12 May Everybody Has Friends, Why Not the ICC: On the Court’s Power to Appoint Amicus Curiae Prosecutors
[Ekaterina Kopylova is a PhD candidate at MGIMO-University, Moscow, and a former Legal Assistant with the ICC Office of the Prosecutor on the Bemba, et. al case]
A month ago the ICC Trial Chamber V(A) vacated without prejudice the charges of crimes against humanity against the sitting Kenyan Vice-President William Ruto. This case involved intense cross-parties allegations of witness tampering. Some of these allegations have been found serious enough to substantiate a warrant of arrest against a former journalist Walter Barasa, who is suspected of having influenced or sought to influence several persons to withdraw as Prosecution witnesses.
At trial, the Ruto Defense alerted the Prosecution and the Chamber to the conduct of certain Prosecution witnesses that, in its view, might be constitutive of offences against the administration of justice, to no avail. On May 2, 2016, it decided to take these allegations to the next level. It requested in essence that the Trial Chamber directs the Prosecutor to appoint an amicus to investigate several Prosecution witnesses, intermediaries and officials for the possible violations of article 70 of the Rome Statute.
The Office of the Prosecutor should not have to go to great pains to convince the Chamber to reject the Defense request. Although a Chamber may refer facts to the Prosecutor, the choice of whether and how to proceed, including what safeguards against possible conflicts of interests to put in place, is clearly hers. Specifically, pursuant to article 41(2) of the Statute, the Office shall act independently, and neither solicit, nor accept instructions from any external source.
However, the Ruto Defense may reconsider the relief sought and ask the Court to appoint an amicus curiae prosecutor directly.
Article 70 stipulates that “the Court has jurisdiction over […] offences against its administration of justice.” The Court determines on a case-by-case basis the best way to exercise this jurisdiction. Like any international organisation, the Court is free to act in any manner consistent with its founding treaty to achieve the goals of that treaty. For example, the Pre-Trial Chamber in the Bemba, et al. case appointed an independent counsel answerable directly to it to vet the evidence received from the domestic authorities for any privileged material.
Nothing in the statutory framework prevents the Court from appointing an amicus curiae prosecutor, at least with respect to the article 70 proceedings and in other cases, where appropriate. This may be the case, for example, when the allegations concern a member of the Office or a witness who testified for it. Proceedings contaminated by suspicion of collusion are unlikely to meet the standards of international justice. It is the Court’s duty to ensure such situations do not happen.
Under article 42(1) of the Statute, the Office is an organ “responsible for receiving referrals and any substantiated information on crimes […], for examining them and for conducting investigations and prosecutions before the Court.” This article merely describes the Office’s duties within the Court’s system without prohibiting their temporary transfer to another person or entity, if the good administration of justice so requires. Neither the Statute, nor the Rules of Procedure and Evidence suggest that the Office of the Prosecutor has exclusive power to conduct investigations and prosecutions of the offences within the Court’s jurisdiction for the Court’s benefit.
Appointing an amicus to deal with the contemptuous conduct is normal practice at the ad hoc tribunals, including when the Prosecutor may be conflicted. Admittedly, there is an express provision to this effect in their Rules. Nevertheless, the parallel with the ad hocs seems apposite. No statute provides for the power of those tribunals to punish contempt or the modalities of its exercise; however, such powers are not expressly prohibited, either. Thus, the contempt cases are a good illustration of the international courts taking initiative to face challenges that have not necessarily been articulated by the drafters.
To allay the conflict of interests related concerns, the Office of the Prosecutor may envisage the creation of a special division dedicated exclusively to the investigation and prosecution of the article 70 offences. Such division should be comprised of investigators and trial lawyers acting independently and reporting directly to the Prosecutor or a special Deputy Prosecutor. Those who work interchangeably on the core crimes and article 70 offences naturally tend to employ the same techniques and strategies to both, losing in efficiency and speed, as what is good for the core crimes is usually bad for the article 70 offences. Specifically, whereas the core crimes cases are largely predicated on witness evidence, in the article 70 cases such evidence alone may be insufficient to sustain a finding of guilt. Having a focused team will enhance productivity and effectiveness in full respect of the Statute and the fair trial rights of the accused.