Friday, April 16, 2010

Liability in international criminal law – exclusion from refugee status

International criminal law may contain wider complicity provisions than exist in domestic law. Different standards for decision making can also exist. These points are illustrated by JS(Sri Lanka) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] UKSC 15 (17 March 2010).

"serious reasons for considering", Lord Brown, with whom the other Justices agreed, held (para 39)"

"...obviously imports a higher test ... than would, say, an expression like "reasonable grounds for suspecting". "Considering" approximates rather to "believing" than to "suspecting". I am inclined to agree with what Sedley LJ said in Yasser Al-Sirri v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2009] EWCA Civ 222, para 33: "[the phrase used] sets a standard above mere suspicion. Beyond this, it is a mistake to try to paraphrase the straightforward language of the Convention: it has to be treated as meaning what it says."

The Convention under consideration here, the Refugee Convention, excludes from refugee status any one in respect of whom (Art 1F(a)):

"there are serious reasons for considering that (a) he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes".

The focus here is on the acts of the applicant for refugee status. The Court stressed that mere membership of an organisation that commits war crimes is not enough to establish serious reasons for considering that he has committed such crimes.

The wide definition of complicity in international law must be applied, and here Articles 12(3) and 25(3) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court were relevant. In summary (38), extended complicity here includes

" ... wider concepts of common design, such as the accomplishment of an organisation's purpose by whatever means are necessary including the commission of war crimes. Put simply, I would hold an accused disqualified under article 1F if there are serious reasons for considering him voluntarily to have contributed in a significant way to the organisation's ability to pursue its purpose of committing war crimes, aware that his assistance will in fact further that purpose."

The Court held that it is wrong to try to place the relevant organisation at some point on a continuum ranging from the (in my terms) relatively benign to the relatively malevolent, as was done in Gurung v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2003] Imm AR 115. There are (32) too many variable factors in war crimes cases, and the proposed continuum included irrelevant considerations:

" ... Whether the organisation in question is promoting government which would be "authoritarian in character" or is intent on establishing "a parliamentary, democratic mode of government" is quite simply nothing to the point in deciding whether or not somebody is guilty of war crimes. War crimes are war crimes however benevolent and estimable may be the long-term aims of those concerned. And actions which would not otherwise constitute war crimes do not become so merely because they are taken pursuant to policies abhorrent to western liberal democracies."

Instead, the focus is on what the individual applicant for refugee status actually did and actually believed.

This leads me to the question (in criminal law, including the law of evidence) of when conceptual modelling may appropriately involve the use of a continuum in analysis. One can imagine that a Canadian court might have been tempted to apply a "decision tree" type of approach to classifying terrorist organisations, by analogy to its approach in the unrelated field of improperly obtained evidence in R v Grant, discussed here on 18 July 2009 (twice) and on 19 July 2009. That case came down to what I think is one-dimensional (linear) continuum analysis. Continua in two dimensions can assist in admissibility decisions where the degree of official impropriety must be balanced against the public interest in admitting improperly obtained evidence. In rare cases the actus reus may be held to exist after a balancing of rights, for example disorderly behaviour: Brooker v R, discussed here on 4 May 2007. But in cases like JS(Sri Lanka) the focus on the applicant's acts and beliefs makes weighing inappropriate. Either there is an actus reus and mens rea, or there is not. They are either established to the necessary standard or they are not. There are no variables to measure and weigh against each other.

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