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5 Minutes with Graham Blewitt

5 Minutes With… Graham Blewitt

After successfully navigating the corridors of the legal profession for many years, Graham Blewitt turned his hand to writing. The result, Justice and War Crimes, captures the realities of prosecuting war criminals during the time of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

We sat down with Graham to chat about what led him to write Justice and War Crimes and what other things he has in the works.

You had a long and illustrious career in the law, can you give us a sneak peek into what that was like?

In many ways my career path working in what is now the office of the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) seemed to diverge from that of my legal colleagues. I spent over twenty years working in the DDP and was involved in numerous criminal trials involving serious prosecutions.

At the DPP my duties included being in charge of the regional office at Liverpool; being a supervising solicitor at the DPP HQ; then being seconded, as the Professional Assistant to the NSW Solicitor General.

On my return to the DPP I was appointed Legal Liaison Officer for the Joint Commonwealth/State Task Force on Drug Trafficking. Shortly after I was also appointed to the Joint Prosecution Team to investigate and prosecute two senior members of the notorious ‘Mr Asia’ drug syndicate. In addition I was appointed to assist the Coronial Inquest into the death of Donald Bruce Mackay, a well known anti-drugs crusader who was assassinated by the Mafia.

In 1985 I left the DPP to join the National Crime Authority in Sydney. In 1988 I joined the Special Investigation Unit, investigating allegations that there were NAZI war criminals living in Australia.

Then in February 1994 I found myself in The Hague as the Deputy Prosecutor at the ICTY, a position I held until 2004. On my return to Australia I was appointed a NSW Magistrate, a position I held until my retirement in 2019.

I guess it is accurate to say that I have had a long, varied, illustrious and unique career in the law. It has been interesting, exciting, and challenging at times but always rewarding and satisfying.

What inspired you to work in the law?

When I left school in 1964, I had no clear idea where my career path would lead. By chance, I gained a position in the NSW Justice Department in Sydney as a junior officer. Again by chance, I was assigned to the Office of the Clerk of the Peace (an ancient inherited colonial English legal office), which is now known as the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

On my very first day in the Office, and after some short instructions, I was told to put on a black court robe/gown and head into court as a court officer. There I was in Court, assisting the Judge and just loving the experience with wigged and robed barristers and the rituals and antics of the court room dealing with criminal cases. To say the least, I was hooked! I knew then and there that that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life—namely work in the practice of the criminal law.

I decided to study law part time at the Sydney University and to work in the Courts during the day. I finished my legal studies in 1974, and by then I was working my way to higher positions within the DPP office.

I count myself as blessed to have been given opportunities to work in the law.

Can you tell us a bit about Justice and War Crimes?

The UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was created by the UN Security Council in May 1993 and was the first international criminal court since the Nuremburg and Japanese Military Tribunals established at the end World War II.

My book Justice and War Crimes, documents the unique and important developments and events during the ten years I was the Deputy Prosecutor, from 1994 to 2004. It describes how I created the OTP. It details the exploits of the three chief Prosecutors; it sets out the deceptive actions by international players in trying to avoid NATO troops having to apprehend indicted ICTY fugitives; and it sets out many important events and turning points leading to the ultimate and complete success of the Tribunal in completing its mandate from the UN Security Council.

What inspired you to share your story?

It was always as a possibility in the back of my mind that one day, perhaps when I retired as a Magistrate, to write such a book. I was reluctant, however, to write or publish anything whilst the Tribunal was still completing its legal mandate. The last thing I wanted was to publish anything that might somehow provide an appeal point for one of the accused persons being or having been prosecuted at the ICTY.

When I was at the Tribunal, I kept extensive notes of all important developments. I brought these notes home with me and began transcribing these handwritten notes in 2010 with a view to one day donating the notes and transcripts to either the Australian National Library in Canberra or the State Library of NSW. As I was undertaking the task of transcribing the notes, I realised they could form the basic research materials for a book about my ten years at the Tribunal.

Consequently, when the ICTY officially ceased as a Tribunal in December 2017, I began writing my book about my role as the ICTY Deputy Prosecutor from 1994 to 2004.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

I retired as a NSW Magistrate in mid-2019. Prior to my retirement, I had already begun work on Justice and War Crimes, and much of my time since then has been spent writing.

When not engaged in writing activities, my wife and I spent many weeks each year travelling, initially overseas but after the COVID outbreak, our travels have been confined to road trips throughout Australia.

We also spend a lot of time with family and friends and as much time as we can with our grandchildren.

I enjoy working around the house. In recent times, I have been busy organising a 60 year school reunion. Like most retired people, I find there are not enough hours in the day.

Are there any more books in the works?

Work on a second book is almost complete; it focuses on the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.

In early 2021, I approached former colleagues who had worked with me at the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in Sydney, which was established in 1987 to investigate allegations that Nazi war criminals had migrated to Australia at the end of the Second World War and were residing in this country.

The SIU completed its mandated task in early 1994 and its achievements represent a unique chapter in Australian legal history. Yet little is known about the Unit’s exploits.

To remedy this situation, I embarked on a project to document the SIU’s historical work by publishing a book detailing its achievements.