THE ESTABLISHMENT of a new International Criminal Court could be approved by the end of the year if a resolution put to the International Bar Association council is accepted.
In a proposal due to go before the council's 156 members last weekend, IBA president J Ross Harper says the court would have subject-matter jurisdiction over all crimes under international law, extending the powers currently held by the International Court of Justice which governs states but not individuals.
Harper says the court would operate on a full-time basis as an "impartial and independent body associated with the UN", tackling a range of crimes including those listed in the draft code of crimes against the peace and security of mankind - genocide, mass or systematic violations of human rights and war crimes.
It would ensure that perpetrators are dealt with "speedily and effectively" without reference to race, political allegiance or national boundaries.
Seconded by Robert Trevisani, chair of the IBA's section on general practice, the proposal also supports an International Law Commission call for the empanelling of "highly-qualified, independent and impartial" jurists from all regions of the world.
If the motion is passed by the council, the IBA will then write to the UN as well as individual governments urging them both to implement the proposal.
Harper says it is likely that a number of centres would bid for the court, including Edinburgh, London, Paris and the Hague.
"Recent violations of human rights and breaches of humanitarian law make it important that such a court should be established immediately," says Harper.
"The establishment of an International Criminal Court would allow proper trials to take place. It would take away any territorial excuse for not submitting to trial.
"Until such a body exists, individuals suspected of serious crime will enjoy immunity."
Harper says he expects "pretty solid support" for the plan, which would do away with situations such as the current political conflict preventing the trial of two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing.
"The IBA doesn't normally put in declaratory motions," says Harper. "But we've taken the view that we ought to be a bit more robust in speaking out on behalf of all lawyers.
"Crimes are becoming more and more international, and at the moment we have to set up ad hoc courts. A permanent court would be much more meaningful."