Under the complex circumstances and the limited capacity in which the International Criminal Court (ICC) operates, the role of its prosecutor has been challenging. The ICC prosecutor cannot pursue all situations for investigation, and cases for prosecution. She has to be selective. Moreover, the individuals and the crimes over which the Court exercises its jurisdiction, and the present circumstances in which it operates raise political sensitivities that might undermine the ability of the Court to deliver its justice effectively. The ICC prosecutor faces a complex dilemma in negotiating a relationship between fealty to the law and the impact and possible benefits of political exigencies in delivering justice. It also raises the problem of the role of political considerations within the decision-making process. The exercise of discretion lies at the heart of these challenges, as the ICC’s Statute allows the prosecutor to exercise significant discretion.
This thesis will explore and analyse the discretionary power of the ICC prosecutor. It situates the development of the office historically by referring to the experiences of the War Crimes Tribunals after World War II and the two United Nations Tribunals of the 1990’s. Against this background, it examines the scope of discretion and the way the Prosecutor has exercised it. This thesis will suggest that there has been a tendency to overlook the necessity of distinguishing between various senses of discretion open to the prosecutor to exercise. In exploring the scope of discretion, the thesis will argue that there is wider range of discretion with different senses, available to the Prosecutor and that has been exercised by her, when applying legal thresholds. In assessing these legal thresholds, the focus will be on ‘sufficient gravity’ and ‘the interests of justice’. The thesis will suggest that the indeterminacy of the legal thresholds, such as ‘sufficient gravity’ is the space, which, in effect, allows decision-makers to exercise a wide range of discretion. The thesis refers to this discourse as legal interpretative discretion. This is to be distinguished from prosecutorial discretion, which is a different concept and allows decision-makers to consider extra-legal considerations, as the case with the term ‘interests of justice ’. An implication of the interpretation of the terms like ‘sufficient gravity’, is that the prosecutor can appear to possess almost unlimited power. In exploring the relationship between the two types of discretion the thesis will root the analysis within a close reading of examples of the investigations and prosecutions, and the scholarly literature. The thesis also discusses the relevance of political considerations within the decision-making process in the context of the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. It suggests that there need not be a conflict between the broad sense of justice as outlined in the Statute and political factors in giving effect to decisions. The thesis engages with the repeated statements by prosecutors, which have denied the use of discretion and asserted a fealty to strict legalism. It suggests that beneath these statements lie a resource, discretion, which helps not hinders international criminal justice.