New panel has vital role in reforming UN’s internal justice system, says chief

24 July 2008
Justice Kate O'Regan of South Africa

A newly-created group of legal experts will play a pivotal part in improving the system of internal justice within the United Nations, the body’s head said today.

The Internal Justice Council was created after the General Assembly decided to reshape the UN justice system, given that a 2006 “redesign” panel concluded that the administration of justice in the UN “fails to meet many basic standards of due process established in international human rights instruments.”

Addressing reporters in New York today, the Council’s Chair, Kate O’Regan, said that the new five-member body “is a small but key part of the process for the reform of the internal justice system at the United Nations.”

The Council – which seeks to be operational by 1 January 2009 – is tasked with advising on suitable candidates for judges in a two-tier arrangement: the UN dispute tribunal, which will be the key avenue for dealing with disputes arising within the Organization’s staffing system, and the appeals tribunal.

Ms. O’Regan, who has been a judge on South Africa’s Constitutional Court since 1994, was selected to head the new body by its other members consisting of a staff representative, a management representative and two distinguished external jurists – one nominated by the staff and one by management.

The two members nominated by staff, following a process inclusive of all staff unions, are Jenny Clift of Australia, a Vienna-based senior legal officer with the International Trade Law Division of the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA), and Geoffrey Robertson of the United Kingdom and Australia, who served as the first President of the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).

The two members nominated by management are Maria Vicien-Milburn of Argentina, Director of OLA’s General Legal Division, and Sinha Basnayake of Sri Lanka, who previously served in the same position and has since served the Organization in various advisory capacities on legal and administrative issues.

The Council’s Chair stressed the “cost-effective” nature of the new body, with two panel members being permanent UN employees and the other three being paid an honorarium and per diem expenses.

To date, the Council, which was modelled on similar mechanisms at other international public organizations, has received more than 230 applications from 54 Member States for positions on the two future tribunals. Some candidates are “judges with extremely high qualifications who sit on their countries’ highest courts,” Ms. O’Regan said, adding that short-listed applicants will hopefully be interviewed in early September.

“But I should emphasize that at this stage the two draft statutes which will in fact be the legal basis for the two tribunals have not yet been adopted, somewhat disappointingly,” she told reporters, noting that the Council will continue to endeavour to forward its list of recommendations to the Assembly in October.

With a four-year mandate, the panel will also draft a binding a code of conduct for the judges and will also provide an ongoing review to the Assembly on the implementation of the new system.


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