Practical advice for anyone considering a career in international criminal law: David Josse QC writes for Counsel Magazine (April 2022 issue)
On July 8, 2021, the Bar Association, in collaboration with the CBA, organized an online event which I chaired and titled “Opportunities in International Criminal Law: Work in and Around Courts and Tribunals”. The three panellists were Peter Haynes QC, Melissa Pack and David Young, all of whom have spent the last ten years or more practicing in this area in the various courts and tribunals primarily in The Hague. Attendance figures for the event were encouraging as were the feedback, demonstrating that there is a real appetite and interest for this area of work at the Bar.
This article, like the seminar, is designed to give practical advice to anyone considering a career in international criminal law (ICL).
The Law Society of England and Wales has done well in securing a share of international work in the approximately 25 years since the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), as well as in the various international criminal courts and tribunals that followed. As David Young explained, this is partly because of the strong advocacy and adversarial skills that exist in our jurisdiction and which are very useful for lawyers when it comes to competing for this type of work. . Having English as a first language is an added advantage. Another advantage is the relative ease of traveling from the UK to The Hague (especially compared to North America or Australia).
Foreign languages – not essential but very useful
That said, all contributors were keen to point out that being able to work (but not necessarily argue) in another language is a very real advantage. Most international courts have English and French as working languages and there is normally simultaneous translation between the two, as well as the language, if different, of the accused. A good command of French is therefore very useful and other complementary language skills are often a very positive plus which can make all the difference in obtaining a job or a case within the court in question.
Search the different courts and tribunals
The most obvious and general advice given is to spend some time studying the websites of the various courts and tribunals. Most of these sites have been invested with considerable resources and can sometimes read a bit like propaganda extolling the virtues of the court in question. However, they contain a lot of interesting and useful information.
List of Defense Lawyers and Victims
In particular, the websites will detail how a person should apply to be placed on the list of counsel for the court or tribunal in question. These contain the names of lawyers who are willing, able and interested in representing defendants or victims. All panelists agree that it is worth applying to be on these lists. In general, admission is dependent on years of practice experience and therefore many members of our Bar are eligible. There is no cost, although it does involve filling out a form as well as obtaining additional documents. It may also take time for these apps to find their way into the system.
Listing does not guarantee work. In fact, most of those on the list will never come close to appearing before an international tribunal.
Defense and victim work is paid, in effect, on a case-by-case basis (whether private or under a legal scheme), so in many ways it resembles self-employment as we understand at the English bar.
The working process for the prosecution is completely different. Melissa Pack, who currently works in the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) at the ICC, explained this process as well as that for lawyers who may want to work in Chambers (i.e. with judges) or the Registry ( bureaucracy) – a function in either case is far more significant and powerful than any equivalent role in our own national system. Probably because of this and our adversarial system, lawyers are more likely to seek work for the prosecution than for other parts of the court. These positions are only available on a salaried basis – the court or tribunal in question being the employer. Obtaining such employment is extremely difficult, not least because institutions, for good reason, are required to try to employ lawyers from a wide range of their constituent member countries.
To be realistic
Realistically, what you can’t hope to accomplish without a lot of luck and a lot of perseverance is to appear as a lawyer in an international war crimes trial. On the one hand, there are very few trials per year and lawyers inevitably come from all over the world. In addition, defendants often choose lawyers from their own jurisdiction who speak their language.
The seminar was about how to get your foot in the door. This too is far from easy. Just like coming to the bar, perseverance and determination help tremendously. It is important to take advantage of opportunities that come your way, including internships or perhaps working for an NGO. There was general agreement that if you can get to work or be in The Hague, that will in turn lead to connections, acquaintances and other career opportunities. Additionally, many lawyers in this job start out as fairly junior members of a large team. This can lead to a promotion and, in some cases, to a position as a lawyer. There are also opportunities for those who are expert in drafting and/or familiar with the LCI to work on the written pleading involved in such cases, which is a much more important component of international trials than in international trials. national criminal cases.
Fascinating area of practice
The panel was unanimous in saying that those who have been fortunate enough to have played a role as lawyers in trials for war crimes or crimes against humanity are involved in a truly fascinating and rewarding field. It’s not just because of the subject matter, but also because of the breadth of the cases that tell the story with their often overtly political overtones. Above all, it is an opportunity to observe the pursuit of justice while having the pleasure of discovering other legal cultures in the context of work.
It’s also worth pointing out that if you’re taking on a case as a lawyer (and even more so if you get a job as a prosecutor), it’s almost certainly a full-time engagement, which means that you can do little or no housework at the same time. weather. As Peter Haynes QC (former ICCBA President) said: – “If you are interested in [ICL] it is probably a path that will take you on a very long journey. He went on to say that for him it was 4 cases in 22 years.
We should all be inspired by QC, a wonderful ambassador for our bar who, after a few years of national practice, began a career which, after about 25 years, led him to the most important and powerful position in ICL, namely ICC Prosecutor . For those interested in her story and to learn more, the full version of her recent interview with Counsel magazine can be found here.
The Seminary of the Council of the Order, Opportunities in international criminal law: work in and around courts and tribunals is accessible here.