Study condemns 'toxic' system of appointing judges

A “TOXIC” system for appointing the world’s most senior judges is fundamentally undermining the legitimacy of international courts…

A “TOXIC” system for appointing the world’s most senior judges is fundamentally undermining the legitimacy of international courts, a new study claims.

Unqualified judges, in some cases with no expertise on international law and in one case no legal qualifications, have been appointed to key positions because of highly politicised voting systems and a lack of transparency.

Critics say that the practices threaten the future of the international criminal court, which deals with cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the international court of justice, the UN court that deals with disputes between nation states’ courts.

“There are a number of judges who really shouldn’t be there,” said William Pace from the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, which lobbies for reform of the ICC.


Experts point in particular to the case of a Japanese judge who did not have a law degree or any legal qualifications, and was appointed to the ICC after Japan provided financial support.

Fumiko Saiga, who had been overseeing ICC proceedings relating to war crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, died suddenly of a heart attack last year aged 65. There had been claims that she was unqualified for the post.

“To elect a person to the ICC who doesn’t even have a law degree, for example, is a most unfortunate precedent to have set,” said Mr Pace.

“We were facing the prospect of a defence lawyer appealing a case on the basis that the judge was not qualified.

"This is deeply troubling for a court which is dealing with some of the most serious criminal cases and the deprivation of liberty for human beings," said Philippe Sands, one of the authors of Selecting International Judges, published today .

Although the appointments process for international courts has long been criticised as obscure and open to political interference, little is actually known about the means by which judges are appointed.

“It’s actually very difficult to assess what effect this is having on the quality of the courts’ work because so little is known,” said Kate Malleson, professor of law at Queen Mary, University of London, and one of the book’s co-authors.

“But anecdotally we know that some judges are first class, and that others are only there as a consequence of a highly politicised system, and who are not necessarily the best candidate.”

States have been accused of “vote trading” – lending their support to nominees from other countries based on political considerations. – (Guardian service)