Complexity and Efficiency at International Criminal Courts

69 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2013 Last revised: 4 Dec 2014

See all articles by Stuart Ford

Stuart Ford

University of Illinois at Chicago - UIC School of Law

Date Written: December 20, 2013


One of the most persistent criticisms of international criminal tribunals has been that they cost too much and take too long. In response, this Article presents a new approach that utilizes two concepts: complexity and efficiency. The first half of this Article proposes a method for measuring the complexity of criminal trials and then uses that method to measure the complexity of the trials conducted at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”). The results are striking. Even the least complex ICTY trial is more complex than the average criminal trial in the United States, and the most complex ICTY trials are among the most complex trials that have ever taken place. This highlights why it is misleading to compare the cost and length of the ICTY’s trials to other trials, both domestic and international, without first accounting for their complexity.

The second half of the Article explores the efficiency of international criminal trials. Efficiency is defined as the complexity of a trial divided by its cost, and the Article calculates the overall efficiency of the ICTY and then compares that to the efficiency of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) and a sample of criminal trials in the United States. The results show that the ICTY is more efficient than the SCSL and approximately as efficient as complex murder trials in the United States. The ICTY is less efficient than a typical domestic murder trial, but this appears to be because efficiency decreases as complexity increases, making such cases poor comparators. Although the data is sparse, the ICTY appears to be much more efficient than its closest domestic comparator — mass atrocity trials. Ultimately, the ICTY has been more efficient than cases of comparable gravity and complexity tried in domestic courts or at the SCSL.

Keywords: international criminal law, international criminal justice, international criminal court, efficiency, complexity, ICTY, ICC, SCSL

JEL Classification: K33, K14, K41

Suggested Citation

Ford, Stuart, Complexity and Efficiency at International Criminal Courts (December 20, 2013). Emory International Law Review, Vol. 29, p. 1, 2014, Available at SSRN: or

Stuart Ford (Contact Author)

University of Illinois at Chicago - UIC School of Law ( email )


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