18 Dec Guest Post: Kontorovich on Missing Judges as a Design Choice
[Eugene Kontorovich is a Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law.]
What should an international court do when the judges hearing a case are not around to decide it, as has happened on the ICTY in the Seselj case that Kevin has written about?
The death or serious illness of an international judge during the pendency of a case is an entirely foreseeable matter. International criminal trials are quite long (an average of three years from the start of trial to judgement). At the ICTY, the length can be as long as nine years. The average age of judges on the Court is 62 at appointment. See the Realities of International Criminal Justice for these and other figures.
Given that proceedings are long and judges old, an empty seat on the bench should, from an institutional perspective, not be a surprise. The best way to deal with this, if one is concerned about the issue, is the designation of alternate judges. This happened at Nuremberg, and is provide for in Art 74(1) of the Rome Statute, and in the Special Courts for Sierra Leone and Lebanon, where they “shall be present at each stage of the trial or appeal to which he or she has been designated.”
So the lack of a provision for such supernumeraries is a design choice or error. Certainly alternates burden an already expensive system. On the other hand, alternates are a known form of “insurance” for the continuance and integrity of international criminal trials.
So the question is who should bear the risk if the Tribunal does not “purchase” such insurance and the feared contingency occurs – the defendant or the Court (and perhaps justice). The general principle of strict construction in favor of the defendant in criminal matters would suggest imposing the costs on the Court, and yes, on international justice, which is more risk-averse (diversified across multiple cases).
Most fundamentally, because it is the officers of the Court that can best avoid such problems (by expediting proceedings) the consequences should fall on them. Of course, one does not wish to encourage hurried proceedings. So if the cost of such errors is seen as unacceptably high, alternates should be provided for in the future, or the rules requiring judicial presence relaxed.