Blog: Bar Council Visit to the International Criminal Court

Bar Council visit to the International Criminal Court

From 18-20 June the Chair of the Bar, Richard Atkins QC and I visited the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

We met with senior representatives from all parts of the Court, including the President Chile Eboe-Osuji, the British Judge His Excellency Judge Sir Howard Morrison who currently serves in the Appeals Chamber of the ICC, and whose work in support of international criminal tribunals has spanned more than 25 years, the Registrar Peter Lewis and the Deputy Chief Prosecutor James Stewart, as well as three representatives of the International Criminal Court Bar Association (ICCBA).

The aim of the visit was to gain a better understanding of the challenges the Court is facing and to explore how the Bar Council can best support its work.

The criticisms of the ICC are well-known, but in my view, they are largely politically motivated and not all that well justified. The drive by some governments to withdraw from the Court has not become a flood and so far only Burundi, The Philippines and Russia have withdrawn. The continuing opposition of the US (which never joined) does not though make life any easier. We were however impressed by the determination of the Court to press on with its important work and by the energy and drive of the young lawyers working in the Court who turned out in force to listen to lecture by the Chair of the Bar on the ethical implications of the duty to the court (which is not well developed in many jurisdictions).

The very fact that the ICC exists is a huge achievement for international justice. It is no mean feat to bring together lawyers from 122 State Parties and develop a well-functioning court process. Much can be improved but it would be unfair to measure the efficiency of this Court against that of well-established national court systems. The Court is a major factor in the development of the international rule of law and deserves our full support. [CW1] 

It was heartening to see the high esteem in which the English and Welsh Bar is held by all we met. Its professionalism is well recognised which is a great advertisement for our jurisdiction, and our members are well-represented amongst the ranks of both the prosecution and defence. A member of the Bar of England and Wales, Peter Haynes QC, has recently been elected to chair the ICCBA. The work of the defence Bar before the ICC is demanding and we were told that budgetary issues are one of the chief problems. We are planning to have further discussions with the ICCBA to see how we may be of assistance.

A concrete project we developed with the Prosecutors Office, the ICCBA and the Judges is an exchange scheme for young English and Welsh barristers and young lawyers from the different organs of the court. This will be a visible sign of our support for the Court as well as giving our young barristers a significant career development opportunity. We will hopefully reach official agreement on this scheme in the coming weeks. Watch this space, as places will be advertised in this Newsletter.

Christian Wisskirchen

Head of International Policy