Trial Monitoring

The Defence Office at the Special Court for Sierra Leone

April 05, 2007
The Defence Office at the Special Court for Sierra Leone
Case or Series

Special Report

Case or Series

Special Court for Sierra Leone


Sierra Leone



The Special Court for Sierra Leone (the 'Special Court' or the 'SCSI,'), a third generation international criminal tribunal, represents an attempt at a more streamlined and efficient form of justice. The SCSL has become known for several of its innovative institutional features. Perhaps one of the most notable of these features is the creation of a permanent Defence Office, specifically mandated to ensure the rights of suspects and accused persons tried at the Special Court. In many respects, the Defence Office at the SCSL represents a tremendous achievement. In particular, it can be seen to provide a much needed supervisory mechanism to keep the defence budget in check and to ensure the welfare of the being accused held in detention. 

Generally speaking, the Defence Office is lauded in both the media and academic literature as 'novel', 'innovative' and 'unique' . In many respects, this praise seems justified. Given some of the complaints associated with the cost and quality of the defence at both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ('ICTY') and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda ('ICTR'), and the failure of other forms of UN-administered justice to deliver adequate defence representation (such as in the case of the Special Panel for Serious Crimes in East Timor), the Defence Office at the Special Court is, by all indications, a success story. The Office has managed to survive on a shoe-string budget and is generally perceived to be efficient as well as economical. The perceived inadequacies associated with other attempts at providing a satisfactory defence and the success associated with the Defence Office mean that the Office is likely to influence the structure of the models used to implement the defence at future international, internationalized and UN-administered tribunals. The Office already seems to have impacted on the model chosen for the International Criminal Court (the 'ICC'), where a variation on the SCSL Defence Office structure has been instituted.