Legal process

As an international court, the ICC's legal process may function differently from that in your national jurisdiction. Below are a few highlights giving key information on the legal process.  


The Court may exercise jurisdiction in a situation where genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes were committed on or after 1 July 2002 and:

  • the crimes were committed by a State Party national, or in the territory of a State Party, or in a State that has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court; or
  • the crimes were referred to the ICC Prosecutor by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) pursuant to a resolution adopted under chapter VII of the UN charter.

As of 17 July 2018, a situation in which an act of aggression would appear to have occurred could be referred to the Court by the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, irrespective as to whether it involves States Parties or non-States Parties.

In the absence of a UNSC referral of an act of aggression, the Prosecutor may initiate an investigation on her own initiative or upon request from a State Party. The Prosecutor shall first ascertain whether the Security Council has made a determination of an act of aggression committed by the State concerned. Where no such determination has been made within six months after the date of notification to the UNSC by the Prosecutor of the situation, the Prosecutor may nonetheless proceed with the investigation, provided that the Pre-Trial Division has authorized the commencement of the investigation. Also, under these circumstances, the Court shall not exercise its jurisdiction regarding a crime of aggression when committed by a national or on the territory of a State Party that has not ratified or accepted these amendments.


The ICC is intended to complement, not to replace, national criminal systems; it prosecutes cases only when States do not are unwilling or unable to do so genuinely.


As a judicial institution, the ICC does not have its own police force or enforcement body; thus, it relies on cooperation with countries worldwide for support, particularly for making arrests, transferring arrested persons to the ICC detention centre in The Hague, freezing suspects’ assets, and enforcing sentences.

While not a United Nations organization, the Court has a cooperation agreement with the United Nations. When a situation is not within the Court’s jurisdiction, the United Nations Security Council can refer the situation to the ICC granting it jurisdiction. This has been done in the situations in Darfur (Sudan) and Libya.

The ICC actively works to build understanding and cooperation in all regions, for example, through seminars and conferences worldwide. The Court cooperates with both States Parties and non-States Parties.

ICC President Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji meets with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, New York © UN PhotoICC President Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji meets with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, New York © UN Photo

The Court works in particularly close cooperation with its host state, the Netherlands, regarding practical matters such as constructing the Court’s new permanent buildings, transferring suspects to the ICC Detention Centre, facilitating their appearances before the Court, and many other matters.

Countries and other entities, including civil society groups such as NGOs, also cooperate with the Court in numerous ways, such as raising awareness of and building support for the Court and its mandate. The Court seeks to increase this ongoing cooperation through such means as seminars and conferences.

Ten key facts about the legal process

Further to the Key Features listed above, here are some of the basics you may want to know:

  • The ICC does not prosecute those under the age of 18 when a crime was committed.
  • Before the Prosecutor can investigate, she must conduct a preliminary examination considering such matters as sufficient evidence, jurisdiction, gravity, complementarity, and the interests of justice.
  • When investigating, the Prosecutor must collect and disclose both incriminating and exonerating evidence.
  • The defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof lies with the Prosecutor.
  • During all stages of proceedings (Pre-Trial, Trial and Appeals), the defendant has the right to information in a language he or she fully understands, thus the ICC proceedings are conducted in multiple languages, with teams of interpreters and translators at work.
  • Pre-Trial judges issue warrants of arrest and ensure there is enough evidence before a case can go to trial.
  • Before a case is committed to trial (during the Pre-Trial phase), the defendant is referred to as a suspect. Once the case is committed to trial, since at that point the charges have been confirmed, the defendant is referred to as the accused.
  • Trial judges hear the evidence from the Prosecutor, Defence, and the Victims’ lawyers, render a verdict, and if a person is found guilty, the sentence and decision on reparations.
  • Appeals judges render decisions on appeals from the Prosecutor or Defence.
If a case is closed without a verdict of guilt, it can be reopened if the Prosecutor presents new evidence.

How we are organized

The Rome Statute established three separate bodies: The Assembly of States Parties, the International Criminal Court, which comprises four separate organs, and the Trust Fund for Victims.

The Rome Statute System