Goddess Lustita Tries the ICJ’s Independence

THE ECONOMIST – Relationships are a two way street

THIS NEWSPAPER has favoured the independence of the ICJ in the past. Their deliberations require sobriety and focus, but most of all, a particular mindset and context that enables sound legal decision making. Any semblance of undue bias or influence may undermine decisions in the case at hand and in the future. Means for facilitating these conditions exist both within the court and without.

The actors involved are plenty but in recent news a rift between the judges of the court and the International Press Corps (IPC) has emerged. This came to a head in a 6 January press conference wherein verbal blows were exchanged. The confrontations were allegedly in jest, but the friction runs deep.

All parties, it should be said, serve the purpose of a legal process and of the law itself, the judges in their deliberations, and the IPC in their reporting. The judges have accused the IPC of false reporting, obstructions of proceedings, and poor lines of questioning. There is little doubt that the IPC might has been a mild nuisance for members of the court. Rules on interactions have historically been ambiguous, and the interpretations of what rules do exist vary between parties.

Yet, by debasing members of the press, members of the court betray the very cause they purport to protect – their independence. A truly independent ICJ should allow themselves to be exasperated by mild press intrusions, and certainly not to the extent  of dominating the opening statements of two of three judges at the press conference. The ICJ must maintain its own independence of mind – this cannot purely be a matter of others’ facilitation.

The IPC has accused the court of inquiry avoidance, ridicule, and evasion. Perhaps the former and the latter are at times, necessary. But the ridicule experienced at the press conference has no place in the IPC-ICJ relationship.

The IPC bears its own responsibilities to be respectful and to abide by what rules exist to the greatest extent possible. However,it needs to be recognized that as with any relationship, this one is a two-way street. Concessions and respect from both sides will serve the purpose of judicial independence as a whole.