Expert victim opinion in international criminal tribunals

18 December 2012

Increasing the strength and efficiency of evidence-based witness by introducing representatives of victim communities as expert witnesses.

International criminal tribunals serve the cause of justice best when determinations are made as much as possible on documentary evidence and cognate sources of evidence, rather than when potentially prejudicial forms of evidence are allowed. The appearance of victims in the court has been encouraged for a number of reasons, but as well as the costs incurred, this practice has other drawbacks.

Victims’ needs and viewpoints should be addressed in different ways. The forensic role of victims should be addressed in general by documentation, but also by a radical innovation in the concept of the expert witness. Expert victim witnesses would comprise a very small number of persons in any trial setting, themselves victims, selected in some transparent manner by the larger victim population. Not only would such persons be empowered to speak to the tribunal on behalf of the victim community or communities, they would have expert status as understood in the Common Law jurisdictions ie opinion would be admitted. Like all expert witnesses, their responsibility would be to the court not to prosecution or defence as such. Such persons would need to accept the necessity for examination by advocates in the courtroom.

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