Tyrants on Trial: Keeping Order in the Courtroom

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Trials involving heads of state and other leaders accountable for gross abuses of human rights pose particular challenges for judges and prosecutors, according to this report released by the Open Society Justice Initiative.

Tyrants on Trial: Keeping Order in the Courtroom examines the difficulties of ensuring a fair trial when former leaders defend themselves, often by attacking the court while simultaneously treating it as a platform for lengthy espousals of their broad political and ideological views. The author, Patricia M. Wald, was chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and also served as a judge for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

These trials often revolve around bigger-than-life personalities who see themselves as historic figures defending nationalistic causes and who are determined to make their case to a worldwide audience. The report notes that such trials are inevitably difficult to control.

Drawing on Wald's experiences, and the experiences of judges and participants in other celebrated proceedings, the report provides insightful lessons learned and practical recommendations on the scope of the charges, judicial control of proceedings, self-representation, and media relations.


  • Introduction
  • The Scope of Charges and Number of Codefendants
  • Judicial Control of the Proceedings
  • The Right to Self-Representation
  • Media Control
  • Systemic Problems in Self-Representation
  • Lessons for Upcoming Leader Trials
  • Conclusion and Recommendations for Future Trials

The complete report is available for download.