Fresh from its victory in Sainovic, the ICTY Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has now asked the Appeals Chamber to reconsider its final judgment in Perisic on the ground that it would be unjust to permit Perisic to remain acquitted. As the legal basis for such reconsideration 11 months after final judgment, the OTP cites…
Which is not surprising, because nothing in the ICTY Statute actually permits such reconsideration. The only provision that deals with reconsideration of Appeals Chamber judgments is Art. 26, which is limited to the discovery of new facts:
Where a new fact has been discovered which was not known at the time of the proceedings before the Trial Chambers or the Appeals Chamber and which could have been a decisive factor in reaching the decision, the convicted person or the Prosecutor may submit to the International Tribunal an application for review of the judgement.
Even more problematic for the OTP, the Appeals Chamber specifically rejected reconsideration of final appeals judgments in Zigic, noting that the victims and the accused “are both entitled to certainty and finality of legal judgments.”
Lacking any legal basis for its request, the OTP does what it always does — invite the Appeals Chamber to engage in what Darryl Robinson has called “victim-centered reasoning” and reconsider Perisic anyway. In the OTP’s words, because Perisic was wrongly decided (according to one iteration of the Appeals Chamber), “the interests of justice for the tens of thousands of victims, substantially outweighs Perisic’s interest in finality of proceedings. Justice must be restored to the victims. Reconsideration is the only way to this end.” Put more simply: forget that inconvenient principle of legality. The demands of justice trump the text of the ICTY Statute.
It’s also worth noting a profound irony at the heart of the OTP’s request. It acknowledges Zigic is against it — so it argues that the Appeals Chamber should disregard Zigic in favour of its earlier decision in Celebici, which held, in another classic example of ignoring the text of the ICTY Statute in favor of its supposed “object and purpose” of combating impunity, that the Appeals Chamber’s “inherent jurisdiction” (of course) empowers it to reconsider any decision, no matter when decided, that “has led to an injustice.” In other words, the OTP is asking the Appeals Chamber to ignore a new decision (Zigic) that rejected an old decision (Celebici) in order to apply a new decision (Sainovic) that rejected an old decision (Perisic). Remarkable.
I would like to predict that the Appeals Chamber will consign this motion to the dustbin where it belongs. But who knows? As Marko Milanovic has pointed out, precedent no longer has much meaning for the Appeals Chamber. The outcome of an appeal now largely turns on which judges are randomly assigned to the panel.
I will be speaking soon on Perisic and Sainovic at a conference on the legacy of the ICTY. With each motion like this one, that legacy becomes a bit more tarnished.
UPDATE: Dov Jacobs adds some important points at Spreading the Jam.