Faculty of Law Alumni

Lionel Nichols


Lionel Nichols - 2007 recipient of the Tim Hawkins Memorial Scholarship

Name: Lionel Nichols
Occupation: Human Rights Barrister
Period spent in The Hague: April 2008 - September 2008


1.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 in international humanitarian law and international criminal law stems from a commitment to making the world a safer and more peaceful place through the implementation of the rule of law. I believe that it is only by prosecuting those most responsible for the gravest international crimes that there can be an end to such crimes and justice for victims.


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

Whilst at secondary school, I recall learning of the horrors of the Holocaust, the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the genocide in Rwanda. My desire was to pursue a career that would provide justice for victims from these and similar conflicts and contribute to the ending of impunity for such crimes. At the University of Tasmania, I completed a Masters of International Politics and focused my studies on criminal law and international law.


3. How would you describe your experience as an intern in the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICTY?

I was a little different from the other Hawkins scholars in that I undertook my internship at the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICTY. In this role, I regularly attended court, drafted motions and conducted legal research.

Senior trial attorneys who run the cases are always extremely welcoming of interns who are hard-working, diligent and show a passion for the work. Interns who can demonstrate such qualities will be trusted and given a good amount of responsibility.


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

One of the great things about undertaking an internship on a Hawkins scholarship is that, owing to the outstanding calibre of other scholars who have gone before them, Hawkins scholars in The Hague begin their internships with a reputation for producing high-quality work. As a consequence, Hawkins scholars are often entrusted with more challenging and rewarding tasks than their fellow interns.


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

The most memorable moment during my internship was when the world's most wanted fugitive, Radovan Karadzic, was arrested after being a fugitive for 13 years. His transfer to The Hague and initial appearance was the lead story for every major news outlet in the world. A team was quickly assembled to conduct further work on his case and it was a real privilege to make a small contribution to this work.


6. What was the most challenging part of your position?

The most challenging part was meeting victims of the crimes as they prepared to testify. These incredible individuals had already been through so much during the war and watching as they re-told their stories was particularly difficult. At the same time, however, it was inspiring to witness the courage that they displayed in attending court as witnesses subjecting themselves to some rather confronting cross-examination so that they and other victims could see justice.


7.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?

After completing my six-month internship at the ICTY, I continued to work in the field of international criminal law, spending nearly one year at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague. In this role, I assisted the judges in drafting the judgment in relation to former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who was found guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 50 years, the first head of state to be convicted of such crimes since Nuremberg.

I read for the Bachelor of Civil Laws at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, with my studies focussing on human rights law and international criminal law. I then completed my doctorate, entitled 'The International Criminal Court and the End of Impunity in Kenya'. A book by the same name will be published later in the year.

I spent some time as an academic at the University of Oxford. My work involved me in a campaign to encourage governments to support an amendment to the International Criminal Court's statute that would allow the Court to prosecute senior members of government who breach international law by going to war.

I have also worked closely with Geoffrey Robertson QC for a number of years on a number of human rights issues, including the possibility of prosecuting the pope for crimes against humanity.

I currently work as a criminal and human rights barrister in London. I have worked on cases involving the right to life, freedom from torture, the right to liberty and the right to a fair trial.


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

Some tremendous advances have been made in international criminal justice since the ICTY was established in 1991. But my experience in The Hague taught me that this field of law is still very much an emerging one and that a great deal of work still needs to be done to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the tribunals. This is something to which I hope to make a modest contribution to during my career.


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

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a Hawkins scholar in The Hague is being afforded the opportunity to become friends with talented and inspiring lawyers from all over the world. I learned so much from the exchange of ideas that took place during and after the working day and I feel extremely fortunate to have made so many lifelong friendships from my time in The Hague.


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

I feel extremely proud to be a Hawkins scholar. The scholarship had provided me with the opportunity to pursue my chosen career path and to use my legal education from the University of Tasmania to assist the most vulnerable members of the global community. I owe a great deal of gratitude to the Faculty of Law, the many generous donors and, most of all, to the Hawkins family.

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