Sussex LLM Field Trip to the Hague

Michael Kearney
Michael Kearney

In early December 2013, the Sussex law school returned to The Hague for our (20th?) annual postgraduate student field trip. Over the course of two days we visited the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the Institute for International Criminal Investigations (IIWS), and the International Criminal Court. On our first morning we arrived at the ICTY. As with last year, after a short introduction to the home of the Tribunal, we received a great presentation from Matthew Cross, who works in the Prosecution office. Having given us an overview of the Tribunal’s role and functioning, Matthew gamely fielded a bunch of questions, and provided a great insight into the workings of international criminal law.

Our next step was to sit in and observe the Tribunal in action. We were fortunate that morning, that the Chamber was sitting in the case of Radovan Karadzic, who had been President of Republika Srpska and Supreme Commander of its armed forces, and who has been indicted for genocide, extermination, murder, persecutions, deportation, inhumane acts, acts of violence the primary purpose of which was to spread terror among the civilian population, unlawful attack on civilians, taking of hostages.

It was a tense affair, and after some time the Chamber went into closed session in order to facilitate a witness. We had to leave for some 15 minutes and wait in the lobby. When we returned it was quite dramatic, with a witness, their identity obscured, giving evidence about some of the violence they had encountered during the war.

Sitting behind Karadzic that morning as a defence counsel was Colleen Rohan. As was the case during last years visit, Colleen was kind enough to come and speak with us at the IIWS later that afternoon. Before she arrived from the proceedings, the afternoon session began with what would turn out to be a marathon session with her colleague, and defence counsel, Gregor Guy-Smith. Gregor has led the defence to win several key cases at the Yugoslavia Tribunal, including the highly controversial judgment on appeal in the 2012 case of Prosecutor v Momicilo Perisic.

Gregor provided us with an engaging, wide-ranging, political, legal, cultural, and at times spiritual, environmental, and philosophical review of the role, function, and possibilities and limitations of international law. When Colleen joined the session she was able to contextualise and explain the background to the activity we had seen that morning at the Tribunal, and to develop upon the practical work of defence counsel at international tribunals. The volume of materials to be analysed and the sheer scale of such cases, in time, costs, and energy, were clearly exasperating, but both Colleen and Gregor gave us a memorable overview of both the logistical and personal elements of practicing international criminal law.

After a nice evening socialising in an unseasonably mild Hague, the following morning we visited the International Criminal Court. The Court’s visiting space is a bit cramped, being a converted car park, but hopefully the new building being built for the Court will be ready for our next visit. As is the situation with all Courts, its impossible to predict in advance what will be on at any specific date. On this occasion we were brought to view one of the Trial Chambers, but unfortunately there was no proceedings under way. The Chambers were much smaller than I would have expected, but hopefully for the next visit we’ll get the chance to observe a trial in action.

Sussex LLM Students at the ICTY
Sussex LLM Students at the ICTY

That afternoon we returned to the IIWS, where Niamh Hayes gave us a quite stark presentation that focused on two key issues, namely the work of the IIWS, and the manner by which crimes of sexual violence have been, and are being, addressed under the framework of international criminal law. One of Niamh’s publications had been a key text in our autumn term teaching so it was a great opportunity to meet with and to hear her wide-ranging presentation. Again, it was clear and to the point. While the subject matter was often uncomfortable, it was a provocative, illuminating, and considered presentation, and one which I’m certain will have encouraged many of us to push harder in the quality of our work.

The field trip, was, overall, a great success. For myself, Elizabeth Craig and Charlotte Skeet, it was a pleasure to get to know our students that bit better, and to have the chance to spend a few days in Court rather than in class. Richard Vogler, the brains behind the whole trip, is to be thanked for all his logistical work and organisational support. We’re already looking forward to our next trip …

Michael Kearney is a Lecturer at Sussex Law School

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