Judges delay end of Charles Taylor trial
Judges on Friday adjourned indefinitely the three-year-old trial of Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor on charges of arming rebels who killed and maimed Sierra Leone citizens.
Instead of closing the trial, as scheduled, the Special Court for Sierra Leone granted Taylor's lawyers leave to appeal an earlier decision refusing the late filing of a defence document.
"The trial chamber will stand over the proceedings until the appeals chamber will deliver their verdict," presiding judge Teresa Doherty said in Taylor's absence. "This hearing is adjourned sine die."
Taylor, 62, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
He sent a notice to the court on Friday waiving his right to be present. His lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, was in court as ordered by the judges after storming out of their courtroom earlier in the week.
"Reason has finally been able to prevail," Griffiths told journalists outside the courtroom in Leidschendam, near The Hague, of the decision to allow his appeal.
It was not clear by how much the process will delay the trial closure, but Griffiths said he intended to file the appeal by Tuesday or Wednesday next week.
"Hopefully, thereafter, we will have a result (from the judges) by the following week," he said.
"We do not want the trial lasting a day longer than it needs to," Griffiths' defence team colleague, Terry Munyard, told the judges earlier.
The prosecution said this week that Taylor armed Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who staged one of the most brutal conflicts in modern times in exchange for illegally mined so-called "blood diamonds".
The Sierra Leone civil war claimed some 120,000 lives in the 10 years to 2001, with RUF rebels, Taylor's "surrogate army", mutilating thousands of civilians by hacking off their limbs.
He "was in charge of, put in place, directed, nurtured and supported the campaign of terror" against the people of Sierra Leone, prosecutor Brenda Hollis told judges on Tuesday, describing Taylor as "a man with an insatiable greed for wealth and power."
Taylor and his lawyer were absent from the court for most of Tuesday for the prosecution's closing arguments, and again on Wednesday, the day set aside for those of the defence.
Their absence was a mark of protest, with Griffiths storming out of the courtroom accusing the court of "injustice" for refusing to accept his filing, 20 days late, of a written summary of Taylor's defence.
This is the decision he has now been granted leave to appeal, though Hollis argued the defence should not be given another shot at closing, oral arguments.
The failure to have done so was due to the "wilful, knowing, conscious choices of the accused", said the prosecutor, accusing the defence team of trying "to assert their control over the proceedings ... to impose their conditions on the proceedings".
Friday was supposed to have seen final rebuttal arguments from both parties, followed by the closing of the trial and the judges retiring to consider their judgment -- which the court has stated is expected mid-2011.
Instead, most of the morning was taken up by a judges' directive for Griffiths to apologise for Tuesday's walkout or risk "sanctions".
His colleague, Munyard, asked the judges for a two-week delay of the disciplinary matter, saying the charges were "extremely serious" and Griffiths needed to find a "suitably qualified lawyer".
His request was granted.
© 2011 AFP