Kiwi lawyer makes history with International Criminal Court election

by Sophie Schroder12 Dec 2014
Nigel Hampton QC has just been elected by all counsel of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague as an alternate member of the Disciplinary Appeals Board for ICC counsel for a term of four years.
 
He is the first New Zealander to be elected to this position.
 
In an interview with NZ Lawyer, Hampton described his election as very “gratifying”.
 
He originally became involved with the ICC in 2007, when he also made history by becoming the first Disciplinary Commissioner of Counsel before the ICC, a newly created role at the time.
 
Also a four-year term, this proved a wonderful learning curve for Hampton.
 
“It was interesting because it helped create procedures and protocols and write surrounding rules around these bodies,” he says.
 
“One highlight [was] meeting with counsel who are drawn from all around the world, not only from common law jurisdictions, but from civil law jurisdictions as well…It was an interesting exercise to try and meld two quite different systems and try and create a discipline system that is coherent and able to be understood by both the common law and civil law.”
 
As a young man fresh out of high school, Hampton could never have imagined he would go on to work with one of the globe’s most important judicial bodies.
 
It was 1960, and the self-professed “country boy” came to the big smoke of Christchurch to finish his education, without any idea about what he actually wanted to do.
 
“Some of [my] friends were doing law, so I thought I’d study it too,” he smiles.
 
Upon graduation in 1964, Hampton went on to work as a law clerk at local firm, the then R A Young Hunter & Co, later going into partnership there.
 
By 1988, he was out on his own working as a barrister. Although litigation was always his forte, as the years went by he became almost solely focused on the criminal aspect of it.
 
Next year, Hampton will celebrate his 50th anniversary of admission to the Bar.

The only break he’s had from practising in that time has been a stint as Chief Justice of the Kingdom of Tonga from 1995-1997.

That was certainly an interesting experience, he says, especially considering he was the first Kiwi to occupy the position.
 
Now one of New Zealand’s top defence lawyers, Hampton’s name is attached to any number of the country’s most high profile cases, including the Pike River Royal Commission of Enquiry where he acted for the EPMU (the NZ Amalgamated Engineering, Printing & Manufacturing Union), the union representing miners.
 
But it’s not just Down Under where the lawyer is making waves.
 
In late 2006, he noticed an advertisement on the internet for the ICC, saying it was setting up disciplinary procedures in relation to counsel.
 
“By that time I’d had quite a lot of experience with disciplinary matters in New Zealand, so I thought, ‘ok I’ll apply for this job as commissioner’, never thinking I’d get it,” he says.
 
But he did.
 
“I put it down to [the fact that] New Zealand has a very good reputation internationally as being an independently thinking country free of corruption – I think they saw New Zealand not only as having these attributes, but also someone coming from a country who was very unlikely to have [had] people involved as defendants in court before.”
 
And it’s obvious that Hampton’s term as commissioner until 2011 was a significant success – evident  in the fact all counsel of the ICC in The Hague have now gone on to elect him as an alternate member of the Disciplinary Appeals Board.
 
“It’s rather gratifying [that] having acted commissioner and done that job, the counsel who are involved with the ICC have seen to vote for me in sufficient numbers,” he says.
 
And as for the future beyond this latest term with the ICC? The modest QC is philosophical.
 
“One’s career often seems to be shaped by forces beyond your control… It’s these happenstance events that shape it, and that’s part of the excitement of law.”
 

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