How Defence Teams Work at International Criminal Court

Defence team of Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui in ICC Courtroom I in The Hague. Photo: ICC-CPI
Defence team of Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui in ICC Courtroom I in The Hague. Photo: ICC-CPI

According to the International Criminal Court (ICC), a strong defence is a vital component of a fair trial. The Defence teams represent and protect the rights of the defendant (suspect or accused) and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt before the Court.

Each defendant is entitled to public, fair proceedings conducted impartially and in full equality. The Rome Statute grants the defendant specific rights, including: the right to be informed of the charges; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defence; to be tried without undue delay; to freely choose a lawyer; to examine witnesses and present evidence to not be compelled to testify or to confess guilt; to remain silent; to receive from the Prosecutor evidence which he or she believes shows or tends to show the innocence of the accused, or to mitigate the guilt of the accused; to be able to follow the proceedings in a language he or she fully understands, and therefore to have an interpreter and translations as required.

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Counsel for the Defence are independent and are not ICC staff. Defence teams must be qualified to practice before the Court by applying to the relevant lists created and maintained by the Court: Counsel, Assistants to Counsel, and Professional Investigators.

The Registry provides a number of services to support the work of Defence teams, including facilitating the protection of confidentiality, providing support during the investigations activities conducted in the field, assisting arrested persons, persons interviewed by the Prosecution and the accused to obtain legal advice and the assistance of legal counsel.

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The Court also facilitates the necessary facilities for the Defence teams to prepare for cases, and other logistical support. The Court’s legal aid system ensures that the reasonable cost of legal representation is paid by the Court for persons who do not have sufficient means to pay for it.

Within the Court, Defence teams can also benefit from assistance of the Office of Public Counsel for the Defence (OPCD). The OPCD, established by Regulation of the Court 77, is an independent office and falls within the Registry solely for administrative purposes.

This independence is a prerequisite for carrying out the mandate to substantively assist the teams with legal research and advice and advance submissions on behalf of unrepresented suspects or on specific issues.

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Such independence allows the Office to work without being subjected to pressure of any kind and preserves attorney-client privilege. The Office has also an important role in enhancing the rights of defence in the proceedings, advocating at different levels and participating in specialized meetings with subsidiary bodies of the Assembly of States Parties and NGOs.

The International Criminal Court Bar Association (ICCBA) is an independent, professional association representing the interests of Counsel and legal Support Staff who represent victims, defendants, and other actors (such as witnesses) before the ICC.

The ICCBA serves as a collective voice for its membership, and provides them a range of support and services, as well as acting as a forum for discussion on all matters pertaining to the Court.

The ICCBA’s operations are primarily funded by the subscriptions paid by its members, and it is governed by an elected President (currently Chief Charle Taku) and Executive Council, with eight elected standing committees responsible for specific issues and activities.

Courtesy: ICC

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