Managing Enormous Mass Crimes Indictments: The ECCC Severance Experiment
All international criminal courts struggle to balance their obligation to hold expeditious trials with victims’ expectation that accused will be charged comprehensively. Some courts have held prodigious trials lasting up to a decade, while others have sought to accelerate verdicts by dropping charges or adjudicating only one type of crime. Faced with an enormous closing order indicting elderly accused, the ECCC Trial Chamber tried a novel approach: It severed a small number of charges to be the first topic in a series of trials based on the full indictment. The procedure was intended to increase the likelihood that the court would issue at least one judgment, which then would be used as a ‘foundation’ for subsequent case proceedings. However, the Trial Chamber’s failure to acknowledge and address consequent legal ambiguities raised fair trial concerns and likely squandered potential time savings. The problem-laden ECCC experience suggests that other courts should not adopt this severance practice.