Experiences attending an IBA conference on transnational criminals
Miami.  To those of us of a certain age, the name conjures up visions of a seedy, vice-ridden city.  Even to the Americans, it is a foreign land.  “The great thing about Miami”, they say, “is that it is so near to America”.  That’s about as close as Americans get to being droll.

Being so near to the Caribbean and Cuba, the city is a melting pot for numerous immigrants of a wide variety of racial origins. Prima facie then, just the place for a predominantly white, middle-aged, middle class group of lawyers to spend the American Memorial Day holiday weekend at the end of May.

We shut ourselves away from the sun and sand in large, air-conditioned rooms in the Fontainbleu Hotel on Miami Beach and seriously discussed “The Alleged Transnational Criminal”. This was about the fifth in this series of excellent, high-level IBA conferences.  The subject itself was fascinating. I had no idea that just so much money was involved in illegal transnational activity. It is not only in the world of drugs that money requires to be laundered. It seems that Scottish banknotes are renowned world-wide for being regularly laundered. There is an entire industry within the world-wide legal community involved in tracking and recovering illicit funds. The implications of this work in combating the threat of international terrorism following September 11 are clearly enormous.

A “Training for the job of Trial Observer” session was run by Nicholas Cowderey QC, a prosecutor from New South Wales and Chair of the IBA Criminal Law Committee. His useful seminar, aimed at preparing lawyers to be Human Rights monitors in countries where the international legal community fear there is scant regard had to due process in domestic courts, was interspersed with such practical advice as “ if you are due to be away for one week at the court, tell the family that it is two as you may be arrested at the airport on some fabricated charge on the way home”

Not surprising, as the chief protagonists for the creation of an International Criminal Court, the IBA has given a great deal of consideration to the task and qualifications of trial monitors. They must be senior qualified lawyers with a meaningful criminal law background. After our Scots Lockerbie experience, where through accident rather than design, one of the UN trial observers was a probably well-meaning but quite dotty Professor of Philosophy from an Austrian University, we can only endorse the hard-headed IBA approach.

But even American lawyers, serious as they are, could not manage to spend the entire Memorial holiday weekend shut away in a hotel conference room when Miami lay just outside the front door. We decided to treat ourselves to a few hours off. We asked the hotel concierge for advice. It has be explained that this man was so excessively camp that, even at the San Francisco Millennium Gay Convention, delegates had remarked of him “Wow, that guy’s a bit queer” - or so he told us with pride. I blame his over-the-top approach to life for where we wound up.  

He sent us down to the main boulevard in Miami Beach - Collins Avenue - which is full of original Art Deco buildings and  runs just one block back from the beautiful long stretch of sand which gives the city its name. “You will just love those bijou buildings,” he pouted. So a little cultured architecture appreciation it would be.

But by the time we got there, it was late afternoon and the boulevard was jam-packed with literally thousands of Latino, Hispanic and Afro-American kids around the 20-year-old mark who had spent their Memorial Day weekend rather more joyfully than ourselves attending a hip-hop music convention.

The purpose of their promenade along Collins Avenue at this stage was, even to untutored eyes, the most direct courtship ritual imagined.  While groups of boys sat on walls at the side of the street, the girls walked sufficiently slowly to allow the boys to get a good look and to engage them in merry banter regarding, shall we say, “future prospects”.

Feeling aged, and quite superfluous to the matters in hand, our little group withdrew to the cool and safety of the Delano (“a stunning unspoilt Art Deco jewel”) Hotel, famous for its cocktails.  We took our seats on the garden terrace looking out over the ocean and ordered drinks.  By now, darkness had fallen and the moon was shining over the sea, on the beach and into the hotel grounds. Below our terrace down at beach level was the most enormous swimming pool, which in reality was only about six inches deep across its entire expanse.  Right in the middle, at a wrought-iron table and chairs sat a beautiful young couple eating cherries from a wicker basket and drinking champagne.  They appeared to be somehow floating on the little waves of the pool which were picked out by the rising moon.  Spectacular, beguiling and quite, quite false - it could only be America.

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