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With Adoption of War Crimes Bill, Britain Prepares to Prosecute Nazis

March 21, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Scotland Yard is poised “to hit the ground running” in the investigation of suspected Nazi war criminals living in Britain as soon as royal assent is given to the new war crimes bill, which Parliament passed overwhelmingly Monday.

According to Britain’s famous criminal investigations agency, the final authorization is likely soon after Passover and the first suspects could be brought to trial within three years.

Commander Roy Penrose, head of Scotland Yard’s international and organized crime branch, said time is of the essence because the people involved are elderly and nature could allow them to elude justice. Therefore, a special detective squad has been set up to begin interviewing suspects as soon as the bill becomes law.

Home Office Minister John Patten said the investigations could cost up to 2.1 million pounds a year, about $3.7 million. He told the House of Commons that over 10 million pounds, or $17 million, has been set aside for legal aid to ensure fair trials.

At the moment, at least three alleged war criminals are known to the police and the Home Office, which reported that evidence has been prepared against them.

The names of eight more suspects will be handed over to the authorities by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center as soon as the law takes effect. All are said to have been involved in crimes against Jews in Lithuania during World War II.

Ephraim Zuroff of the center’s Israel office provided the names of nine other suspects on June 7, 1990. All are said to be Lithuanian citizens who found refuge in Britain after the war.


The war crimes bill, which swept through the House of Commons by a 254-88 vote, permits British courts to prosecute alleged war criminals living in Britain for crimes committed abroad.

It was first adopted on March 19, 1990, by an equally lopsided majority of 273-60, only to be nullified by the House of Lords.

The peers voted 207-74 on June 6, 1990, to set aside the law, citing such reasons as old age, the passage of time and the validity of retribution.

But this time, the government confirmed it is ready to override objections from the House of Lords. That could be done by invoking the 1949 Parliamentary Acts, which prevent the peers from blocking legislation.

It has never been done, and Conservative member of Parliament David Sumberg, whose constituency includes a large part of Manchester’s Jewish population, hopes it will not be necessary.

“The MPs have made their point, and I hope the Lords will allow us to get the law on the statute books without invoking the Parliament Acts,” Sumberg said.

Hayim Pinner, secretary-general of the Beard of Deputies of British Jews, said he was pleased by the government’s tenacity in getting the war crimes bill through Commons unamended.

Similar legislation exists in Canada and Australia. The constitutionality of the Australian law is being contested before that country’s supreme court.

In New York, the World Jewish Congress welcomed the reintroduction of the measure after its setback last year.

According to WJC Executive Director Elan Steinberg, 2,553 individuals sought by Britain were found listed by the U.N. War Crimes Commission when that defunct agency’s long-secret archives were opened in 1987.

“Although it is likely that many if not most of the criminals wanted by Britain in the U.N. files are dead, even if only 10 percent are alive, we are still talking about more than 250 cases,” Steinberg said.

In Toronto, Les Scheininger, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said, “Bringing suspected Nazi war criminals to justice is a multinational responsibility to assure that those who perpetrated atrocities during the Holocaust are held accountable.”

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