Trials in absentia and international criminal justice

A June 2016 experts’ roundtable held by the International Bar Association (IBA) explored the theoretical and legal frameworks that permit a trial to be held without the presence of the accused – a trial ‘in absentia’. The IBA has now released a report that summarizes those discussions, addressing human rights and fair trial standards relevant to trials in absentia, as well as practical and ethical issues raised by representing a client in absentia. The report also examines issues for victims raised by trials in absentia, and raises some future considerations for such trials in international criminal justice.

Trials in absentia and international criminal justice

The International Bar Association (IBA) Hague Office has released a report on its June 2016 Experts’ Roundtable on Trials in absentia in International Criminal Justice.

Trials in absentia are trials that take place without the presence of the accused, making an exception to the internationally recognized right to be present at trial.  Trials in absentiahave taken place at both the national and international levels, with the most prominent international example being the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

On the day of the event, keynote speaker Judge Ivana Hrdličková, President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, elaborated on the rationale behind and precedents for trialsin absentia, highlighted the importance of safeguards for the rights of the accused, and outlined some of the practical and theoretical challenges posed by trials in absentia.

The first panel focused upon the theory and understanding of trials in absentia from the perspective of human rights law and the judicial process.  This panel addressed the human rights and fair trial standards relevant to trials in absentia, as well as examples from common law and civil law legal systems and from international tribunals.

The second panel provided a practitioner’s perspective, focusing on effective representation and ethics in trials in absentia.  Among the topics covered were practical and ethical questions faced by defence counsel representing clients in absentia, and the perspective of victims on the legal process.

Pictures and audio excerpts of the Expert’s Roundtable are available here

Drawing on the material raised at the Experts’ Roundtable, this report summarises some of the underlying goals and justifications for trials in absentia; presents background on trials in absentia in common and civil law legal systems; and outlines the use of the concept in international criminal justice.

It then focuses on three main themes, namely the compatibility of trials in absentia and fair trials; counsels’ perspectives on trials in absentia and the meaning of effective representation; and trials in absentia and stakeholders in international criminal justice.

The report concludes by exploring some future considerations for trials in absentia in the context of international criminal justice.

Read the full report here

Find out more the IBA’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme here