Thursday, December 26, 2013
On December 17, Timor-Leste brought suit against Australia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging that Australia has unlawfully seized and detained documents, data and other property that is subject to the protection of Timor-Leste under international law. More specifically, Timor-Leste alleges that Australian agents seized documentation and other property from the residence of legal advisor to Timor-Leste in Canberra, Australia that related to a pending arbitration under the 2002 Timor Sea Treaty between Timor-Leste and Australia. Timor-Leste requests that the documents and other property be returned and any copies destroyed and that Australia be ordered not to use any information obtained against Timor-Leste in the pending arbitration. In an increasingly common move, Timor-Leste requested the indication of provisional measures. Australia addressed an urgent communication to the Court on Dec. 20, requesting that the ICJ handle the matter with urgency. In response, the ICJ has announced it will hold hearings on the request for provisional measures on Jan. 20-22, 2014.
The application by Timor-Leste is not yet available on the ICJ website. As a result, the legal basis for Timor-Leste's claims are not entirely clear. Judging from the ICJ Press Release, it does not appear that Timor-Leste has referred to a particular treaty for the basis of its claim. There is no mention, for example, of the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, suggesting that Timor-Leste does not claim the documents are protected by those treaties. It may be claiming instead that there is a general principle of international law that protects privileged communications between attorneys and and their clients as was found by the European Court of Justice in the AM&S case. More information regarding that case may be found here.