Setting justice standards


The International Criminal Court laws, procedures, practices, policies, investigations, trials, officials and staff must maintain the very highest standards in accordance with the Court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute. In this way, the ICC can set the bar for justice standards around the world.


A system of checks and balances

A system of checks and balances is in place within the ICC and its governing body, the Assembly of States Parties, to ensure the proper administration of justice.

While it must strictly not interfere with the independence of the ICC judges and prosecutor, the ASP has administrative oversight authority over the Court. For example, the ASP elects the prosecutor, deputy prosecutor, and judges, and it can remove any of these from office if their decisions or conduct fail to satisfy ICC standards of justice.

Meanwhile, the judges and the prosecutor have different mechanisms to control each other’s impartiality.  

Pre-trial chambers provide substantial oversight of the prosecutor, for example in authorizing, or not, the opening of certain ICC investigations.

Decisions of the pre-trial and trial chambers can in turn be appealed, by defense and prosecution teams alike, to the Appeals Chamber, composed of the ICC president and four other judges.

The prosecutor can request the disqualification of a judge, rule upon by a majority of the judges. The Appeals chamber decides rules on requests to disqualify the prosecutor.

The ICC registrar, who oversees the administration of the Court, is elected and can be removed by the judges, and is subject to the authority of the ICC Presidency.

ICC member states can also challenge the admissibility of cases before the ICC. States parties to the Rome Statute are given every opportunity to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute suspected grave crimes committed on their own territories or by their nationals. Thus, if the concerned state can prove that it is willing and able to prosecute, the case will not meet the admissibility criteria.


Judicial independence

The Rome Statute clearly sets out standards for ICC judges: they must be of high moral character; they must be impartial in their decision-making; and they must act with integrity.

Judges are elected by the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), the governing authority of the ICC, from a pool of candidates nominated by member states. The ASP has adopted procedural guidelines to ensure that only the most qualified and respectable judges can sit on the ICC bench. The ASP move followed the example set by the Coalition when it set up an independent panel on ICC judicial elections in 2011. Read more about electing the best leader to the ICC and ASP

To a great extent, ICC judges hold the credibility of the Court in their hands. While political maneuvering at past ASP sessions has challenged the role of judges, their ability to withstand such influence will be the measure of the Court’s success as an institution capable of setting and meeting justice standards within the Rome Statute system.


Prosecutorial independence

The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) must act independently as a distinct organ of the Court, including in its administration and how it treats referrals and any substantiated information on Statute crimes. The OTP can internally consider operational factors when deciding on investigative strategies. While it may not seek or act on instructions from external sources, the OTP can appoint expert advisers on specific issues like violence against children, or sexual and gender-based violence—a role previously occupied by Brigid Inder of Coalition member Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice.

Impartiality of the ICC prosecutor and deputy prosecutor help reinforce their independence. The prosecutor and deputy must be of different nationalities; they must be persons of high moral character; and they must not engage in any activity likely to interfere with OTP functions or damage confidence in prosecutorial independence. To avoid concerns about independence, neither can participate in any case in which he or she has previously been involved in any capacity at the ICC or in related national criminal cases.


Evolving ICC law

The ICC is an evolving institution, meaning its laws and procedural rules evolve alongside its presence as a permanent and credible international criminal court. Under the Rome Statute, amendments are made to the Court's laws and rules by the ICC member states or, in special circumstances, by the judges.

Any amendment made to the Court's legal structure must be in line with the underlying principles of the Rome Statute as outlined in the Statute's preamble and must not seek to undermine the integrity of the Court or the independence of the judges or the prosecutor. Civil society, and the Coalition in particular, have strongly advocated that states must abide by amendment procedures set out to preserve the lines between judicial and prosecutorial independence and states’ governance roles.

Where amendment proposals prove more contentious, states can convene a review conference to debate issues more in-depth. This was the case with the Kampala Conference, where ICC member states considered and adopted amendments in relation to the crime of aggression as well as war crimes.

In the event that the required ASP majority adopts a Rome Statute amendment proposal, a specific number of states parties must still individually ratify the amendment.


Working Group on Amendments

The Working Group on Amendments (WGA) is the primary forum for ICC member states to come together and propose or discuss in-depth proposed amendments to the Rome Statute as well as the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. The WGA in turn transmits consensus amendment language to the ASP for consideration during its annual session. Civil society members may also attend WGA meetings.

Often times, to ensure the WGA makes fully informed recommendations on amendment proposals, the Study Group on Governance also considers proposals and transmits its comments to the WGA.

According to the Rome Statute, Rome Statute amendment proposals cannot be considered for adoption by the ASP until at least three months have passed since the proposal was announced, ensuring states have time to informally discuss—for example, in the WGA—potentially significant changes to the ICC founding instrument.

Member states, judges, and the ICC prosecutor can propose amendments to the Rules of Procedure and Evidence at any time for consideration at the next annual ASP session. However, in exceptional circumstances, judges can adopt and apply provisional Rules amendments pending an ASP vote to accept, reject, or alter the amendment.


Ethical staff conduct

Staff members of the Court are international civil servants and are held to the highest standards of integrity, independence, and moral conduct. Such standards are referred to and protected in the Rome Statute. To help understand and uphold these standards as a matter of practice, the Court and its organs have issued numerous codes of conduct, such as the ICC Code of Conduct for Staff Members, the ICC Staff Regulations, the ICC Staff Rules, the Code of Conduct for the Office of the Prosecutor, and the ICC Code of Judicial Ethics.


Independent Oversight Mechanism

In November 2009, within their powers under the Rome Statute (article 112(4)), the Assembly of States Parties established an independent oversight mechanism (IOM) to inspect, evaluate, and investigate the Court to enhance its efficiency and economy. Thus, while the IOM mandate extends to financial audits, it also oversees activities, personnel, and procedures of the Court for proper ethical conduct.

The Coalition underscores the important role that an effective oversight mechanism plays in enhancing the transparency and accountability of the ICC, as well as the public confidence that such a mechanism engenders.


Anti‐retaliation and whistleblower protection policy

In October 2014, the ICC Presidency issued the ICC whistleblowing and whistleblower protection policy, noting its commitment to maintaining the highest standards of integrity, transparency, and accountability. The policy, welcomed by the Coalition, creates an environment in which any person with a genuine reason to suspect wrongdoing has a clear and confidential avenue through which to report or safely discuss such suspicions. The policy specifically refers to retaliation as a form of misconduct which can and will be investigated by the IOM and for which disciplinary action can result.