Judges allow Charles Taylor's closing arguments
Appeals judges on Thursday said Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor should be given a chance to make a statement at the conclusion of his three-year-old war crimes trial.
The trial chamber last month refused to accept Taylor's closing brief, which was filed late, prompting him to boycott the proceedings in protest on the day set aside for his closing statement.
The appeals chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone said Thursday that their colleagues in the trial chamber had erred in failing to ascertain whether Taylor fully understood the gravity of such a boycott, adding that a closing statement was a "fundamental right" of any accused.
Taylor's waiver had been communicated through his lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths.
"The trial chamber did not establish that there was a knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver by the accused (Taylor)," the appeals judges said.
Their failure "could occasion a miscarriage of justice".
"The accused's final trial brief is ordered accepted... and the trial chamber is instructed to expeditiously set a date to hear the defence closing argument," said the ruling.
On February 11, the day the trial was scheduled to close after three years of arguments and evidence, judges instead adjourned the case pending the appeals ruling finally rendered on Thursday.
Taylor, 62, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity on allegations of arming Revolutionary United Front rebels who killed and maimed Sierra Leone citizens.
The Sierra Leone civil war claimed some 120,000 lives in the 10 years to 2001, with RUF rebels, whom prosecutors described as Taylor's "surrogate army", mutilating thousands of civilians by hacking off their limbs.
Taylor and his lawyer were absent for the last two days of hearings in protest against the judges' refusal to accept his filing, 20 days late, of a final trial brief -- a summary of the defence's evidence.
Griffiths faces disciplinary sanctions for the walkout.
© 2011 AFP