Guest Talk: Devika Hovell - The Mistrial of Kumar Lama and Universal Jurisdiction in UK Courts

On 17 October 2016, Glasgow’s International Law, Conflict and Security Research Group hosted an insightful talk from Devika Hovell, Associate Professor in Public International Law from LSE Law School. Devika Hovell problematised universal jurisdiction in UK courts and discussed a torture case where the accused was a Nepalese colonel, Kumar Lama, who, last month, was cleared of charges at the old Bailey. Having sat in the trial herself, Devika had a unique perspective and her first hand commentary was fascinating.

This case was only the third universal jurisdiction prosecution by UK courts which makes what the court said and did significant and influential in shaping the UK's future approach to the domestic litigation of torture committed abroad.

devika-hovell_seminarThere were a number of takeaway points from this talk for students and international lawyers more generally including concerns with translators and the translation itself detracting from the “narrative” of witnesses, international criminal law doctrines such as command responsibility being inapplicable in domestic courts and the unique feature of juries in UK criminal trials.

As well as these, the talk touched upon broader issues of the nature and scope of universal jurisdiction and appropriateness of domestic courts trying crimes with little nexus to them – a trial by peers is difficult to achieve when the crime take place over 4,000 miles away! Devika’s analysis of the case was evidently of great interest to our students judging from the excellent question and answer session afterwards.

The International Law research group and students would like to thank Devika for what was an engaging talk.

The next seminar will be from the “International Law as a Profession” series on Tuesday 8 November with Joanna Keating, Head of the Scottish Government’s International Development Team. Students interested in careers practising international law will also have the chance to speak to Joanna afterwards at a reception. It will take place at 5pm in the Gloag Lecture Theatre, School of Law building.

You can register for this event via Eventbrite.

~ Gail Lythgoe

Gail is a PhD candidate at the School of Law. The topic of her thesis is 'Examining the current and continuing significance of “territory” in the global legal order and assessing the ‘deterritorialisation’ of International law'. Her supervisors are Professor Christian Tams and Dr Akbar Rasulov.

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