Drawing the missing map: What socio-legal research can offer to international criminal trial practice

Rosemary Byrne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The nature of international criminal trial practice is integral to the perception of the legitimacy of international criminal justice. However, our understanding of what transpires within the trial chambers of international courts and tribunals (ICTs) comes primarily from the reports of judges, lawyers, and stakeholders within the system. This article argues that, while the vast body of international criminal justice scholarship barely draws on socio-legal research, empirical work can contribute to a more objective understanding of international criminal trial practice. It examines prevailing academic approaches to the study of international trial practice as a backdrop to the assessment of data from one of the most expansive empirical studies of international trial practice, undertaken during the second mandate (1999-2003) of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The findings illustrate significant variations in how judges in different Trial Chambers chose to exercise discretion, revealing the co-existence of two distinct modalities of practice in 'proactive' and 'reactive' Trial Chambers. Quantitative and qualitative data allow for an assessment of the efficiency of these modalities, revealing the critical role of the performance of the judge in the trial process. It is argued that these findings highlight the potential for further socio-legal research to motivate 'light-touch reform' within the international criminal justice system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)991-1007
Number of pages17
JournalLeiden Journal of International Law
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)
  • international criminal trial practice
  • judges

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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