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How Judges Think: Strengthening Defence Approaches to Joint Criminal Enterprise and Closing Arguments


Alexander Zahar


Macquarie Law School

December 9, 2009

Annual Conference of the Defence Bar of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, December 12, 2009

Abstract:     
There is a method used by trial judges at the international criminal tribunals to decide the outcome of a case, and the method is rather fixed and inflexible. A defence lawyer working against the grain of the judges’ method is working in a way that is not as effective as it could be.

Trial judges at the ICTY are amenable to be persuaded that an otherwise solidly established legal principle has no application, or no reasonable application, to the facts at hand. The doctrine of joint criminal enterprise provides a good illustration of this point. Here we have a legal principle that is well established in theory, but rather vulnerable in practice. Many trial judges are instinctively aware of this vulnerability, which means that it is a promising area for the development of a defence strategy. At a more fundamental level, judges tend to think about an indictment and the whole resulting trial process in a very particular way. They analyse an indictment into certain elements and they employ their analysis to understand the evidence as it is received on a daily basis in the course of the trial. Their particular analysis defines, in effect, what is relevant and what is not relevant in a trial. It filters out distractions and facilitates a more active and engaged judicial role. The judges’ original analysis persists throughout the case and forms the template for the trial judgement at the end.

But while judges do seem to think in certain fixed ways, and while defence lawyers must take these into account if they are to be most effective, this fact doesn’t extinguish every possibility of creativity in defence strategy. On the contrary, it is still very possible to throw the prosecution off balance in unexpected ways. And it is possible to get the trial chamber to pay respectful attention. I illustrate this point by considering the neglected defences of reprisals and superior orders.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 20

Keywords: Judicial reasoning, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, joint criminal enterprise, command responsibility, defence of reprisals, defence of superior orders, Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, defence strategy in criminal cases

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Date posted: December 15, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Zahar, Alexander, How Judges Think: Strengthening Defence Approaches to Joint Criminal Enterprise and Closing Arguments (December 9, 2009). Annual Conference of the Defence Bar of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, December 12, 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1521031 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1521031

Contact Information

Alexander Zahar (Contact Author)
Macquarie Law School ( email )
Macquarie University, NSW 2109
Australia
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.mq.edu.au/html/staff/azahar.htm
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