Over the years, the conduct of preliminary examinations has gained increasing importance at the International Criminal Court (ICC). One notable aspect in this area is the hugely diverging length of such examinations, ranging from one week for the situation in Libya to 12 years (and rising) for the situation in Colombia. This article critically interrogates the repeated claim of the Prosecutor that the absence of any provisions regulating the length of preliminary examinations was a deliberate decision of the drafters of the Rome Statute, leaving her with unfettered discretion in that area. Instead, it is suggested that the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in prioritizing preliminary examinations is legally limited through the obligation to ensure effective investigations, demanding reasonably swift responses because evidence vanishes over time — witnesses disappear, memories fade, and data gets lost (the ‘golden hour’ principle). Furthermore, the conduct of preliminary examinations is also limited through the legal and policy commitment to impartiality, including the appearance of impartiality. A robust debate about a structured and transparent process of prioritization at the preliminary examination stage is thus overdue. It is proposed that the Prosecutor should introduce a policy commitment to conclude preliminary examinations within a defined time limit. Such a policy would be an important step towards a more structured method of situation selection, and would reduce the possibility that decision-making processes in more contentious situations are postponed for obscure reasons.
Journal Article. 8487 words.
Subjects: Criminal Law ; International Law ; International Criminal Law ; International Humanitarian Law ; Transnational Crime
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