Lawyers who themselves face prosecution for defending gay clients or for defending alleged Islamic State terrorists. Both are example of cases that will be examined in detail and followed by Master’s students of the Fair Trials Clinic. This is a report about a unique and innovative course.
Since last autumn, three carefully selected Master’s students have been working on European cases involving potential human rights violations in the context of the Fair Trials Clinic. This Spring they hope to travel to Turkey and Poland to attend a trial themselves.
Valentine Vandendriessche, Master’s student in International Criminal Law, is one of these three students. ‘I’m fascinated by cultural differences in jurisprudence. How are cases dealt with in other countries? To what extent does the government attempt to influence proceedings? Often a case cannot be separated from the social and political context.
A deep dive into a case
The Fair Trials Clinic is one of five clinics provided by the Faculty, all of which are part of the Amsterdam Law Clinic (ALP) Master’s course and were created to familiarise students with real cases and real clients. The Fair Trials Clinic is unique in that students at this clinic do not work directly with clients, but rather delve into the background of a given case.
According to programme director Jindan-Karena Mann, the participating students were principally selected for their excellent writing skills. ‘The first assignment they completed was a detailed memo on the background to the situations in Poland and Turkey. Their research and drafting skills are very much above average. On top of that, they are all highly motivated to take part in this course.’
The cases that the students follow at the Clinic are connected to TrialWatch, an initiative of the Clooney Foundation for Justice (founded by George and Amal Clooney). TrialWatch focuses on monitoring and responding to trials all around the world that pose a high risk to human rights violations. At present, the UvA is the only European university working with the Clooney Foundation.
Lawyers for Lawyers is another organisation that is closely involved in this collaborative effort. The organisation has years of experience in monitoring trials all around the world involving lawyers facing prosecution or sanctions. The offices of Lawyers for Lawyers are located at the Law Hub of the Amsterdam Law School.
During the first component of the course, which has now been completed, the three students attended lectures with other Amsterdam Law Clinics students on legal research, public interest lawyering, ethics and pro bono work. In addition, they worked closely with one another on a research project. Valentine: ‘In our memo for Fair Trials Watch, we take an in-depth look at the legal systems of Poland and Turkey and the methods used to select judges. We look also look at previous human rights violations, the role of the United Nations and that of the European Court of Human Rights. This is an essential foundation to studying the case itself. As a student, you delve deep into the subject matter, which is highly motivating.’
This spring, the students hope to travel to Turkey to attend a trial close up, Jindan-Karena Mann explains. ‘Lawyers for Lawyers will be supervising the trial and will assess whether or not it is safe for the students to visit. Some trials last a week, whereas others can drag on for years. It’s not inconceivable for multiple groups of students to be working on the same case.’
Fair Trials Clinic student Valentine, however, is very clear about what her plans are after she graduates: become a criminal lawyer, preferably in an international setting. ‘This clinic matches my subject specialisation seamlessly – although I do think it would benefit any law student. One thing you learn is that a case isn’t always black and white. You learn that subtle nuances or cultural differences can be highly decisive factors. When is something true and when isn’t it? These are insights that are valuable to all of us.’