Every month, in a relaxed location in central London the London Legal Salon will meet to discuss the big questions facing the law today. Attendance is always free. This blog will publish articles by attendees and the organisers to supplement the debates at our monthly meetings.

Every meeting will be introduced by a short talk from a lawyer or commentator in the area under examination. The discussion will then be opened to those attending to make contributions or ask questions. The meetings will last around ninety minutes and operate under Chatham House rules.

The discussions and the articles on this website will look to scrutinise the black letter of the law and its implications in the Courts and wider society. They will also look to situate the law in its historical and political context. We hope that by developing an understanding of where the law has come from, and why the law has taken the form it has today, we may begin to form an idea of where we want it to go.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The application of the Centre For Constitutional Rights to investigate the Pope for crimes against humanity is a meaningless vanity exercise

On Tuesday a bundle of documents was lodged with the International Criminal Court in the Hague,  which purported to found a case that Pope Joseph Ratzinger had committed crimes against humanity under the Statute of Rome.  The papers, lodged by a US based NGO called the Centre for Constitutional Rights (the CCR),  accused the pope and other Vatican officials of having ‘direct and superior responsibility’ for many thousands of sexual assaults carried out by Catholic priests across the globe.  The CCR had been instructed in the case by a ‘survivor lead support group’ called the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).    According to CCR attorney Pam Spees, when it comes to allocating blame for these assaults, ‘all roads really do lead to Rome’.
The lawyers at the CCR must realise that their claim is doomed to fail. In order for the Vatican and its leaders to be found guilty of Crimes Against Humanity under Article 7 of the Statute of Rome, it would have to be shown that these assaults were undertaken ‘pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attacks.  The ICC’s official ‘Elements of Crime’ document indicates that the accused state or organisation must have actively promoted or encouraged attacks and that tolerance or acquiescence is not enough.  To imagine that the Vatican had an organizational policy encouraging its priests to commit these attacks is a deranged interpretation of the facts.  The lawyers at the CRC are clearly more concerned with becoming the wigged-up darlings of Catholic bashing liberals than they are with actually succeeding in their application. 
But a request for intervention from the ICC is not always about securing results.  After all, the Court is yet to secure any convictions and its arrest warrants are routinely ignored.  Rather it is often the application for intervention itself that allows an organisation, whether it be a government or an NGO, to showcase its moral credentials, without having to actually do anything of any significant consequence.
Libya is the most recent example. The invitation issued by the UN under the terms of Resolution 1979 to the ICC prosecutor to investigate Gaddafi provided a useful veneer of moral purpose to an otherwise poorly coordinated and purposeless intervention. The prospect of convicting the Gaddafi regime in an international Court provided a soft alternative to sending in ground troops to flush him out.  This soft intervention was supported by the moralistic charge against Gadaffi that he had committed ‘crimes against humanity’.
Of course this veneer quickly fell away when investigators discovered that both the rebels and the Gaddafi’s regime had committed acts which arguably amounted to crimes against humanity.  The morally black and white provisions of the Statute of Rome are clearly ill suited to arbitrating over a situation with any degree of moral or political complexity.  
They are also ill suited to arbitrating over the problems faced by the members of SNAP.  But this will not deter the CCR. Their application has the same purpose as those issued by western political organisations like the UN:  publicly showcasing their own organisation’s moral credentials.  As long as their disdain for Catholic Church gets a public airing, then this cynical and irresponsible application will have served its purpose.

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