Category: Int’l and Comparative Criminal Law

The LIBOR Trials: An Example of Prosecution Overreach?

From our most recent guest contributor, Julie Pabon, Esq., a 2006 Graduate of Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and currently serving as Senior Counsel of an Am Law 100 Firm focusing on environmental law, read the author’s review of a three month long trial in the United Kingdom, in which three men, all former low-level employees of Barclays Bank, were sentenced for activities that the U.K. Serious Fraud Office alleged to constitute  “manipulation” of the London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”), a global interest rate benchmark.

Read the full article entitled The LIBOR Trials: An Example of Prosecution Overreach? 

Case Selection and Prioritization at the ICC

To maintain transparency of the proceedings of the Prosecutor’s Office, Fatou Bensouda, announced the issuance of a Policy Paper on Case Selection and Prioritisation (in English and French). As mentioned in the policy paper, the resources available to the Office do not allow it to look into every possible alleged case or situation and as such, the OPT must prioritize while continue to carry out its mandate and ensure that the “exercise of [prosecutorial] discretion in all instances is guided by sound, fair, and transparent principles and criteria.”  The purpose of this paper is to set out “considerations which guide the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in the selection and prioritisation of cases for investigation and prosecution.” Aside from the Security Council and State Party referrals, the Prosecutor may initiate investigation proprio motu in accordance with Art. 15.

This paper is intended to be an internal document without giving rise to legal rights, and thus is subject to revisions. It explains the distinction between situations and cases. It highlights the importance of preliminary examinations in deciding whether to open an official investigation. It identifies the “gravity” element, as defined in Art. 17(1)(d) of the Rome Statute, as one of the predominant case selection criteria. It reaffirms the importance of the Court’s cooperation with national jurisdictions in carrying out the principles articulated in the Preamble of the Rome Statute, especially in situations when cases are not selected for investigation or prosecution by the OTP.

Under the complementary criminal justice system, as defined in Art. 17 of the Rome Statute, the Office further states that it will “encourage genuine national proceedings  … and seek to cooperate and provide assistance to States, upon request, with respect to conduct [constituting] crime under national law, such as the illegal exploitation of natural resources, arms trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism, financial crimes, land grabbing or destruction of environment.” This adds to the Office’s commitments one protecting environment by ensuring that the destruction to natural environment does not go unpunished.

Among the many criteria to be considered when selecting cases for investigation by the Office are the already mentioned gravity in order to focus on the “most serious crimes within a given situation that are of concern to the international community as a whole”; the degree of responsibility of alleged perpetrators to ensure that “charges are brought against those persons who appear to be the most responsible for the identified crimes”; and the charges where the Office states to focus on “crimes that have been traditionally under-prosecuted, such as crimes against or affecting children, … rape and other sexual and gender-based crimes, … and attacks against cultural, religious, historical, and other protected objects as well as against humanitarian and peacekeeping personnel.”

International Legal Ethics Conference: Ethics in Criminal Advocacy

The seventh International Legal Ethics Conference took place last week at Fordham Law School’s Stein Center for Law and Ethics. The conference is supported by the International Association of Legal Ethics and was sponsored, in addition, by a variety of  law firms and law schools, including our own law school. We were proud to sponsor this provocative and informative conference.

One of the panels at the conference was devoted to current ethical issues in criminal advocacy from an international and comparative perspective. Panelists addressed a variety of fascinating issues arising in Germany, Israel, the United Kingdom, Chile, Australia and the United States. The panel was moderated by Prof. Lissa Griffin, of the Elisabeth Haub School of Law. A summary of the presentations follows:


Anat Horovitz, Hebrew University, Israel
Re-trials are the procedure prescribed under Israeli law through which a person who claims to have been wrongfully convicted can try to reverse his conviction. From a legal perspective, the chances of success in an application for re-trial are extremely limited. Since 1948, the Supreme Court has granted a re-trial in only 28 cases, which resulted in the exoneration of 21 convicts. Thus, one of the important challenges that the Public Defender’s Office has focused upon in recent years is the need to bring about change within Israeli society and its legal system in respect to recognition and treatment of wrongful convictions.

Under the Israeli Public Defender Law, the National Public Defender can file a request for re-trial on behalf of a convict, if he or she “determined that there is room to file a request for re-trial on his behalf”. Over the past few years, the Re-trial Department in the Israeli Public Defender’s Office has received between 30-40 applications a year, and following a long and tedious process, filed on average one request a year.

In my presentation, I intend to focus on the extent to which the Public Defender’s Office may take into account its institutional role and aspirations when deciding upon the cases it chooses to pursue and the manner in which these cases should be presented. Examples for dilemmas that can arise in each of these two stages include 1) whether or not to file a request on behalf of inmates who raise only partial claims of innocence, and 2) to what extent a Public Defender’s Office should attempt to prove another person’s guilt as a means to secure its client’s innocence. Had it been a legal clinic, in the first example, or a private attorney, in the second example, I doubt if these issues would have been regarded as problematic, but in the context of a Public Defender’s Office it is unclear how they ought to be approached and to what extent strategic and ideological considerations should impact the way these applications and cases are handled.

Stephanie Roberts, University of Westminster, UK
My presentation looks at the role of defence lawyers in wrongful convictions in England and Wales. I am currently doing an empirical study on our Court of Appeal and I will be using a sample from that where the grounds of appeal have been lawyer errors to see which ones will result in the conviction being overturned. We have had a large number of cases here where asylum seekers have been wrongly convicted of criminal offences such as arriving with a false passport because their lawyer has not explained to them that there is a statutory defence available and they have pled guilty to the charge. The Court of Appeal has now dealt with a number of these and quashed the conviction so I can link the discussion of defence lawyer ethics.  In the limited time for presentations, I will go through the empirical findings of what errors result in an overturned conviction.


Shawn Marie Boyne, IU McKinney School of Law, US
For decades, German prosecutors were bound by the principle of mandatory prosecution that mandated that they prosecute any case in which sufficient evidence exists to suspect that a crime has occurred. Beginning in the 1970s however, changes in the legislative code and changes in prosecutorial practice began to erode the force of that principle.  As a result, in the vast majority of “minor” crime, cases are settled with a fine, a deferred sentence, or a dismissal.  At first glance, this practice appears to be consistent with American plea bargaining. However, in contrast to American practice, the crimes that fall into the “minor” crimes category include crimes that are considered to be felonies in the United States, notably rape and corruption. Though those classification decisions are made by the German legislature, they are compounded by the organizational incentives in German prosecution offices that favor efficiency over painstaking investigation and prosecution. These factors, plus the German system’s comparatively lenient sentencing practices, play a large role in explaining why German prosecutions have not fueled an American-style incarceration explosion. In domestic violence and rape cases, these factors prevent German prosecutors from using the criminal justice system to reinforce the goal of gender equality.  Indeed, German prosecutors’ turn towards efficiency has undermined what Damaska labelled as the role of the activist state in the criminal justice process.

Because lay jurors in Germany seldom affect a case’s judicial outcome, there are three main “checks” on prosecutorial decision-making. To begin, victims may appeal a prosecutor’s dismissal decision to the General Public Prosecutors Office. Also, assuming that a sex crimes case makes it to trial, German law allows victims to be represented by a private prosecutor (Nebenklager) who functions like a party in the American system. Finally, if a prosecutor’s work product falls below standards or if a prosecutor breaks the law, the prosecutor may face administrative sanctions.

In this presentation, I argue that taken together, these checks on prosecutorial discretion do not adequately protect victims of sex crimes and domestic violence. As I point out the deficiencies of these systems of control, I will address the question: Why aren’t prosecutors more assertive in prosecuting these types of cases? Is it simply a matter of resources or is it attributable to larger issues in German society?

Marny Requa, Georgian Court University, US

This talk focuses on decisions to pursue criminal cases against police officers and members of the military in Chile for torture and mistreatment. The Chilean criminal justice system has undergone significant reform since 2000. Incidents that arose before the reforms are still dealt with under the old system, generally with magistrates investigating and making prosecutorial decisions after private parties have initiated a case. In the past 15 years, magistrates have been more willing to prosecute these cases. Recent incidents are most commonly prosecuted by a new, independent public prosecutor’s office (Ministerio Público), although a vast number of these are not pursued. Decision-making in both types of cases raises political as well as ethical considerations that have changed over time, a point emphasized in empirical research conducted as part of an ongoing research project titled Lawyers, Conflict and Transition, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The talk will cover key points from that research impacting on prosecutorial decisions as well as formal and informal forms of accountability.

Lawrence Hellman, Oklahoma City University School of Law, US

Prosecutorial misconduct is now understood to be widespread in the American criminal justice system.  Official misconduct was a factor in half of the 1800+ known wrongful convictions in the United States that have been corrected by post-conviction remedies since 1989.  However, existing accountability systems provide insufficient deterrents to misconduct by prosecutors, and they do little to motivate and enable prosecutors to deter official misconduct on the part of other state actors involved in prosecutions.

I propose consideration of a new approach to prosecutorial accountability that draws on the successful transition to a proactive management-based regulatory system that has been adopted in Australia for incorporated legal services providers.  I will describe how a proactive management-based model of prosecutor accountability might function and suggest how it might be implemented without necessarily applying it to the entire American legal profession.  The proactive model would supplement, not replace, the current reactive system.  It would be designed to reduce not only the misconduct of prosecutors themselves, but also misconduct of other state actors, such a police, investigators, and laboratory scientists.  By reducing official misconduct in the criminal advocacy process, wrongful convictions should become less common and meritorious prosecutions should reach more reasonable outcomes.

Kellie Toole, University of Adelaide, Australia

In Australia, a prosecutor must be satisfied of a ‘reasonable prospect of conviction’ before prosecuting a person for a serious crime. The assessment of the reasonable prospects often involves a relatively objective assessment of available evidence. However, ethical issues arise where witness credibility is critical, as with sex offences, and jury decisions can be unpredictable or even undesirable. Prosecutors have to decide whether to proceed where they assess that a jury might convict but should not, or might not convict but should. This situation raises issues about the prosecutorial role of the community (through the jury) and the State (through the prosecutor), and the fine line between prosecutors properly exercising their discretion, and improperly usurping the decision-making role of the jury.

ICC Opens Another Preliminary Examination – Burundi

Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s Prosecutor, announced in her statement that a preliminary examination has been initiated into Burundi on-going crisis, allegedly involving more than 430 persons killed, at least 3,400 people arrested, and over 230,000 Burundians forced to seek refuge. As reported in an earlier post, the Prosecutor has been watching the ongoing situation in Burundi since early 2015, commenting on the then-upcoming election, fulfilling the OTP’s early warning function and preemptively calling for peace and cease of violence. It appears however, that her prevention efforts within Burundi, a State Party to the Rome Statute, unfortunately fell short because about a year later, she is initiating a preliminary examination.

Preliminary examination may be initiated by the Prosecutor, referral from a State Party or Security Council, or a 12(3) declaration by a State that is not a Party to the Rome Statute. In this case, the Prosecutor exercised its vested authority to begin examination. The purpose of such examination is to review and assess information available so far to determine whether a reasonable basis to proceed with investigation exists. Article 53(1) of Rome Statute requires Prosecutor to consider issues of jurisdiction (often focusing on the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction), admissibility (comprising of both complementarity and gravity determination often focusing on the domestic prosecutorial and investigative efforts) and overall interest of justice.

Not every preliminary examination leads to authorization to investigate. In situations of Honduras, Republic of Korea, and the Vessels of Comoros, the Court found no reasonable basis to proceed with investigation, as required by art. 53(1), and concluded its preliminary examinations without prejudice, leaving the possibility to re-open examination available should additional information and evidence surface. On the other hand, in situations of Libya, Ivory Coast, Mali, Georgia, and CAR II, for example, the Court moved forward, finding reasonable basis to proceed and securing pre-trial chamber’s authorization to open investigation in these situations.

The ICC has seven open preliminary examinations at this time, making Burundi the eighth one. Three situations, Palestine, Ukraine and Iraq, are currently in Phase 2 – having the Court consider subject-matter jurisdiction. Four situations, Afghanistan, Colombia, Guinea, and Nigeria, have moved to Phase 3 – having the Court consider issues of admissibility. The Court issues reports on its preliminary examination conclusions each year sharing its findings in each situation and ensuring so the much needed transparency.

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ICC Confirms War Crimes Charges for Intentional Destruction of Cultural and Religious Buildings

In a recent decision by the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber I on March 24, 2016, the Court confirmed charges for war crimes for intentionally directing attacks against religious and cultural buildings under Art. 8(2)(e)(iv) in the case of the Prosecutor v. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi. The defendant is alleged to have committed war crimes in Timbuktu, Mali, between around June 30, 2012 through around July 11, 2012. Already in a press release dated September 26, 2015, the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that that

Intentional attacks against historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion are grave crimes. […] No longer should such reprehensible conduct go unpunished. […] Such attacks affect humanity as a whole. We must stand up to the destruction and defacing of our common heritage.

The ICC’s Rome Statute Article 8(2)(e)(iv) defines war crimes as

(e) Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in armed conflicts not of an international character, within the established framework of international law, namely any of the following acts: (iv) Intentionally directing attacks against building dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives; […].

The Pre-Trial Chamber I found sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi committed the crimes with which he is charged and reasoned, in paragraphs 40-44 of its decision on confirmation of charges, that it is not disputed that the targeted buildings/structures were “dedicated to religion and constituted historic monuments because of their origins and significance, and that none of them constituted a military objective” and that these buildings were “specifically identified, chosen, and targeted by the perpetrators as objects of their attack, precisely in light and because of their religious and historical character.” The Court further reasoned that the article’s prohibition “attaches to the attack per se” regardless of whether the building/structure was or was not destroyed and concluded that the “attacks” within the meaning of the statute also include acts “which did not bring about a complete destruction” of the targeted building or structure.

This reasoning is a step in the right direction when a Court of international stature recognizes the importance of cultural, historical, religious, and national heritage as embodied in buildings and structures and articulates that even a partial destruction will not go unpunished. The Court appears to focus on the reasons that the objects were targeted for their religious and historical importance within the surrounding society, the fact that they did not constitute military objectives, and that their destruction (even partial) was considered very serious by the local populations rather than the level or the intended level of destruction. As such, it would reason that even vandalizing, defacing, or otherwise damaging a building or structure might fall within the statute according to the Court’s interpretation of Art. 8(2)(e)(iv).

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