appointed House of Lords and Anglican prelates had argued it was unlikely a war criminal could get a fair trial 50 years after the crime was committed.

The War Crimes Bill was introduced after a 1988 government inquiry found grounds for prosecution against three people suspected of mass murder and recommended changes in British law to allow prosecution.

Three suspects, all men in their mid-70s, are said to be living in Britain -- one in Scotland and two in England. The Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center in the United States has reported 17 suspected war criminals live in Britain.


Nine police officers have already been picked to investigate cases further before the Crown Prosecution Service decides whether there is enough evidence to prosecute.

The Home Office has agreed to fund the investigations and trials, which are estimated to cost from $13 million to $18 million a year, the Independent on Sunday newspaper reported.

In 1948, the government put a stop to war crimes investigations and trials and successive British governments have refused requests to extradite suspected war criminals.

More allegations are expected from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem and there are 260 potential witnesses to atrocities living in Britain on a register of Jewish holocaust survivors, the Independent newspaper reported Sunday.

House of Lords leader David Waddington had tried to ensure the War Crimes Bill's approval by the lords, saying the government was open to an amendment to ensure a fair trial of any suspect.

'I understand those who argue that there is nothing to be gained be reviving public interest in these matters after all these years,' said Waddington.

'My difficulty is how, now all the evidence has been laid bare, we can somehow rebury it. Sometimes one is brought face-to-face with facts that can't be buried and deeds so terrible that action has to be taken.'


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