Taylor war crimes trial delayed to give new defense team time to prepare
Michael Sung at 9:58 AM ET
[JURIST] The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website; JURIST news archive] formally suspended the trial against former Liberian President Charles Taylor [BBC profile; SCSL case materials] Monday, ordering [PDF text] the prosecution to resume its case on August 20. Taylor attended [Reuters report] Tuesday's court session, marking the first time he appeared in court since his trial began in June. Taylor has been boycotting the proceedings [JURIST report], demanding that the SCSL obtain a British Queen's Counsel on his behalf after he fired his court-appointed lawyer before the prosecution presented their opening arguments. Presiding Judge Julia Sebutinde [official profile] has ordered the addition of four people to Taylor's defense team and that a new lead counsel be appointed by July 31. The addition came as a response to Taylor's accusations that his single court-appointed lawyer was unfairly outnumbered by the prosecution team. Sebutinde said [transcript; PDF] Tuesday that the additional trial delay, requested by both the prosecution and defense [JURIST report], was granted because:
The Chamber agrees that to compel Duty Counsel to represent the accused during this one week, without affording him adequate administrative support or time to prepare, would indeed amount to a violation of Mr Taylor's fair-trial rights in as far as counsel could not be expected to effectively cross-examine the witnesses, Prosecution witnesses, nor effectively challenge the Prosecution evidence.During Tuesday's court session, Taylor also pleaded not guilty to an amended count in his indictment [PDF text].
It will be remembered that the Trial Chamber did, as early as March 2007 and on several occasions after that, warn of unlikely due delay emanating from the failure of the Registry to address and resolve Mr Taylor's representation and investigative requirements in good time before the start of the trial. Thus, while the Chamber generally frowns upon undue delay of these proceedings, we are mindful of our overriding obligation to conduct a fair trial and to guarantee the statutory rights of Mr Taylor, who, in this case, should not be penalised for the laxity of the Registry.
Furthermore, the Trial Chamber is of the view that the alternative proposed by the Prosecutor; namely, that of calling the experts today to give their evidence in-chief and then to postpone their cross-examination until August when a new Defence team is in place, would also not be in the interests of justice or of a fair trial.
It is for all the above reasons that the Trial Chamber agreed to review its earlier order of 25th June 2007 and granted the joint request and postponed this trial to 20th August 2007, when the Prosecution case is then expected to recommence and a new Defence team is expected to be in place and ready to effectively represent the accused without further undue delay.
Charges against the former president include murder, rape, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers during a blood civil war in Sierra Leone [JURIST news archive]. If acquitted, Taylor will be permitted to return to Liberia; if convicted, he will serve his jail time in Britain [JURIST report]. The trial, which was expected to last 18 months, was relocated to The Hague from Sierra Leone [JURIST report] for security reasons in 2006. AP has more.
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