JUSTICE will take a long time for victims of war crimes in Ukraine, says a York lawyer who could represent them – or defendants – before the International Criminal Court.
Colin Byrne may even be involved before any suspects are identified.
He is one of less than 1,000 lawyers worldwide on the List of Counsel for the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The ICC’s independent prosecution branch – which does not include Mr Byrne – is already investigating thousands of potential war crimes in Ukraine.
Mr Byrne is confident the court can deliver justice.
But he warned that it won’t be quick.
“It takes a very, very long time to happen. Everyone goes in with their eyes open,” he said.
“The ICC is very fair and its processes are robust. There are all sorts of checks and balances to make sure that it is fair.”
Some of those checks could see Mr Byrne look after the interests of defendants even before they are identified.
Sometimes, the prosecution service needs someone to represent the defence as they prepare evidence for a future trial. In that case they ask someone from the List of Counsel to act as an ad hoc counsel to make sure the evidence is properly scrutinised.
Mr Byrne could also be approached to represent war crime victims as the treaty that set up the ICC lays out ways that victims can make their own representations to the court, separate from the prosecution.
Defendants will be offered the chance to be represented from the List of Counsel.
Once a suspect has been identified and the prosecution has built a case against him or her, the ICC can be asked to issue a warrant against it.
“There are big, big issues for the ICC and the world in getting people on trial,” he said.
The ICC doesn’t have its own police force and relies on its member countries to extradite them. Russia is not a member of the ICC.
That could lead to an endless delay if the suspect is Russian.
“The ICC is very reluctant to try in absentia,” said Mr Byrne.
The ICC prosecutors are looking into war crimes committed by either side during the war. If Ukrainians are charged, it may be easier for them to be extradited as Ukraine accepts that the ICC can hear cases on crimes committed on its territory.
Usually, the ICC sits in The Hague at its headquarters. But it could sit elsewhere.
“I think Ukraine would prefer a Nuremberg style tribunal in Ukraine. I don’t think any Western Government or anyone else would have any objection to that,” he said.
But, he said, security issues would have to be sorted out first.
As well as war crimes, the ICC can hear trials of genocide, aggression and crimes against humanity.