It’s bigger. It’s greyer. And, on day one of using the new courtroom of the International Criminal Court, it has no apparent glitches.
The area where the public gets to sit and watch the proceedings is high, steeply banked with rows of chairs. About 35 have been designated for Kenyans to come to and support their deputy president as the judges listen to arguments about whether or not William Ruto and his fellow defendee, journalist Joshua Arap Sang, have a case to answer.
In fact, about 20 Kenyan ‘delegates’ are there, including some MPs. But when asked what they expect during the next three days, one tells me “we have no idea. You tell us”.
A few spaces are reserved for the defence and family of the accused. Three family members come in, wrapped up in scarves and coats against the bitter January winds of The Hague.
Registrar Herman von Hebel sits proudly in the middle of the front row in the audience. He tested the systems with a mock trial last year in the new courtroom. But, until the curtains swish open smoothly, he must be worried.
The media room fills up with a variety of familiar faces. But the lifts don’t work so well, and there’s a bit of confusion over how/where you go through security and whether a kaasbroodje – cheese roll – is allowed through to the media centre.
In the courtroom, there’s a flurry of introductions prefaced with “Happy New Years”. The space for the respective teams is bigger. They look more impressive than in the old courtrooms, crowded into a former parking garage hastily converted for the first few years of the Court’s existence.
And when the judges have to talk to each other to make a decision on whether the arguments should be held behind closed doors or not, there’s room for the three heads – the Nigerian presiding, along with his Czech and Dominican colleagues – to huddle comfortably, half-turning their chairs side-on.
A member of the prosecution team reminds his colleagues to turn their computer screens at an angle. From where we the media are sitting, it would take eagle eyes to read any private messages. But I guess his caution is sensible.
The issue at stake in this hearing is whether or not the prosecution has put forward enough evidence to potentially convict either both or either Mr Ruto or Mr Sang. The prosecution is answering the arguments of the defence teams, saying they haven’t made their case. Then the defence will answer each. It’s detailed, painstaking, line-by-line showing exactly how each argument related to the charges has been built up. You can feel under the absolute politeness and precision of each lawyer’s remarks how much “thrust and parry” is being prepared, as the lead prosecutor Anton Steynberg puts it.
So far so good. The ICC is beginning the New Year with an important development in an important case. “Maybe there will be an occasional glitch,” says Presiding Judge Eboe-Osuji, referring to the new courtroom. Let’s hope there’s no glitch in the dispensation of justice. Victims of the post-election violence and political supporters of the defendants alike are watching closely.
An artist’s impressions of the first day at the new International Criminal Court (Emanuele del Rosso/Justice Hub)