Changes introduced last week to the Rules of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) mean trials can now continue with substitute judges. A new Plea Agreement procedure also applies. The amendments were made during the Tribunal’s 13th Plenary Session, when the ICTR Judges considered 44 proposals for changes to the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, and passed 23 of the amendments.
The amendment of Rule 15 bis of the Rules means a trial can now continue with a substitute judge if a sitting judge dies, falls ill, resigns or is not re-elected. The rule also applies if the judge is unable to continue sitting for any other reason.
Previously, trials could continue in the absence of one of the three judges for a brief period, or for longer periods with the consent of the accused. The length of trials was the key motivation for the amendment of Rule 15 bis. Re-starting trials because of a judge’s illness or death could unacceptably increase the amount of time an accused spent in custody prior to a decision in their case.
The Plenary Session also created a new Plea Agreement procedure. Under a new Rule 62 bis, the Prosecution and Defence can agree that the Prosecutor amend the indictment and submit that a certain sentence is appropriate if the accused pleads guilty. Such an agreement is not binding on the Trial Chamber, and agreements will generally be publicly disclosed.
Among other changes to expedite trial proceedings is Rule 90, which restricts cross-examination of witnesses to matters raised by the witness’ testimony given in his or her examination-in-chief.
The Plenary also agreed to undertake reforms to facilitate the proceedings at the pre-trial stage.
On an administrative level, new Rules 23 bis and 23 ter created a Coordination Council and a Management Committee to further facilitate the ICTR’s work. The Council is charged with the coordination of the activities of the three organs of the Tribunal for a successful conclusion of the Tribunal’s completion strategy, while the Committee will assist the President of the Tribunal with respect to his supervisory responsibility on activities relating to the administrative and judicial support to the Chambers and to the Judges.
Other changes introduced include those to Rule 72 and 73. Parties now have the right to appeal in relation to both preliminary and subsequent motions if a decision on the motion would affect the fairness of the proceedings and the matter can be resolved quickly by the Appeals Chamber.
Meanwhile, amended Rule 65 eliminates the requirement that the Trial Chamber find exceptional circumstances before it provisionally releases an accused.