The International Criminal Court (ICC) investigates and prosecutes the most serious international crimes, such as war crimes.
While the key objective is to bring perpetrators to justice, the Court aims to conduct trials in a fair and impartial manner, not infringing on a person’s due process rights.
Defence is a key component of a fair trial. We look at how the ICC ensures that a fair trial is received, as outlined on its website.
The Rome Statute, the Court’s founding treaty, highlights the importance of safeguarding the rights of the defence.
Key principles outlined in the Statute include the presumption of innocence and the grounds for excluding criminal responsibility.
In addition to being entitled to a ‘public, impartial and fair hearing’, article 67 of the Statute provides that the accused must have the right:
- To be informed in detail of the charges in a language which they fully understand and speak.
- To be tried in a timely manner.
- To be defended by themselves or a lawyer of their choice, present evidence and call their own witnesses.
- To have adequate time and resources to prepare their defence.
- To have legal assistance paid by the Court if they lacks sufficient means (legal aid).
- To be informed of the identity of prosecution witnesses and to challenge the credibility of these witnesses.
- Not to be compelled to testify or to confess guilt, and to remain silent.
- To have access to free interpretation and translation services if documents are presented to the Court in a language that the accused does not fully understand and speak.
- To have the Prosecutor disclose to the defence exculpatory evidence which shows the innocence of the accused or mitigates guilt.
Who can represent defendants in the International Criminal Court?
As outlined above, the Rome Statute provides that a defendant may select a lawyer of their choice.
This cannot be just any lawyer, however. Experienced lawyers who wish to represent defendants in the ICC must be admitted to the List of Counsel that is currently comprised of more than 400 lawyers from around the world.
These lawyers are not employed by the Court. They act independently, selecting their own defence teams including associate counsel and professional investigators, who must also be screened by the ICC.
The Office of Public Counsel for the Defence
The Office of Public Counsel for the Defence (OPCD) is comprised of specialised lawyers who represent the rights of the defence throughout all stages of an investigation and trial.
The tasks of the OPCD include:
- Protecting the rights of the defence during the initial stages of an investigation.
- Providing support to defence counsel and to people entitled to legal assistance, e.g. by providing legal advice.
- Acting as ad hoc counsel if appointed by a Chamber, or as duty counsel if selected by a suspect who has not yet secured permanent legal representation.
- Acting as a mediator in the event of a dispute between the defendant and their defence counsel.