Global Policy Forum

Britain Will Pay High Price


By Melissa Kite

April 14, 2007

A pledge by Britain to imprison the former African dictator Charles Taylor, on trial for war crimes, was thrown into doubt last night as a leaked memo highlighted the potential costs.

The notorious former president of Liberia faces a lifetime in jail if he is found guilty at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The sentence will be served in Britain if emergency legislation is passed by Parliament this week. But in a leaked government briefing document prepared for ministers, concern centres on cost and safety issues.

The memo states: "A possible objection to the Bill relates to the potential cost of imprisoning Taylor in the UK. Some may argue that, with the UK prison system heavily loaded and given the other demands on the UK taxpayer, it is not appropriate to commit government funds to imprison foreign nationals." It says the cost of keeping an inmate in high security detention is "in the region of £44,000" a year.

Taylor is standing trial on 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is said to have armed rebel forces, including child soldiers high on drugs, who raped and mutilated civilians during the 1991-2002 civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone which left 200,000 dead. He has pleaded not guilty.

The memo also raises the issue of risk. It says Taylor might choose to remain in Britain after his release, claiming asylum, and that this "might represent a danger to the public or a drain on public resources". Advising ministers on how best to present the Bill, the memo concludes: "Overall, the argument will be that the Government does not enter into such commitments lightly but that, by making this relatively modest financial contribution, the UK will be making a major contribution to the cause of international justice."

The move comes at a time when Britain faces an unprecedented crisis in both the prison and immigration services and following the debacle over the release of foreign prisoners facing deportation. This week it was reported that the prison population has hit a record high of 80,220 - with prison overcrowding costing the Home Office almost £5 million a month in payments for emergency accommodation in police cells.

The Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, agreed last summer that Britain would allow Taylor to be kept in a British jail after other European countries, among them Sweden, Denmark and Austria, refused and no African country was deemed suitable.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on Charles Taylor
More Information on the Special Court for Sierra Leone


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.