International criminal courts and tribunals have no jurisdiction over the dead. Such courts make factual findings that have reputational implications for those who have died, but the dead are not parties to a case. They cannot be bound by the power of a court. A trial chamber or appeals chamber that attempts to exercise jurisdiction over the dead is acting ultra vires.
The possibility of death before the issuing of the final appeal judgment is a particular problem in leadership trials. The accused are more likely to be older. Such trials are expected to take longer. They are inevitably stressful. These are structural problems that can be managed, but not eliminated.
In a trial where all the evidence has been submitted, a great deal of effort and expense has already gone into the trial even before the trial judgment is issued. In a single-accused trial, should the accused die before the trial judgment is issued, there is a sense in which this effort is wasted. No trial judgment can be issued. Bench memoranda and internal drafts are left unpublished. The machinery simply stops. Given the low level of proof required, any confirmation of charges or (at the ICTY) Article 98 bis decision does little to settle the disputes of fact and law that may have been at least partially resolved by a trial judgment. A similar situation might apply in a appeals process halted by the death of a detainee. The issues certified for appeal cannot be resolved by the appeals chamber if the appeals chamber lacks jurisdiction to do so. Similarly, proceedings may be stopped at a any stage if the accused is no longer competent to stand trial (e.g. Ieng Thirith).
What should be done? Trials should be quicker, which could be facilitated by limiting sprawling indictments and allowing more evidence to be submitted on paper rather than via viva voce testimony. The health and security of the detainees should be guarded and protected to the greatest degree possible, a point to which I will return. The general concerns for a speedy trial and the well-being of detainees are obvious, uncontroversial, and even banal, but should be addressed with more urgency than in the past. Read the rest of this entry…