The House of Lords has inflicted a heavy blow to the government by voting for a second time to amend a trade bill in the hope of giving British courts a role in deciding whether or not a country is committing genocide.
Peers voted with a majority of 171 to insist that the UK courts be handed the ruling and the issue will now return to the House of Commons, where Conservative ministers will oppose the measure.
The amendments to the trade bill regarding genocide provide a sticking point for the government because they would require the UK to review any bilateral trade agreements with China due to their human rights record.
Recent treatment on behalf of Beijing to Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, as well as the suppression of Hong Kong’s liberties, have caused widespread condemnation with many MPs seeking to take a firmer stance against China.
When the issue was first brought to the House of Commons in December, the government faced a major backbench rebellion, seeing its majority go from 80 to 11 so another close vote is expected. However, if the voting patterns from the House of Lords are anything to go by, it won’t make for comfortable reading for the government. It previously voted with a majority of 126 on the issue, so support for giving British courts the right to determine genocidal regimes is growing.
Lord Alton, an independent peer, stressed the importance of giving the High Court a role in determining genocide, stating that international criminal courts were less able to make these determinations due to the Chinese ability to veto any such references.
There have been counter proposals from the government which don’t involve giving the courts this power, such as a select committee to establish whether or not a country is committing genocide. Among other issues, the main opposition view to this approach is that the government can simply ignore the findings of a select committee.
Potentially giving British courts the ability to make such large decisions regarding foreign governments has huge implications not just for our judicial system, but for our international trade. It’s a pivotal time for the British legal sector, so we’re not letting this one out of our sights.