Faculty of Law Alumni

Simon McKenzie


Legal researcher at the Supreme Court of Victoria
2012 recipient of the Tim Hawkins Memorial Scholarship
Period spent in The Hague: Semester 2 2012

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?

I always knew I wanted to study international relations and international law at University – international politics is not only extremely interesting, but also very important. The impact it has on the lives of people is enormous, perhaps something that is easy to overlook in comfortable Australia.

International humanitarian law tries to limits the awful damage that can occur during times of conflict. It is an area of international law which is hopeful as well as pragmatic and for the most part, politically feasible. I'm an idealistic person – I think that we can improve the lives of other people, and by studying and better understanding IHL is one way that I can contribute to this effort.

Can you give an example of what led you to pursue this area of the law?

I was in grade 8 when the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centres happened. The invasion of Afghanistan happened soon after; and then the Iraq War. I remember reading the discussion and debates surrounding these events and wishing I could participate more fully, and perhaps understand more accurately these complex situations. It was not only the causes that interested me, but also trying to imagine how else these political situations might be resolved or the harm caused by them lessened – and international law is a mechanism that has the potential to both minimise and possible prevent harm.

How would you describe your experience as a Research Assistance in the Prosecutor's office at the ICC?

My experience as a research assistant in the Prosecutor's office at the ICC was invaluable. Seeing how the Court operates from the inside gave me an entirely different perspective on the work of the Court and the operation of international humanitarian law 'on the ground.' It is one thing to study it at university, but quite another to see how the principles of IHL are applied to real life situations.

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

As I worked as a research assistant to Prof. McCormack, I was required to research the IHL problems that arose in the cases, which were often complex and very demanding. The research had to be of a very high standard. This kind of work was not available for those completing a normal internship at the Court.

In addition, I was able to discuss the issues with the lawyers in the Prosecutor's Office as Prof McCormack's assistant at the Court. There is no way I would have attended these meetings – where I learnt so much about the operation of the Prosecutor's Office – had I been doing an ordinary internship.

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

Turning up to work every day was a series of proudest moments – walking up the stairs to the entrance of the Court was startling each day. After all, the International Criminal Court feels unreal when you are living in Tasmania; to see it stand before you, and to know that you will be working in there for the day was always very exciting.

I was proud of the research I conducted when I was there: it was interesting work, and I worked hard to ensure that the research memos I produced were to the highest standard I could manage.

What was the most challenging part of your position?

It was sometimes difficult to trust that my research and work was good enough to be relied upon. It is such important work, and I felt too inexperienced to be offering my perspective on the law. But, Prof. McCormack was always extremely supportive and gave me the confidence to explain to others why we had reached certain conclusions.

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 going to commence a PhD focussing on International Humanitarian Law at Melbourne University this year, and Prof. McCormack will be my supervisor. My time in the Hague was crucial in giving me the confidence to go back to do further study. I am very excited.

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

International criminal law is still in its infancy – and just because progress has been made does not mean that the continued growth and significance of international criminal law is assured. It is something that needs to be nurtured and supported by those people that believe in the worth of it. I hadn't quite realised this when I studied it as part of my undergraduate degree.

Do you have any other observations or comments about your time in The Hague?

Living in the Netherlands makes you love cycling. It is just so ridiculously flat there, and nothing makes you feel more like a local then riding along the bike paths with all the other commuters. It is a lot of fun.

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

I was very honoured and grateful to be chosen for this Scholarship – it allowed me to spend six months working at the International Criminal Court, which was a remarkable opportunity which would have otherwise have been unavailable. Without it, I doubt I would be beginning further study on international humanitarian law.

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