Attack on UkraineForeign AffairsSpeeches

Victoria Prentis – 2022 Speech on the Legal Response to Russia’s War in Ukraine

The speech made by Victoria Prentis, the Attorney General, in London on 9 December 2022.

  1. Excellencies, members of the London legal community, ladies and gentlemen – it is a real pleasure and a great privilege to address you at the beginning of this important legal conference, alongside my dear Ukrainian colleagues Ambassador Prystaiko which whom I’ve worked very closely this year and Deputy Justice Minister Mudra.
  2. London holds a special place in history for hosting discussions and gatherings on the most significant international legal debates. Some of the most influential international lawyers have and do practise here.
  3. Hugo Grotius, the Dutch jurist and early pioneer of international law came here in 1613 to negotiate the return of two Dutch ships captured by the British. I am pleased to say the Government lawyers of the day made sure he didn’t succeed and he went home empty handed.
  4. One of my personal heroes, and arguably the architect of modern international law, Herscht Lauterpacht, was born near Lviv, lived a few miles North-East of here and spoke up well before it was fashionable for human rights for all, for individual criminal responsibility and the need for an effective system of international law. His son Eli, whose lectures I attended and whom I later instructed, carried on his important work.
  5. And, of course, it was in London, in the summer of 1945, that the allies gathered to put in place one of the most significant cornerstones of international criminal justice of the 20th century – the framework for the tribunal that would ultimately take place in Nuremberg later that year, to try the perpetrators of the atrocities committed during World War II.
  6. It is in that spirit, and on the shoulders of those international lawyers, that this conference comes together – to again take up the heavy responsibility of justice and accountability. I, and the whole of the UK government, are keen to do what we can to ensure justice is done.
  7. Having seen the programme for today’s conference, it is clear that no-one in this room is shirking that responsibility. Nothing has been left off the table – and this is the right approach.
  8. It is an occupational hazard that lawyers disagree – we make our livings out of representing a position and arguing against those who have taken the opposing position. It is in our nature to find the risks, the drawbacks – and explain them to our clients, or a Court. States and policy makers will also, invariably, disagree. That is the nature of our work. We all each have our own national interests and perspectives. But settings like this one allow us all to interrogate the issues, which should in turn enable stronger strides forward together in due course.
  9. My view, and the view of the UK government, is that nothing should be off the table. We will carefully consider all options for accountability. You will see throughout the day my officials and civil servants from across Whitehall departments – kindly invited by our Ukrainian hosts – at the back of the room, noting all of your thoughtful comments and proposals.
  10. Let’s look, though, at what we have achieved so far. The international community’s response to Russia’s illegal invasion has been unprecedented.
  11. The UK played a leading role in gathering support for a State Party referral of the situation in Ukraine to International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan. This enabled him to launch an investigation immediately without seeking authorisation from the court’s judiciary. To date, 43 States Parties to the Rome Statute have supported the referral. It is the largest State Party referral in the court’s history.
  12. The UK is at the forefront of supporting the Court, by seconding national experts and making an additional £1million financial contribution, to help provide enhanced support to witnesses and survivors and for the provision of new technology in evidence collection. We will continue to discuss with the Court what support we might be able to help.
  13. I was in Berlin last week for the first-ever meeting of the G7 Justice Ministers. The focus was how we can better cooperate, and coordinate investigations and prosecutions. Our Berlin Declaration set out our conclusions, including establishing single points of contact in our respective countries.
  14. The work done in Ukraine’s domestic investigations and prosecutions has been extraordinary. Led by my good friend, Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin, Ukrainian prosecutors have opened files into almost 50,000 alleged international crimes. They have, and continue to, carry out trials in the course of an ongoing, live and brutal conflict. This is totally unprecedented – and we should recognise it as such. And crucially this is a unique opportunity to deter soldiers on the ground and their commanders from committing further atrocities.
  15. We are proud to have supported Andriy’s work through the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, together with our friends in the US and EU. And, even as I speak, today Sir Howard Morrison – the UK’s former judge at the ICC and now the UK-appointed Independent Advisor to Andriy and his office – is on his way back from the region, having completed the first of a series of training sessions for Ukrainian judges. These have been developed with the Ukrainian judiciary, to get them ready to try the cases that Andriy will be bringing in the course of the next months and years. Our funding will enable up to 90 Ukrainian judges receive intensive and extensive training on the full range of issues involved in conducting a war crimes case.
  16. Today’s discussion allows us the opportunity, in this peaceful setting, to think and discuss. But we should not let ourselves drift too far from the reality of what is going on in Ukraine. In March, Vika joined our family when she fled the shelling at home. Her grandparents are still living, mainly in their cellar, on the outskirts of Kherson. I know this is a fight shared by those here today, and many, many others around the UK and across the international community. Lawyers are always ready to fight – and there is no fight more serious than this one.
  17. So, may I conclude by thanking you all for your attendance; for all your skills that you are bringing to the discussions. I wish you a very fruitful conference.