Legal aid, self-representation, and the crisis at the Hague tribunal

Alexander Zahar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The unfolding of the case of Prosecutor v. Vojislav ŠeŠelj at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has been dramatic and more than a little chaotic. The author argues that it is diagnostic of a broader crisis at the Tribunal. As an experiment in international justice, the ad hoc tribunal model has proved to be expensive and slow, but on several points also procedurally arbitrary, intellectually unconvincing, and vulnerable to improper political considerations. These problems have attained a critical mass in ŠeŠelj's case, as illustrated here. The accused ŠeŠelj, an ultranationalist politician and former paramilitary leader, has vowed to bring the Tribunal to its knees. He is self- represented at trial. This privilege was twice reaffirmed in 2006 by the ICTY Appeals Chamber, having been twice revoked by a bench of trial judges. In 2007, the new pre-trial judge in the case (now presiding judge), Jean-Claude Antonetti, declared that a self-represented accused who can prove indigence is entitled to legal aid. He ordered the Registrar of the Tribunal to pay ŠeŠ elj's defence expenses from the Tribunal's legal aid budget if ŠeŠelj could prove his indigence. The author argues that while there is good reason to disburse legal aid funds to an indigent accused who has been granted privileges of self-representation, this entitlement was not convincingly explained by Antonetti. Moreover, ŠeŠelj's destructive aims were improperly set aside by Antonetti in reaching his decision on the public financing of his defence. The current situation, which represents the combined effort of the Appeals Chamber and Antonetti, allows ŠeŠelj to bully participants in the proceedings, issue thinly veiled threats to prospective witnesses and the public at large, and bend the trial procedure to the requirements of his political populism. The poor handling of this case by the Tribunal as a whole calls into question the ad hoc tribunal model of international criminal justice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-263
Number of pages23
JournalCriminal Law Forum
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008
Externally publishedYes


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