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ICC judges agree on reforms in response to Independent Expert Review at annual retreat

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On 19 and 20 November 2021, the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) held their judicial retreat at the Court’s headquarters in The Hague. Due to the ongoing situation caused by COVID-19, the retreat was held using an online platform. At the retreat, the judges agreed to amend the Chambers Practice Manual and to propose amendment to the Regulations of the Court, in order to enhance the efficiency and consistency of proceedings before the Court. 

The retreat focused on a series of proposals developed by the judges in response to the Report of the Independent Expert Review conducted in 2020 (“IER Report”), and on related proposals. The proposals addressed a broad range of procedural matters and important institutional issues, including gender equality and judicial collegiality.

The judges adopted a model for the decision on  Directions for the Conduct of Proceedings related to the key procedures at trial. The model covers issues such as opening of the trial, order of evidence, matters relating to witness testimony and protective measures and includes an agreed single evidentiary system (submission system) for documentary, digital and physical evidence. The model will be annexed to the Chambers Practice Manual as an internal document of Chambers. This agreed practice will significantly advance the efficiency of trial preparation and trial proceedings. Moreover it will facilitate consistency and predictability amongst the various trial chambers in terms of the actual proceedings.

In addition, the judges agreed to facilitate prompter transmission of the record of the proceedings from the Pre-Trial Chamber to the Presidency, and onward to the Trial Chamber, as  composed. This will ensure a smoother and more rapid transition from the pre-trial to trial phase, implementing recommendation 199 of the IER Report. The judges will finalise the language of their proposals on this issue and then proceed to amend the Chambers Practice Manual and submit a proposed amendment to the Regulations of the Court to the Advisory Committee on Legal Texts.

The judges further agreed to update the Chambers Practice Manual to reflect updated practice on the approach to transmitting victims’ applications to participate in the proceedings. The judges agreed to follow the “A-B-C Approach” which has been adopted by a number of Chambers in recent cases and which the Appeals Chamber has determined to be consistent with the Court’s legal framework. This development will enhance consistency and efficiency, noting the vital and unique role of victims in proceedings at the ICC.

The judges also discussed in detail recommendation 213 of the IER Report concerning interlocutory appeals, in accordance with the Comprehensive Action Plan. 

Finally, the judges discussed several important issues of an institutional nature, in particular, judiciary-related aspects of addressing bullying and harassment in the workplace, as reflected in recommendation 87 of the IER Report, which included discussion of collegiality, reflecting recommendation 129. The judges discussed a number of measures including the desirability of ensuring that judges fall within the scope of forthcoming Court-wide administrative measures and the need for increased opportunities for awareness and sensitisation on these issues in the judiciary. The judges committed to continuing to explore how they could help to fill any gaps in the system for addressing these issues, particularly through informal and complementary means to provide support to staff members. The judges also discussed recommendation 88, concerning gender equality, in the context of the judiciary, and agreed to establish a working group of judges to consider how the judges could contribute to ongoing Court-wide processes.

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