Faculty of Law Alumni

Caitlin Dwyer

Judge's Associate (Associate to the Hon. Justice Lasry at the Supreme Court of Victoria) 
Period spent in The Hague:
Feb-August 2011Caitlin-Dwyer
2011 recipient of the Tim Hawkins Memorial Scholarship

The Tim Hawkins Memorial Scholarship is awarded on the basis of your interest in international humanitarian law or terrorism - where does your interest lie and where does this interest stem from?

My interest lies in international humanitarian law (IHL).  I believe that international criminal law, one aspect of the enforcement of IHL, has significant potential to positively affect the lives of those touched by conflict, first in a retrospective sense, by bringing to light the events and providing a degree of justice, and second, hopefully in a proactive sense by increasing compliance with humanitarian law.

My interest in this field certainly developed at University as I was able to inform myself about it on an intellectual level.  I think my interest originates from an awareness of conflict and the impact of conflict – my grandfather was a refugee from post-WWII Czechoslovakia – and a desire to effect positive change. 

How would you describe your experience as a Research Assistant in the Prosecutor's Office at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to someone considering applying for the scholarship?

I worked for 6 months at the ICC and it was a wonderful and challenging experience. Professionally, I got to work at a level I could not imagine working at.  I wrote submissions which were adopted by the Prosecution for the Closing Brief in Lubanga.  I attended high level meetings with Professor McCormack and then as his representative.  I was used as a resource by various divisions within the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP).  Socially, The Hague is a fantastic place.  There are people there from all over the world, really all over, and they share a commonality, which is a compassion, a global mindedness and a desire to do good.  They are also generally rather outgoing, to go so far from home on their own, which makes for a great night out.

To what extent do you think your position in The Hague was different from a normal internship in The Hague?

I found my experience to be very different from that of most interns.  By being Professor McCormack's assistant, you are really doing work at Professor McCormack's level.  And the OTP only request opinions and advice from Professor McCormack when the issue is something too complicated for the trial team to tackle, given their other responsibilities.  This is sometimes terrifying in the sense of feeling a little out of your depth, but it is rewarding and a very significant experience in tackling steep learning curves and a great professional development.  Most interns do important work in the sense of supporting the trial team, but very rarely would they be taking on a whole issue themselves.

During your internship what was your proudest/most memorial moment and why?

My proudest moment during my internship was definitely completing submissions in Lubanga and having the trial team adopt them.  Professor McCormack had been asked to provide advice on the character of the conflict relevant to that case.  It was a complex issue and the existing law did not cover the factual situation in the ground.  It was difficult to research and create an approach that was clear and persuasive.  After various advices were given, that task developed into writing the closing submissions on that topic.  I spent two to three weeks working very long hours to draft the submissions and I was very proud to see them in the Closing Brief.  It was also great to see Professor McCormack deliver the submission in oral argument.

What was the most challenging part of your position?

The most challenging part of my position is what led to my proudest moment.  In drafting the conflict characterisation submissions in Lubanga, I felt an incredible pressure - an adverse finding risked an acquittal on two of three charges and I was a recent graduate with no real experience in drafting.  As I have said however, that challenge led to my most rewarding experience.

What are you doing now and/or what are you plans for the future? Has this been influenced by the 6 months you spent in The Hague – if so, how?

I am currently working as Associate to Justice Lasry at the Supreme Court of Victoria but I am just about to change roles to work as a solicitor at a criminal law firm. This course was most definitely shaped by my time in The Hague.  I had originally wanted to work at the international level immediately but my time in The Hague made me realise that you should be bringing something to the international level as opposed to using it as your training ground.  The international community doesn't have (or at least doesn't contribute) the resources to international justice and international development that it can afford to train people.  Of course this doesn't mean that there aren't junior positions in international justice (but they are often filled by people who are overqualified).  But my approach now is that enthusiasm and passion is not enough – you should have some skills to contribute.  That led me back to Australia to become a good lawyer, to be able to contribute to positive developments in domestic and international criminal law.

Has working at The Hague changed your worldview? If so, in what ways?

My experience of working in international criminal justice has made me determined to contribute to positive developments in criminal justice around the world.  It made me realize that developments in societies are really effected by the minor changes consequent on concerted efforts of individuals.  I want to be someone whose influence, however small, is for positive change.

In a sentence or two please outline what being a recipient of the Tim Hawkins Memorial Scholarship means to you?

Being a recipient of the Tim Hawkins Memorial Scholarship has been incredibly significant for me – it enabled me to experience the workings of international criminal justice, and in that way it has shaped my career direction.  It is a real honour to be a Hawkins Scholar as that group has some remarkable people in it that I look up to professionally and personally.  It also makes me proud to be Tasmanian and to have worked in the name of an impressive young man whose family have found such a noble way to honour him.

 Interview by Charlotte Hunn. Read more about the Tim Hawkins scholarship.