Patricia Scotland

Lasting peace and the prosperity that comes with it cannot be achieved without justice, the Commonwealth Secretary-General has declared, during a keynote speech in the Hague.

Patricia Scotland was addressing the International Criminal Court (ICC) as guest of honour for the opening of the new judicial year.

The distinguished lawyer and former Attorney General in the United Kingdom explained how a fair justice system is an indispensable precondition for democracy, adding that systems must be trustworthy and accessible if they are to be effective.

She said: “That is why building strong public institutions capable of delivering sustainable, democratic development, has always been central to the work of the Commonwealth.”

She added: “Whether justice is delivered through the International Criminal Court, domestic courts or other mechanisms, lasting peace is virtually impossible to attain without justice.

“Our Charter expresses it clearly – international peace and the rule of law are essential to the progress and prosperity of all.”

She highlighted how countries can enshrine recognition of international law in their domestic legislation as an important step towards increasing access to justice.

Praising the important role in promoting peace and security that the ICC plays, she said: “Commonwealth nations seek to realise their commitment to increasing access to justice. We realise that we need to keep in mind the victims of offences such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

“The ICC was not designed to hear from all victims of these crimes, so it is crucial for domestic justice systems to be equipped to provide some form of redress.

“The inclusion of international crimes in domestic law represents an important step in this process, to be followed then by effective prosecution.”

The Secretary-General outlined how the Commonwealth assists member countries in meeting their international obligations.

The Rome Statute, the treaty adopted in 1998 that established the ICC, has been ratified by 36 of the 53 Commonwealth countries – more than 60 percent of members.

The Commonwealth has developed a model law to assist further implementation of the Rome Statute, while extensive experience in legislative drafting and law reform can also help countries include international crimes in their domestic laws.

The Secretary-General also spoke on other elements of the Commonwealth’s long-standing programme of work to strengthen public institutions.

This includes curbing corruption through the development of anti-corruption benchmarks that will be presented to heads of government for endorsement at their next meeting in Rwanda in June this year.

She added: “The benchmarks address the importance of combating corruption in the court system and enabling the judiciary to operate effectively and independently.”