AN ARAB SPRING REVIVAL: Sharing adversarial techniques with Tunisian criminal defense lawyers for advancing their clients’ fair trial rights and greater access to justice

Take courage friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage. For deep down, there is another truth: you are not alone.

Rev. Wayne B. Arnason

Exquisite timing.

Michael G. Karnavas at IBJ AAJT Training in Tunis

I was returning to The Hague from Tunis following a three-day training of Tunisian lawyers (29 September to 1 October), when I read that family members of seven imprisoned Tunisian opposition figures submitted a communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate political persecution and human rights violations by President Kais Saied’s administration – not that I expect the ICC’s Office of the Prosecution (OTP) to do anything soon, if it decides to do anything at all. Rare is the occasion where a communication is acted upon, even when meritorious. The OTP can only do so much. And if perhaps it decides to do something, expect a frustratingly long preliminary examination, which, for all intents and purposes, can be nothing more than internet surfing and looking at open-source material. Even if the matter progresses, the journey leading to potential charges takes years. Communications, however, do serve a purpose beyond their intended design – they bring international attention, occasionally contributing to a tempering by those who could find themselves in the OTP’s crosshairs.

I was in Tunis playing a small part in the International Bridges of Justice’s (IBJ) Advancing Access to Justice in Tunisia (AAJT) initiative, funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDF), and hosted by the Tunisian National Bar Association (Ordre National des Avocats de Tunisie) and Tunisian Association of Young Lawyers (Association Tunisienne des Jeunes Avocats). Continue reading “AN ARAB SPRING REVIVAL: Sharing adversarial techniques with Tunisian criminal defense lawyers for advancing their clients’ fair trial rights and greater access to justice”


BOOK REVIEW – HELENA STAR – an Epic Adventure Through the Murky Underworld of International Drug Smuggling

HELENA STAR an Epic Adventure Through the Murky Underworld of International Drug Smuggling, Stewart Riley, Robert D. Reed Publishers, 2021, 228 pages, $17.95

I was never known for having a great bedside manner when meeting with clients. I wasn’t going to be their social worker. Some attorneys in my view get too close to their clients. I tried to avoid that. I was not their friend. I was their lawyer. Becoming good friends with one’s client eliminates perspective and may color one’s objectivity. I was not about to invite a client home for dinner while his future was in my hands, even my white-collar clients. 

Under cover of dark on 4 April 1978, the Joli, a sleek electric blue 61-foot racing yacht with swollen sails gracing its 90-foot masts is rapidly, perhaps too rapidly, headed towards the nearly exhausted 161-foot freighter, the M/V Helena Star, in the high seas of the North Pacific, some 70 miles off the coast of Washington State and British Columbia. As the skipper of the Joli approached the Helena Star, it becomes obvious that the purpose of the rendezvous – offloading “Colombian Gold” – is too dangerous at that location; calmer waters were needed to compensate for the incompatibility of the two vessels for offloading the precious and very illegal cargo. Nearly two weeks later, the US Coast Guard would board and seize the Helena Star about 140 miles from the coast of Washington State laden with 37 tons of marijuana, valued at the time at around $74 million.

Enter Stewart Riley for the defense for Helena Star Captain Roman Rubies. The subtitle may seem like a plot-spoiler, but this little gem is about much more – an intriguing story that entertains as much as it instructs us defense lawyers. Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW – HELENA STAR – an Epic Adventure Through the Murky Underworld of International Drug Smuggling”


A CLARION CALL TO THE ICC COUNSEL SUPPORT SECTION: training for counsel and assistants should be practical and skill-developing

You have to know the why in order to know the when,

But if you don’t know the how

Knowing the why and when won’t help you.

Training Moto, Michael G. Karnavas

Reality Check

Article 7(2) of the ICC Code of Professional Conduct for Counsel (Code) presumes that list counsel possess a high level of knowledge of the applicable law and a high level of skills required for the adopted party-driven, adversarial hybrid procedure, and thus must “participate in training initiatives required to maintain such competence.” This presumption is fanciful. Not all list counsel are sufficiently competent – let alone to a high level – simply because they have managed to get themselves on the list. Counsel cannot “maintain a high level of competence” unless they are already competent to a high level. Query whose responsibility is it to ensure that at least those counsel appearing in proceedings before the ICC have a high level of competence. In no small measure I suggest it is the ICC Registrar, through the Counsel Support Section (CSS), which is responsible for setting the standards for the admission of counsel. Continue reading “A CLARION CALL TO THE ICC COUNSEL SUPPORT SECTION: training for counsel and assistants should be practical and skill-developing”


THE DILIGENCE THAT IS DUE: ICC Counsel Ethics Training

In the nature of law practice, … conflicting responsibilities are encountered. Virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from conflict between a lawyer’s responsibilities to clients, to the legal system and to the lawyer’s own interest in remaining an ethical person while earning a satisfactory living. The Rules of Professional Conduct often prescribe terms for resolving such conflicts. Within the framework of these Rules, however, many difficult issues of professional discretion can arise. Such issues must be resolved through the exercise of sensitive professional and moral judgment guided by the basic principles underlying the Rules. These principles include the lawyer’s obligation zealously to protect and pursue a client’s legitimate interests, within the bounds of the law, while maintaining a professional, courteous and civil attitude toward all persons involved in the legal system.

Preamble to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct

On 21 September 2023 I gave a presentation on Professional Conduct at the  Hybrid Training for ICC List Counsel, organized by the ICC Counsel Support Section (CSS) and sponsored by the European Commission.  It is always daunting to stand before fellow counsel to try to engage them in a discussion on matters of ethics, professional responsibility, and the disciplinary measures and consequences that result when we fall short of what is expected of us, or when we defend ourselves against allegations of ethical breaches. Also, there is only so much that can be covered in a couple of hours. Ethics training should be conducted on a regular basis. Might it also be prudent for ICC CSS to consider making it mandatory to take a modest number of hours of continuing legal education on ethics per year in order to be in good standing and remain on the List of Counsel? I think so.

With the Code being a skimpy 14 pages of 46 concise articles, anyone on the list could go over it while having a cup of coffee, even before it gets cold. Not to mention, one would think that expressing an interest in getting on the List of Counsel and eventually having a client would motivate one to read the Code, along with the Rome Statute and ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. So, rather than do an article-by-article commentary, I highlighted aspects of the code to show how, in no small measure, we are guided by the code in our day-to-day activities in representing a client before the ICC. Much of what I covered also applies to other international(ized) criminal tribunals, and except where the Code might conflict with one’s national code, to representing clients in criminal matters before domestic courts. Here is the gist of my presentation. Continue reading “THE DILIGENCE THAT IS DUE: ICC Counsel Ethics Training”



On 29 June 2023, the International Committee of the Inner Temple organized a short training session for aspiring barristers on legal professional ethics before the international criminal tribunals. The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple has been in existence since the 14th Century. It is one of the four unincorporated, not-for-profit membership associations for barristers and judges in the UK, known as the Inns of Court. Together, they provide high-quality legal education and training for the barrister profession, delivered by senior members of the Bar and other key partners on a pro bono basis, and have the exclusive right to call students to the Bar of England and Wales.

Participating in the seminar were an ICC Judge (Kimberly Prost), an ICC Deputy Prosecutor (Nazhat Khan), and a defence counsel (yours truly). The program was moderated by ICC Judge Joanna Korner CMG KC – who, as an exceptionally experienced Queen’s Counsel, served two stints as a senior trial lawyer before the ICTY prior to becoming a judge of the Crown Court of England and Wales.  The event was informative, engaging, and collegially lively. But there was something more to it, something important that is generally absent in most training seminars, especially on ethics: the inclusion of three pillars of criminal proceedings (missing only a representative of victims counsel) on a panel, so they and the audience can hear about each other, from each other, with their different perspectives being aired, considered, debated, appreciated, and/or rejected. Continue reading “DISCOURSE AT THE INNER TEMPLE ON NAVIGATING THE CODES OF CONDUCT STRAIGHTS IN INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS: a format that is missing, overlooked, or (un)intentionally rebuffed?”


Empowering the Syrian Defenders of the Free Aleppo Bar Association

On May 8 to May 9, 2023, I had the privilege of being involved in a Training of Trainers and Advocacy Training Program organized by International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) in Gaziantep, Turkey, for Syrian criminal defense lawyers living and working in northwest Syria, notably, in and around Aleppo. Continue reading “Empowering the Syrian Defenders of the Free Aleppo Bar Association”


The Trump impeachment trial: observations on rhetoric & advocacy   

But since rhetoric exists to affect the giving of decisions – the hearers decide between one political speaker and another, and the legal verdict is a decision – the orator must not only try to make the argument of his speech demonstrative and worthy of belief: he must also make his own character look right and put his hearers, who are, to decide, into the right frame of mind.

                                                                     AristotleThe Art of Rhetoric


Sitting at a sushi bar nearly forty years ago as a newly minted lawyer being introduced to the culinary delight of raw fish delicately sliced with artistic flare, I artlessly asked the middle-aged chef how long it had taken him to learn his skills. Taciturnly, he said still learning. It would take years to figure out what he meant – perfection is a process, not a destination. Zen.

Perfecting one’s skills in rhetoric and advocacy is the same – a never-ending journey of striving and evolving, of emulating and improvising, of observing and learning. What may have worked seven, five, or even two years ago may now seem passé and less effective. The audience’s tastes, sophistication, tolerance, attention span, thought processes, etc., have likely changed. As have their socio-economic status, political views, and day-to-day existence. The advocate must adjust to the times and to the occasion. Continue reading “The Trump impeachment trial: observations on rhetoric & advocacy   “


Reflections on the Cambodian Defenders 25 years later: from humble advocates to legal trailblazers   

Late Saturday night, July 13, 2019, NagaWorld Hotel ballroom, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Tables full, food and libations flowing, laughter, music, Khmer traditional dancers, speeches, clinking of glasses, cake-cutting, idle chatter, happy faces, kind words. It’s the graduation party for the newly-minted lawyers having passed the last of their exams after finishing an intensive Bar course. As I look around, I wonder if any of these young Lawyers can fathom a Cambodia with virtually no lawyers, no Bar Association – or BAKC (Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia) as it is known, when at best there were some trained human rights advocates working for NGOs, offering their services to indigent suspects and accused in some parts of Cambodia. Probably not. But yes, there was such a time, and it was not that long ago. Continue reading “Reflections on the Cambodian Defenders 25 years later: from humble advocates to legal trailblazers   “


Learning from the ECCC experience


On 5 October 2016, I was invited to participate in a seminar organized by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Cambodia (OHCHR) in cooperation with the Bar bakcAssociation of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC), titled Questioning Techniques from the Defense’s Perspective and the Use of National and International Law in Legal Arguments. Held in Phnom Penh, this training was part of the Legal Dialogue Series 2016: a series of trainings organized by the OHCHR as part of its ongoing efforts to support and strengthen the development of Cambodian legal professionals, including by facilitating the dissemination of skills and knowledge from international and Cambodian lawyers at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to Cambodian lawyers practicing in local courts. Continue reading “Learning from the ECCC experience”


Recent Events: Geneva meeting on Defence Offices at the International Criminal Courts; Skopje evidence training


Geneva meeting: Defence Offices at the International Criminal Courts

On 22 and 23 October 2015, Michael G. Karnavas participated in the Third International Meeting of Defence Offices at the International Criminal Courts in Geneva, Switzerland.

During a Round Table session on the Overview of the issues faced by the defence before the international criminal courts, Karnavas addressed the lack of meaningful right to counsel in seeking post-conviction relief at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) which have phased into the Mechanism for International Tribunals (MICT). According to the MICT Registry, it will only grant legal aid for post-conviction issues in exceptional circumstances and only after a judicial order. Former Accused and convicted persons may engage pro bono Counsel to represent them before the MICT. The absence of an entitlement to legal assistance does not prevent the MICT from assisting convicted persons in obtaining Counsel to assist with post-conviction matters and the Registry is therefore currently establishing a list of pro bono Counsel. As Karnavas bluntly explained: If Defence Counsel want to work for free, MICT will let them, although MICT will not even promise to appoint that Counsel if there is an issue that warrants appointment.  Ludicrous. Continue reading “Recent Events: Geneva meeting on Defence Offices at the International Criminal Courts; Skopje evidence training”