Attending the Eleventh ICC Seminar of Counsel – another letdown!

The ICC held its annual seminar for List Counsel on October 21 and 22, 2013 in The Hague.  Three days of training followed.  This was the eleventh time the ICC hosted this event.

As in the past, the seminar was mostly an update, and for the most part not terribly rewarding.  It was heartening to hear from the new Registrar, Herman von Hebel, that changes are afoot in the Registry.  He brings lots of practical knowledge and experience.  There is already a feeling that he will be more understanding to the needs of List Counsel.  From my brief conversation with him (I have known him since 2001), he seemed genuinely interested in working constructively with List Counsel.

Of all the presentations, the one that was most illuminating, and shocking, was from Mr. Simo Väätäinen, the Rapporteur commissioned to evaluate the Victims and Witness Unit.  In an uncharacteristically transparent fashion for the ICC, he presented a brutally honest assessment.  In every way possible, the Victims and Witness Unit is an unmitigated disaster: low moral, poor services, atrocious management.  The fact that Mr. Väätäinen made this presentation is another indicator that the new Registrar is serious about change.

The training, as usual, was disappointing.  One day on how to fill out forms and two days on trial advocacy skills, best suited for properly functioning Anglo-Saxon courts and not for the ICC.

The trainings over the year have been bland and unfocused, primarily because List Counsel are not consulted.  Those selecting the topics for training seem to lack an appreciation for what List Counsel need, not to mention, what is effective and practicable at the ICC.  Teaching the basics of cross-examination may be fine for those who have never cross-examined a witness, but at the ICC, classical cross-examination is ineffectual.  Witnesses explain away their answers even when posed leading questions calling for yes or no answers.  Judges are hardly passive, asking questions that often tend to undo a good cross-examination.

What is needed is training on how to prepare and execute a good cross-examination when most of the questions posed will need to be open-ended.  Engaging cross-examination is technical and complex, requiring not only skill, but a methodical approach in preparation.  Some really experienced trainers are needed, and, to be done right, there must be an extensive inter-active component.  Perhaps when List Counsel get organized and form a Bar, those organizing the seminar and training sessions will reach out to List Counsel through the Bar.

About Author


Author: Michael G. Karnavas

Michael G. Karnavas is an American trained lawyer. He is licensed in Alaska and Massachusetts and is qualified to appear before the various International tribunals, including the International Criminal Court (ICC). Residing and practicing primarily in The Hague, he is recognized as an expert in international criminal defence, including pre-trial, trial, and appellate advocacy.

3 thoughts on “Attending the Eleventh ICC Seminar of Counsel – another letdown!”

  1. Thanks Karvanas for this post although in my opinion this year’s seminar was more practical than those I attended in the past. I think the the low key simulation exercises conducted by Judge George Hempel and Judge Felicity Hempel was particularly rewarding and should be expanded in future trainings. For the first time also the CSS came out open on how selection of counsel to represent persons operates. I think for future sessions it may be important for counsel also to receive some training on how Amicus Curiae interventions in ongoing proceedings are filed

    1. For those of us who did not attend the October meeting, could you let us know if there is an online description of the method by which the CSS selects counsel for defendants? If there is nothing on line, would you kindly provide a brief description of the CSS comments?

      Thanks to all

      1. I am not aware of any modalities or criteria being on line. It would certainly make sense to have it available for the sake of transparency. Policies and practices that supposedly exist but are readily accessible for review and subject to challenge are prone to ad hoc application. This is but a small example where an ICC recognized Bar dedicated to List Counsel could be of assistance. mgk

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