Trial Chamber Reiterates Irrelevance of the Confirmation Hearing

by Kevin Jon Heller

A few months ago, I blogged about the OTP’s attempt to invoke Regulation 55 in Laurent Gbagbo’s trial. As I noted in that post, the OTP asked the Trial Chamber (TC) to consider convicting Laurent Gbagbo of various crimes against humanity on the basis of command and superior responsibility, even though the Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) specifically refused to confirm those modes of liability because doing so “would require the Chamber to depart significantly from its understanding of how events unfolded in Cote d’Ivoire during the post-electoral crisis and Laurent Gbagbo’s involvement therein.”

Not surprisingly, the Trial Chamber agrees with the OTP that it should keep its options open:

13. In the Request, the Prosecution demonstrates that the elements of Article 28(a) and (b) of the Statute may be derived from the facts and circumstances confirmed by the Pre-Trial Chamber. Further, in the Pre-Trial Brief, the Prosecution indicates that the evidence supporting liability under Article 28 of the Statute is encompassed by that supporting other charged modes of liability. In light of the Gbagbo Confirmation Decision, Request and Pre-Trial Brief, it appears to the Chamber that the legal characterisation of the facts and circumstances described in the charges may be subject to change to include Mr Gbagbo’s liability under Article 28(a) or (b) of the Statute.

I will not reiterate the various problems with using Regulation 55 in this manner; interested readers should see my chapter on the Regulation. But it’s worth spending a bit of time on the Trial Chamber’s decision, because it illustrates how the judges’ increasingly aggressive use of Regulation 55 has effectively consigned the confirmation hearing to irrelevance and made a mockery of the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Let’s start with this paragraph:

8. The Chamber notes that the Prosecution appears to have bypassed other statutory remedies available before making the Request. Before moving the Chamber to exercise its propria motu powers under Regulation 55(2) of the Regulations, the Prosecution could have sought (i) leave to appeal the Gbagbo Confirmation Decision or (ii) pursuant to Article 61(9) of the Statute, an amendment thereto. Notwithstanding this failure, as set out below and in the specific context of the Gbagbo Confirmation Decision, it is apparent to the Chamber that the legal characterisation of the facts described in the charges may be subject to change. In these unique circumstances, the Prosecution’s failure to exhaust other remedies does not impact on the Chamber’s obligation to give notice under Regulation 55(2) of the Regulations.

So now the OTP doesn’t even have to appeal the PTC’s confirmation decision before it asks the Trial Chamber to consider convicting the defendant on the basis of a mode of liability the PTC specifically rejected. Or, differently put, even if the PTC is correct that the OTP did not establish “substantial grounds to believe that the person committed the crime charged” on the basis of the charged mode of liability, the TC is still free to convict the defendant on the basis of that unconfirmed mode of liability as long as the OTP does better at trial. Could the irrelevance of the confirmation hearing be any clearer?

But wait, you say. The TC didn’t say the OTP never has to appeal the PTC’s confirmation decision. It said there are “unique circumstances” in this case that justify the OTP’s failure to appeal. Isn’t that important? Indeed it is — and revealingly so. Here are the so-called “unique” or “exceptional” circumstances in Gbagbo:

12. In this case, the exceptional circumstances surrounding the proposed recharacterisation must be emphasised from the outset. In particular, the Pre-Trial Chamber expressly acknowledged, on different occasions, the possibility of Mr Gbagbo’s liability under Article 28 of the Statute, a mode of liability with notably different requirements than all those in Article 25(3) of the Statute. The Pre-Trial Chamber first mentioned criminal responsibility under Article 28 of the Statue as early as the confirmation hearing, before the Prosecution included this mode of liability in its document containing the charges. Thereafter, in declining to confirm charges under Article 28 of the Statute, the majority of the Pre-Trial Chamber ‘[could] not rule out the possibility that the discussion of evidence at trial may lead to a different legal characterisation of the facts’. It found that Mr Gbagbo’s failure ‘to prevent violence or to take adequate steps to investigate and punish the authors of the crimes […] was an inherent component of the deliberate effort to achieve the purpose of retaining power at any cost’. Even the judge dissenting from the Gbagbo Confirmation Decision mentioned the possibility in this case of liability under Article 28 of the Statute, indication that she ‘could have, in principle, envisaged confirming the charges’ on that basis.

So it doesn’t matter that the PTC actually concluded that the OTP failed to present sufficient evidence to sustain command or superior responsibility. Nor does it matter that the PTC actually concluded that convicting Gbagbo as a commander or superior “would require the Chamber to depart significantly from its understanding of how events unfolded in Cote d’Ivoire during the post-electoral crisis and [his] involvement therein.” No, what really matters is that the PTC thought about the possibility of confirming command or superior responsibility; that the PTC couldn’t rule out the possibility that the OTP might be able to establish Gbagbo’s command or superior responsibility at trial; and that the dissenting judge “could have… envisaged” disagreeing with the majority’s refusal to confirm command or superior responsibility. Those are the “unique” or “exceptional” circumstances making an appeal irrelevant — which are obviously not unique or exceptional at all.

The Trial Chamber’s decision means that Gbagbo will now not only have to mount a defence against five distinct modes of liability: indirect co-perpetration, ordering, soliciting, inducing, and otherwise contributing to the commission of crimes. He will also have to defend himself against the very different idea that he was responsible for subordinates’ crimes as a commander or superior. And, of course, four months have passed since the OTP asked the TC to give Gbagbo notice of the potential recharacterisation. So the TC will give Gbagbo more time to prepare his defence, right?

Silly rabbit. Of course not:

17. Moreover, the Chamber considers that the Gbagbo Defence fails to justify its alternative request for recalculation of the trial commencement date: it does not provide any concrete indication as to the impact this decision would have on its trial preparations. On the information before it, stressing that the facts and circumstances described in the charges remain unchanged and noting that the Prosecution intends to rely on the same body of evidence, the Chamber considers that the current commencement date and accompanying schedule provide adequate time for trial preparation.

According to the Trial Chamber, in other words, it requires no work at all for Gbagbo to prepare a defence against the idea that he was responsible for subordinates’ crimes on the basis of command or superior responsibility, even though the elements of those unconfirmed modes of liability are completely different than the elements of the confirmed modes. And why are those legal differences irrelevant? Because “the Prosecution intends to rely on the same body of evidence” at trial — you know, the same body of evidence the PTC concluded could not even establish “substantial grounds” to believe Gbagbo is responsible as a commander or superior.

Thus does the Trial Chamber reduce the adversarial trial to a glorified fact-finding mission — just one in which the prosecution has a high standard of proof. It would be possible to design a legal system in which the prosecution and defence were responsible for arguing about facts and the judges were responsible for deciding which crimes and modes of liability the facts were consistent with those facts. But that is not the ICC system. (Nor, for that matter, is it the common-law system or the civil-law system.) At the ICC, the prosecution does not simply prove “facts and circumstances”; it has the burden of proving every element of the charged crime(s) and the charged mode(s) of liability beyond a reasonable doubt. They don’t call it the confirmation of “charges” hearing for nothing.

Yet none of that matters to the Trial Chamber. The TC’s position is that to “avoid impunity” — ie, to avoid having to acquit a defendant simply because the prosecution couldn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt — it must be able to convict the defendant on the basis of any mode that it believes the prosecution managed to establish during trial, regardless of the prosecution’s actual theory of the case or the PTC’s view of the prosecution’s evidence. Which means, of course, that the confirmation decision is nothing more than a general set of suggestions that the TC is in no way obligated to follow.

A greater perversion of the Rome Statute is difficult to imagine.

http://opiniojuris.org/2015/08/23/trial-chamber-reiterates-irrelevance-of-the-confirmation-hearing/

4 Responses

  1. Maybe a perversion. But also maybe a perversion caused by the Rome Statute’s flaws.
    In fact, I always believed that the Rome Statute gives too much power to the PTC, setting a trial before trial. While it should be a mere dam, before the TC could start a fair and complete trial without being bound by a decision which is what it is called: a CONFIRMATION decision.

  2. Idriss,

    I disagree. R55 is not part of the Rome Statute; it was adopted by the judges themselves. And the drafting history of the Statute is quite clear that states were not willing to allow legal recharacterization of the kind approved by the TC and AC.

  3. You are confirming exactly what I said: States (the Rome Statute) were not willing to give the PTC a mere dam role. And I think they should have.
    R55 comes with the clarification that should have been set in the Rome Statute: “the Chamber may change the legal characterisation of facts to accord with the crimes under articles 6, 7 or 8, or to accord with the form of participation of the accused under articles 25 and 28, without exceeding the facts and circumstances described in the charges and any amendments to the charges”.
    The way the TC used this Regulation (or the Regulation itself, if you wish), is perhaps, as you said, a perversion of the Rome Statute. But, in my opinion, it is only a perversion towards a system where the TC has all the necessary powers to come to a decision without having its hands bound. And I think it’s better.

  4. I totally agree, and thank you very much for the article.

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