A group of international bars and law bodies has urged lawyers to contest the legitimacy of an association set up to represent counsel at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Six organisations, including the Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA) and the Paris Bar Association, have issued a joint statement alleging that the International Criminal Court Bar Association (ICCBA), which was officially launched on 5 July, ‘does not respect the independence of lawyers’.

The organisations also claim that the ICCBA creates discrimination among lawyers by ‘instituting the payment of dues’. The Gazette understands that concerns include that the fees could be prohibitive for lawyers from developing countries and thus deter them from appearing before the court.

This could limit defendants’ right to a free choice of lawyer, it is argued.

The organisations also claim that the ICCBA ‘does not assure the protection of lawyers by bars and law societies’. 

But international law barrister Toby Cadman of 9 Bedford Row said the creation of the ICCBA was a ‘very positive and necessary step’, and disputed accusations that the association was discriminatory or impeded lawyers' independence.

He said lawyers who join will still be bound by the laws and ethics of their national bar associations, and said it was ‘entirely appropriate’ that there should be a disciplinary mechanism for lawyers appearing before the ICC.

The association was set up to represent the interests of defence and prosecution counsel and their assistants practising before the ICC. As well as regulating conduct, it also provides support and training to its members.

US-trained criminal defence lawyer Michael Karnavas and German criminal lawyer Jens Dieckmann, an associate member of 9 Bedford Row International, jointly chaired the committee which drafted the ICCBA’s constitution. They have now been appointed as provisional directors.

Cadman said the creation of the association had been a ‘long time coming’, as previously defence lawyers for the ICC did not have a body that could coordinate their work and put them on a level footing with other organs of the court.

He added: ‘It was something that has been pushed for by lawyers who represent both victims and accused in the ICC.’

However the bar associations' joint statement notes that the ICCBA was created 'under the influence' of the Registrar of the International Criminal Court, something they say could compromise its independence. Such 'legitimisation' by the ICC would ‘discredit’ the court.

Other signatories of the statement were the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), Avocats.be, the Federation des Barreaux d’Europe and the African legal group Conference des Barreaux des Etats Membres de l’OHADA.

Jean-Jacques Uettwiller, UIA president, said he has raised the issues with the ICC registrar.

He said: ‘As of today, we have received no substantial or satisfactory response to our questions and comments. […] It is today imperative that the ICCBA, without further delay, takes note of our criticisms and responds constructively to them.'