The government has proposed changes to the law which will prevent gay and atheist campaigners arresting the Pope when he visits the UK in September.
According to Sky News, Whitehall officials were said to be “seriously concerned” that figures such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Peter Tatchell could attempt to bring a private prosecution against the Catholic leader under international criminal law.
Mr Dawkins, the atheist campaigner, and Mr Hitchens, an atheist author, asked human rights lawyers in April to put together a case for charging the Pope over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church.
His visit is expected to be protested by campaigners angry at his statements on homosexuality, reproductive rights and AIDS.
Justice secretary Ken Clarke proposed changes to the law today which would require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions to any arrest warrant issued under universal jurisdiction.
Universal jurisdiction allows people to be prosecuted in the UK for serious crimes carried out abroad, such as genocide and torture.
The move comes after a London court issued an arrest warrant last December for Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister and now opposition leader. The warrant was made over claims of war crimes in the Gaza Strip but was revoked because she cancelled her visit to the UK.
Changing the law would mean removing power from the courts. However, ministers say the system can be abused, as applications can be made where there is not enough evidence to bring a prosecution.
This, they say, can lead to people trying to obtain arrest warrants to make political statements or embarrass controversial figures.
Mr Clarke said: “Our commitment to our international obligations and to ensuring that there is no impunity for those accused of crimes of universal jurisdiction is unwavering.
“It is important, however, that universal jurisdiction cases should be proceeded with in this country only on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to a successful prosecution – otherwise there is a risk of damaging our ability to help in conflict resolution or to pursue a coherent foreign policy.
“The government has concluded, after careful consideration, that it would be appropriate to require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be issued to a private prosecutor in respect of an offence of universal jurisdiction.
The Pope will be visiting the UK between September 16th and 19th. Today, it was reported that an estimated 70,000 people will attend an open air Mass in Birmingham at the end of his visit.