“Highly accomplished international practitioner known for his powerful courtroom advocacy, command of detail and effective client care”.
John Cammegh is a highly experienced practitioner in the field renowned for his combative courtroom advocacy, command of complex detail in major cases and his ability to gain the confidence of the most demanding clients.
John achieved success as lead counsel for the rebel commander Augustine Gbao in the 2004-09 RUF trial at the Special Court of Sierra Leone, securing more acquittals and a lower sentence than other accused.
Since 2011 John has acted for five members of the Jamaat e Islami party accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes before the notorious International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka, Bangladesh where they face the death penalty if convicted.
John has lectured on a range of issues related to international criminal justice and has contributed to various international publications.
- Advocacy Skills - John is a vastly experienced advocate known for his skill and gravitas in the courtroom, where his legal submissions and successful cross examination of leading figures, including the former President of Sierra Leone and Chief of Armed Forces of Liberia in Prosecutor v Gbao (see below) contributed to a series of acquittals for his client.
- Client Care - Drawing upon two decades experience at the Bar, John’s straightforward but empathic approach has gained the confidence of the most demanding of clients from diverse national and cultural backgrounds.
- Lobbying/Diplomatic Experience - Through his current involvement with the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal John’s practice has expanded into the lobbying/diplomatic field, developing a range of high-level political contacts in the UK, US and Europe, and institutions such as the International Centre for Transitional Justice and Human Rights Watch.
- Publications - John has written for The New York Times and International Herald Tribune and has regularly contributed to The Economist on current international criminal issues. He has also written for Counsel and Criminal Bar Quarterly. (See links above).
- Lecturing/Conferences - John is an experienced lecturer on international justice; subjects include the controversial application of Joint Criminal Enterprise in International Criminal Tribunals, difficulties faced by the ICC in imposing enforcement procedures, monitoring human rights abuses in Syria and aspects of the Sierra Leone and Bangladesh Tribunals. (See full list below; Youtube links at top).
International Tribunal Experience
The Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal 2011-2013
A 21st Century Political Show Trial
The InternationalCrimes Tribunal was instituted to a 1973 Act of the Bangladeshi parliament that aimed to try opposition armed forces personnel in the 1971 Liberation War with Pakistan. Adopting concepts from the Nuremberg tribunals the legislation is obsolete according to modern standards. The Tribunal has been widely condemned as politically motivated and lacking in basic safeguards of the rights of the accused. It is the first international tribunal since Nuremberg and Tokyo to provide for the death penalty.
The accused are leading members of an opposition Islamic political party, Jamaat e Islami, who have held the balance of power in several coalition governments since independence in 1971. Despite a 40 year delay and the lack of any previous allegations concerning the conduct of the accused during the Liberation War, the newly-installed Awami League government resurrected the obsolete International Crimes (Tribunals) Act in 2009, amending the Bangladesh Constitution at the same time to curtail the rights of accused persons facing ‘war crimes’ allegations.
Just as it is relatively silent on fair trial rights, the Act is silent on the definitions of war crimes, crimes against humanity and war crimes, rendering it impossible for the defence to address core elements whilst giving the government-appointed prosecution and judges apparently free reign to mould the law as they go along in proceedings that expressly provide for the death penalty.
The Tribunal’s express removal of the rules of evidence and the right to interlocutory appeal, restriction of client-lawyer access throughout the proceedings and severe curtailment of the defence’s right to call witnesses are just some of the pernicious methods employed to expedite these cases as quickly as possible before the 2013 election.
Contrary to the Act’s provision for instruction of foreign counsel, the Bangladeshi government have persistently refused entry to UK lawyers since 2011. Originally instructed as trial counsel for all accused John advises defence lawyers for all accused on a daily basis from the UK.
Inevitably, the Tribunal has been widely condemned as politically motivated and lacking in basic rights of the accused. John’s additional duties have included attending meetings in the US Departments of State and Defence, Congress and academic establishments, as well as the European Parliament, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the House of Lords and non-government organizations such as the International Centre of Transitional Justice and Human Rights Watch to raise awareness of the Tribunal and its methods.
With trials at an advanced stage and verdicts due by mid 2013, there are grave concerns that the impact of this Tribunal could be a disastrous set-back to the growth of international criminal justice in the developing world, promoting the ethos of politically-motivated, national ad hoc tribunals dispensing a brand of international justice devoid of fundamental international norms and safeguards.
Prosecutor v Augustine Gbao and others, Special Court of Sierra Leone 2004-2009
The RUF Trial: First Ever Indictments re Child Soldiers and Sexual Slavery
The SCSL was set up pursuant to a joint agreement between the Sierra Leonian government and the UN to try those ‘bearing the greatest responsibility’ for the 10 year civil war notorious for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF)’s campaign of terror directed against the civilian population. By the war’s end in 2002, Gbao was, as Overall RUF Security Commander, one of the RUF’s highest ranking survivors. Along with his co-defendants he faced 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Notably, the RUF case made history as the first to try offences of sexual slavery and forced marriage, the abduction of UN peacekeepers, and the use of child soldiers.
The 5 year trial, one of the longest running in history, involved more than 250 witnesses ranging from victims and notorious ‘insider’ former combatants to high ranking international military and political figures including the former President himself. Case materials ran to in excess of 50 000 pages; the Gbao Trial and Appeal Briefs may be accessed herein. Aside from the evidence, legal argument involved issues such as the payment of prosecution witnesses, abuse of process concerning the prosecution’s failure to disclose exculpatory evidence, the repetitive addition of prosecution allegations unmentioned in the indictment, and a motion for the recusal of a trial judge for published comments demonstrating bias against the defendants.
Based in the capital, Freetown, the trial was held amidst hostile conditions where disease and personal safety were constant concerns, as well as the supply of the basic amenities of fuel, power and water. The court’s bureaucratic inefficiency and Gbao’s initial refusal to participate exacerbated matters.
As lead counsel John not only conducted all court advocacy but was also responsible for the management of the defence team, including co-counsel, legal assistants and local investigators. Duties ranged from potentially dangerous up-country investigation work to managing the team budget, as well as contributing to the 2008 SCSL Legacy Conference, attended by high ranking UN and diplomatic personnel from donor countries.
Controversial Application of Joint Criminal Enterprise
The verdicts, returned in February 2009, largely acquitted Gbao both of personal commission and command responsibility of crimes alleged (including use of child soldiers, amputations, sexual offences, forced mining and ordering/participating in the notorious Kailahun mass execution of 1998). The majority of the Trial Chamber, however, convicted Gbao on several counts (with the notable exception of use of child soldiers) via the controversial Joint Criminal Enterprise mode of liability, most of which convictions were subsequently upheld-albeit by a majority-in the Appeals Chamber.
Gbao’s JCE conviction has been widely condemned by commentators and jurists as an abuse of the JCE concept and a setback for international justice (see link above to John Cammegh’s 9BR JCE presentation). By substituting the mens rea of reasonable foreseeability for specific intent in order to convict Gbao on the basic intent mode of JCE liability, the majority of the Trial and Appeal Chambers found Gbao guilty of offences which, according to the law, it was impossible for him to commit. The import of this was that JCE could now be seen essentially as a strict liability offence, implying guilt by association.
Fortunately, with the prosecution’s abandonment of JCE in the Taylor case (despite Gbao having been convicted of entering a JCE with Taylor), and recent decisions at the ICC, further misuse of JCE has been curtailed. This is no consolation to Gbao, who received 25 years imprisonment.
- Sierra Leone – Gbao Appeal
- Sierra Leone – Final Trial brief
- John Cammegh in Sierra Leone – News from Nine Article
- International Criminal Law: An Emerging Market – Sierra Leone
- John Cammegh – Counsel Article on Bangladesh
- International Links
- John Cammegh – CBA Article: Overview of the ICC and Non-state Parties
- New York Times Article – Reconciliation or Revenge (John Cammegh)
- REVOLUTION IN THE AIR – 9 Bedford Row International Conference, 2 November 2012
- Bangladesh the International Crimes Tribunal
Training and Lecturing
- International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) conference on SCSL legacy, UN, New York November 2012
- 9BRi ‘Revolution In The Air’ conference, Chatham House, London November 2012
- Anti-Bribery and Corruption conference, Abuja, Nigeria attended by Nigerian National Security Advisor and state governors, December 2011
- 9BRi conference, London, ‘Enforcement Procedures at the ICC’, November 2011
- St Anthony’s College, University of Oxford ‘The Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal: Justice or Betrayal?’ October 2011
- American Society of International Lawyers, ‘The Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal’ Washington DC, May 2011
- 9BRi conference, London ‘Joint Criminal Enterprise and the Wrongful Conviction of Augustine Gbao’, October 2010
- London School of Economics, ‘Victors Justice? The Special Court of Sierra Leone’ 2010
- Special Court of Sierra Leone Residual Conference, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 2008 (attended by high-level political/diplomatic personnel from donor countries et al).
- Criminal Bar Association
- The Frontline Club
- Amnesty International
- John Cammegh is an active supporter of The Social Mobility Foundation.
- University College London (LLB Hons) 1985
- College of Legal Education 1987
Road cycling, West Ham United
John Cammegh is licensed to receive instruction direct from members of the public in the UK and abroad