Trials in Absentia in International Criminal Justice
On 8 June 2016 the IBA Hague Office organized a Roundtable Discussion on Trials in absentia in International Criminal Justice, in the presence of more than 130 delegates.
The discussion started with a keynote presentation from Judge Ivana Hrdlicková, the President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). Judge Hrdlicková elaborated on the rationale behind and precedents for trialsin absentia at the national and international levels, noting that each instance must be evaluated on its own merits, in respect of whether it meets fair trial standards. She highlighted the importance of safeguards for the rights of the accused and outlined some of the practical and theoretical challenges posed by trials in absentia.
The roundtable continued with two panels. The first panel, moderated by IBA Executive Director Dr Mark Ellis, touched upon the theory and understanding of trial in absentia from the perspective of human rights law and judicial process. Dr Brianne McGonigle Leyh, (Associate Professor, Netherlands Institute of Human Rights, Utrecht University) addressed three key human rights standards relevant to trials in absentia, namely notice of the proceedings to the Accused, effective representation, and the right to retrial. Her presentation was followed by Francois Falletti (Attorney, Former Chief Prosecutor of the Paris Court of Appeals), who provided an overview of how and why trials in absentia have been conducted within the French legal system. The third speaker was Dr Guido Acquaviva (Deputy Registrar, Kosovo Specialist Chambers), who situated trials in absentia in respect of the common law and civil law legal systems and further elaborated on the workings of the STL. The final speaker of the first panel was Geoffrey Robertson QC (Barrister, founder and joint head of Doughty Street Chambers), who challenged the proposition that fair trials can be held in absentia, with specific reference to the Bangladesh experience.
The second panel, moderated by Dr Jill Coster van Voorhout, Senior Researcher at the Hague Institute for Global Justice, focused on effective representation and ethics in trials in absentia, providing a practitioner’s perspective. The first speaker, Héleyn Uñac, Deputy Chief of the Defence Office of the STL provided an overview of some of the practical and ethical questions faced by defence counsel at the STL, as well as some of the devices used by the Court to assist counsel, such as codes of conduct. Her presentation was followed by Thomas Hannis (Defence Counsel, STL) who talked further about how a counsel seeks to provide effective representation, in the absence of contact with the client. Toby Cadman (Barrister, 9 Bedford Row) underscored the importance of evaluating each institution on its merits, and raised a number of concerns about the fairness of proceedings that took place in absentia before the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal. Finally, Dr Kinga Tibori-Szabó (Legal Representative of Victims, STL) examined some of the shortcomings of trials in absentia from the victims’ perspective, and emphasized the importance of efficient, accessible proceedings and of reparations for victims.
Both panels were followed by Questions and Answers, with rich discussion and interaction from the audience on the topics and issues raised by the panelists.
The programme closed with thanks to all panelists and participants from ICC & ICL Programme Director, Aurélie Roche-Mair.
ICC & ICL Trials in Absentia Report September 2016
On 8 June 2016, the International Bar Association International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme convened an ‘Experts’ Roundtable on trials in absentia in international criminal justice’ at The Hague Institute for Global Justice. Drawing on the material raised at the Experts’ Roundtable, this report summarises some of the underlying goals and justifications for trials in absentia; background on trials in absentia in common and civil law legal systems; and the use of the concept in international criminal justice. It then focuses on three main themes, namely the compatibility of trials in absentia and fair trials; counsels’ perspectives on trials in absentia and the meaning of effective representation; and trials in absentia and stakeholders in international criminal justice. The report concludes by exploring some future considerations for trials in absentia in the context of international criminal justice.