Could Jihadi John be tried in the UK?

Could Jihadi John be tried in the UK?

(c) Associated Press, from the Daily Mail

We often receive tweets asking us to look at particular stories or to explain particular principles and yesterday was no different.

You are no doubt all aware of the dreadful murder of the American journalist James Foley. He was kidnapped and held hostage before being beheaded by a man wearing a face covering. The man is believed to be English. In fact, news outlets are reporting his name. Toronto’s ‘The Star’ state:  “According to British media outlets, they have a “key suspect:” Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a 23-year-old British-Egyptian rapper from west London.”

So, could the man dubbed Jihadi John be tried in the UK?

Unusually, the answer appears to be extremely simple. Yes.

Offences against the Person Act 1861 s.9 is entitled  ‘Murder or manslaughter abroad” and states:

Where any murder or manslaughter shall be committed on land out of the United Kingdom, whether within the Queen’s dominions or without, and whether the person killed were a subject of Her Majesty or not, every offence committed by any subject of Her Majesty in respect of any such case, whether the same shall amount to the offence of murder or of manslaughter, . . . , may be dealt with, inquired of, tried, determined, and punished . . . in England or Ireland . . .: Provided, that nothing herein contained shall prevent any person from being tried in any place out of England or Ireland for any murder or manslaughter committed out of England or Ireland, in the same manner as such person might have been tried before the passing of this Act.

So, there you have it. It matters not that the victim was not a British subject. Nor that it was committed abroad, outside “the Queen’s dominions” – all that matters it that “Jihadi John” is a “subject of Her Majesty”, (which, if the reports are correct and he is English, would appear to be satisfied) and that the conduct constitutes and offence of murder (or manslaughter) had it been committed in the UK (which again, appears to be satisfied).


  1. That is a much simpler answer than I expected. I suppose the old malum in se term applies: murder doesn’t depend on statute law to be a crime. It so obviously is one. But what happens if he is tried abroad, and the charges fail? What happens then, even if we have reason to doubt the trial was fair?

  2. Obviously not having watched the video which was released last week, in the event that any British citizen is brought to trial under section 9 OAPA 1861 it will doubtless throw up some very interesting issues. A few that spring to mind are:

    1. I understand that the video itself did not actually show Mr Foley being murdered; simply a knife being held to his throat by the man covered in black, the video then apparently going black,the next scene being a body with Mr Foley’s head resting upon the back. Is there any direct evidence that the man in black actually did murder Mr Foley? This may perhaps be where the evidence of ‘experts’ who suggest that the initial part of the video was ‘staged’ comes into play, particularly if (as other witnesses suggest) Mr Foley had been the subject of numerous previous ‘mock executions’, and some distance in time (who knows how long?) may have elapsed between the initial part of the video (which may have been another ‘mock’) and the actual killing;

    2. The best facial evidence so far that I have seen is an apparently computer-generated image of what the man in black MAY look like under the balaclava, and which appears from the images I have seen in the newspapers to be someone with a close resemblance to the ‘face’ on the Shroud of Turin;

    3. The suggestion that evidence of veins on the back of the hand may be used as a means of identification. My understanding is that it is a technique that is used by the FBI and CIA, but that it is something which is still not considered by crime laboratories in itself to be a reliable form of identification. This is, however, not something I have personally come across before in the context of trying to secure a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt, and would be grateful for anyone’s view about this aspect and just how compelling it may be in an evidential sense;

    4. The fact that the video is apparently a relatively ‘sophisticated’ affair compared to other similar propaganda videos released by, for example, AQ; could it be suggested that the voice that is actually heard is perhaps being overdubbed onto the video, and in fact the man in the black is not actually the one saying the words that are heard himself? The point of this would be, presumably, to allow a more hardened killer from, say, Syria or Iraq, to actually commit the murder and for the video to have the English overdub it needs to speak directly to a western audience?

    As I say, I haven’t seen the video, and it apparently makes you a ‘terrorist’ to do so. It will, however, be an interesting trial if it every happens. I suspect, though, that it never will. Whether or not Abdel Bary is the killer, the more realistic prospect is that he will not be coming back to this country for obvious reasons.