Loss of international court judge an ‘indictment of Britain’s waning influence’

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Nov 22, 2017
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Sir Christopher Greenwood withdrew from the competition to sit on the International Court of Justice

University of Salford Press

Britain’s loss of a seat on the International Court of Justice was condemned last night as a blow to the country’s reputation in world affairs as a Tory MP accused Boris Johnson of a “major failure of diplomacy”. 

International lawyers and experts attributed the loss of the seat partly to fallout from Brexit, and warned that it would be damaging worldwide to the rule of law and human rights, of which the UK is a leading proponent.

They also blamed high politics and tensions between the old order of the Security Council and the rising power of the bloc of developing countries, predicting that the UK could lose its position on other United Nations bodies such as the Security Council.

Lord Pannick, QC, the cross-bench peer and tenant at Blackstone Chambers in London, said: “This is a sad reflection of the decline in the status and reputation of the United Kingdom in world affairs, a problem to which Brexit has made an inglorious contribution.

“It is also very unfortunate for the international rule of law. Sir Christopher Greenwood has been a judge of real distinction and he will be much missed on the ICJ.”

The decision is a triumph of politics over competence

Sir Daniel Bethlehem, former chief legal adviser to the Foreign Office, said: “Christopher Greenwood absence will be a significant loss for the court. He is recognised internationally as one of the most expert, able and experienced public international lawyers worldwide, with over 40 years in the field, as academic, counsel and judge.”

Bethlehem added: “While the outcome was probably more to do with the politics of the UN, the populist weight of the General Assembly versus the perceived old order entitlement of the permanent members of the Security Council, a perception of Britain’s waning post-Brexit influence, and the inability to count on European support, no doubt also played a part.

“Whatever the reason, the court will be poorer for Greenwood’s absence.”

Jonathan Cooper, a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers in London, added: “Losing our judge on the ICJ would have been inconceivable only a year ago. It is a major shock. It is symptomatic of the UK having entered a phase where the country is not as significant a world player as it was.” That would weaken its influence in pushing for human rights, he said.

Mark Stephens, a media and human rights partner at the London law firm Howard Kennedy, said: “The decision is a triumph of politics over competence.

“He has fallen victim to a policy of promoting possibly judges from the developing world in a worthy but potentially misguided attempt to promote judges from a wider pool.

“And there may well be a conscious or subconscious motivation to punish the UK for various reasons, but in the end the ICJ has shot itself in the foot.”
However others put the move down to the assertion of a new world order. Jonathan Goldsmith, former secretary-general of the Council of the Bars and Law Societies of the European Union, said: “Tempting as it may be to blame Brexit and Boris Johnson, this is more likely to be a symptom of the rise of the East, striking against the old world order.”

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