International Criminal Law
John is a vastly experienced criminal advocate specializing in international war crimes.
He is a regular lecturer and trainer in the law, procedure and practice within international criminal tribunals.
The Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal 2011/2012
The International Crimes Tribunal was instituted pursuant to a 1973 Act of the Bangladeshi parliament that aimed to try opposition armed forces personnel in the 1971 Liberation war with Pakistan. Adopting concepts from the Nuremberg tribunals the legislation is obsolete according to current standards. The Tribunal has been widely condemned as politically motivated and lacking in basic safeguards of the rights of the accused. It is the first international tribunal since Nuremberg and Tokyo to provide for the death penalty.
John’s duties have included attending meetings in the US Departments of State and Defence, Congress and academic establishments, as well as the European Parliament, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and House of Lords to raise awareness of the Tribunal and its methods.
Denied rights of audience to the tribunal (and, recently, entry into the country) John advises daily on evidence and trial strategy as the cases progress.
Prosecutor v Augustine Gbao and others, Special Court of Sierra Leone 2004-2009
The SCSL was set up pursuant to a joint agreement between the Sierra Leonian government and the UN to try those who bore the greatest responsibility for the 10 year civil war notorious for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF)’s mass murder, amputation, sexual slavery, forced diamond mining and widespread use of child soldiers. By the end of hostilities in 2002, Gbao was, as Overall RUF Security Commander, one of the RUF’s highest ranking survivors. Along with his co-defendants he was indicted with 18 counts of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.
The sheer size of the RUF trial cannot be exaggerated: it lasted 5 years, involving more than 250 witnesses including victims, notorious ‘insider’ former combatants, many high ranking international military figures and the former Sierra Leonian President himself. By the end of the trial case materials ran to an estimated 50000 pages; the Gbao Final Trial and Appeal Briefs containing written submissions on verdict and appeal may be accessed below. Aside from the enormous quantity of evidence the case produced a wealth of legal argument, largely presented by written motion. These raised issues such as the payment of prosecution witnesses, abuse of process regarding the prosecution’s suppression of exculpatory evidence, the repetitive late addition of prosecution allegations unmentioned in the indictment and a motion for the recusal of a trial judge for published comments demonstrating bias against the defendants.
Based in the capital, Freetown, the trial was held amidst hostile conditions where disease and personal safety were constant concerns, as well as the supply of the basic amenities of fuel, power and water. Such difficulties were exacerbated by the court’s bureaucratic inefficiency and Gbao’s initial refusal to participate.
As Lead Counsel John not only conducted all court advocacy but was also responsible for the management of the defence team, including co-counsel, legal assistants and local investigators. His duties ranged from potentially dangerous up-country investigation work to managing the team budget, as well as contributing to the 2008 SCSL Residual Conference, attended by high ranking UN and diplomatic personnel from donor countries.
The verdicts, returned in February 2009, largely acquitted Gbao both of personal commission and command responsibility of most crimes alleged (including use of child soldiers, amputations, sexual offences, forced mining and ordering/participating in the notorious mass execution of 1998) with the exception of planning forced labour and aiding and abetting the minor assault on a UN peacekeeper in 2000. The majority of the Trial Chamber, however, convicted Gbao on several counts (with the notable exception of use of child soldiers) via the controversial Joint Criminal Enterprise mode of liability, most of which convictions were subsequently upheld- albeit by a majority- in the Appeals Chamber.
Worryingly, Gbao’s convictions imply that membership of a JCE has now become a strict liability offence. This has been widely criticised by commentators as an abuse of the JCE concept and a setback for the credibility of international criminal justice.
Despite acquittals in terms of personal commission of crimes and command responsibility, and against strong dissent in both Trial and Appeal Chambers, Augustine Gbao received 25 years imprisonment. His sentence was still by far the lowest imposed: it was no consolation that co-defendants Issa Sesay and Morris Kallon received 51 and 45 years respectively for their roles in the indictment.
Criminal Bar Association
The Frontline Club
International Herald Tribune/New York Times, November 2011: Reconciliation or Revenge?
Criminal Bar Quarterly February 2011: Rogue States: What Next for the ICC?
Counsel Magazine February 2011: Justice or Politics: The Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal
University College London (LLB Hons) 1985
College of Legal Education 1987
Waterstones, West Ham United
Training & Lecturing
Speaker and contributor at Special Court of Sierra Leone Residual Conference, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 2008 (attended by high-level diplomatic and political personnel from UN donor countries et al)
London School of Economics 2009/10: Victors Justice? The Special Court of Sierra Leone
9 Bedford Row International Conference, October 2010: Joint Criminal Enterprise and the Wrongful Conviction of Augustine Gbao
American Society of International Lawyers, Washington DC May 2011: The Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal
St Antony’s College Oxford. October 2011: Justice or Betrayal? The Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal
9 Bedford Row International Conference, November 2011: Enforcement Procedures at the ICC - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RnVxnz1IyM
Panelist and presenter at Anti-Bribery and Corruption Conference (specifically on UK Bribery Act), Abuja, Nigeria attended by Nigerian National Security and Advisor and state governors December 2011.
Panelist and speaker at London Muslim Centre, February 2012 on human rights issues at Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal
Forthcoming: Princeton Law School, New Jersey and Georgetown, Washington DC April 2012 on legal and human rights issues arising from Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal.
He is licensed to receive instruction direct from members of the public.