On 23 January 2015 the Appeals Panel of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon decided that the Tribunal has jurisdiction in the contempt case against the media company Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. This is the second decision in which this body concludes that the Tribunal has jurisdiction over a legal person (the first one was in the New TV S.A.L. case).
This decision is what appears to be the final development with regard to jurisdiction in the twin contempt cases against New TV S.A.L. and Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. The two media companies are charged with contempt for having revealed names of witnesses of the Tribunal which should have remained confidential.
The Appeals Panel had already ruled the Tribunal had jurisdiction over corporations in contempt cases in New TV S.A.L. in October 2014 (I wrote about this here). This was the first time an international tribunal ever asserted jurisdiction over a corporation. However, in an unexpected turn of events, the contempt judge refused to follow their findings and dropped the case against Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. in November 2014 (see blog post here).
In this final decision in Akhbar Beirut S.A.L., the Appeals Panel confirmed the findings of New TV S.A.L. and criticized the decision of the Contempt Judge to ignore these findings. For the Panel, “it would have been preferable and important for judicial certainty as well as to avoid the fragmentation of the law, for the Contempt Judge to have followed the conclusions of the New TV Jurisdiction Appeal Decision.” [para. 71]
In a strong dissent, Judge Nosworthy argued that the Contempt Judge was bound by the previous decision and that the Panel was wrong in considering that it was simply “preferable” for him to apply it.
While not adding anything new to the discussion over corporate criminal liability under international law, the Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. Appeal Decision is important in that it confirms the findings of New TV S.A.L., which is therefore no longer an isolated decision. Slowly, the notion of corporate criminal liability under international law is gaining ground.