In the wake of the scandal regarding the Croatia/Slovenia arbitration, but also the spats between Australia and East Timor, I have been left wondering with an ethical question: say you are counsel for one of the parties in a case before the ICJ or in an arbitration (but you are not the relevant government’s employee). Imagine if your client comes to you with a document that they could only have obtained by spying on the other party in the proceedings – say a draft of the opposing counsel’s pleadings, or a particularly important piece of undisclosed evidence in the case. Would it be ethical for you to rely on such a document? Would you, say, read your opponent’s draft pleadings? Would it make any difference whether the spying is done against the adversary state or against your opposing counsel directly?
NB: I’m not interested in how the court or tribunal would decide on any issue of admissibility; all I care about is the ethical dimension. For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a dilemma I’m currently facing or ever had to face. But my impression is that this sort of stuff must happen occasionally. Having been involved in some interstate cases, I know that some parties take reasonable security measures (e.g. send drafts or documents only in an encrypted format), while others take virtually none. In this post-Snowden era, such spying would seem trivially easy for many intelligence agencies, especially if no dedicated security measures are in place – the Slovenian arbitrator and agent providing an abject lesson.
Comments from readers much appreciated; anonymous comments with regard to this particular post are welcome.