The following is an interview, conducted by Shehzad Charania, with former ICC Judge Sir Howard Morrison. Shehzad is is the Director of the Attorney General’s Office and International Law Adviser to the PM’s Office. His other interviews with ICC luminaries can be found here.
I spoke to Judge Sir Howard Morrison QC this month, a few days after the end of his ICC judicial mandate, and a week after the Appeals Chamber over which he presided handed down final judgments in the cases against Laurent Gbagbo and Bosco Ntaganda.
I begin by asking him to recall how he first became interested in international law and international crimes. He traces it back to his time at a military boarding school in West Germany, where Morrison’s father was deployed as a Royal Air Force pilot. When Morrison was 14, he went on a trip to the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. It was a “raw and dramatic experience”, he says. It was also around this time he began reading about the Nuremberg trials and Anne Frank who died in Belsen at about the same age he was. He recalls finding her betrayal and murder as horribly shocking. Although decades passed before he would practice international criminal law, these memories implanted during his teenage years stayed with him. Morrison’s childhood and young adult life involved moving around a lot, in part because of his father’s occupation, but also his own interest in experiencing different countries and cultures. So from living in Egypt as an infant to teaching in a very remote school in northern Ghana before university, he eventually ended up studying law in the UK. A “fairly conventional” career at the Bar followed, with Morrison taking on whatever was thrown at him, from family law, medical negligence and commercial work, but ultimately it was crime, both prosecuting and defending, that made up most of his practice.
In 1985 Morrison saw an advertisement in The Times to become a resident magistrate in Fiji. He applied and was successful. While there, the country experienced two military coups which made life much more difficult than he had anticipated, although he ended up becoming Chief Magistrate before returning to the UK. “It was this period of my career that really piqued my interest in international law,” he says. “I began to look for something to do beyond my standard practice.” One of the applications he made was to put himself on the list of Defence counsel at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Within a few months, he received a call from Zdravko Mucic, who had been convicted by the Trial Chamber of war crimes, and wanted Morrison to take on his appeal. Morrison ended up acting for four defendants at the ICTY, as well as acting for a Rwandan Cabinet Minister at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2001
Following his work as a defence barrister at the ICTY and ICTR, Morrison came back to the UK, and in 2004 was appointed a domestic court Judge. A few years later, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was established, and Morrison successfully applied for a judicial position. Although he didn’t spend much time at the STL, he remembers being holed up in a hotel near Schiphol Airport with fellow judges, led by Antonio Cassesse as President of the STL, to draft the rules of procedure and evidence. A few months later, however, he received a call from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office asking if he might be interested in replacing the British Judge at the ICTY Lord Iain Bonomy. Morrison accepted, the temptation of probably being asked to sit on the Karadzic case too great to resist.
I ask him about that case. “It took far longer than anyone thought,” he recalls. “It was a huge case, with voluminous evidence, a lot of cross-examination, and everything having to be interpreted and translated. And with Karadzic representing himself, albeit with the assistance of counsel, and as a result the trial chamber deciding to sit four instead of five days to allow Karadzic time to prepare, this alone added 20 percent more time to the trial.” At the same time, Morrison understands that this was a seminal case, where the fairness of the proceedings would be “rightly” under the microscope. “What we delivered was more than just a legal judgment. Because a final decision was never delivered in the Milosevic case, we had to set out the full history of the events which took place, for example in Srebrenica, and the siege of Sarajevo. That’s why the judgment was 2,700 pages. It was an immense privilege to sit on that case. It was also exhausting!”Continue reading