Defense lawyers for Charles Taylor will now have the chance to appeal the Trial Chamber’s decision to reject their final trial brief. The defense appeal will be lodged before a panel of five judges of the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
The decision to allow defense lawyers to file an appeal came after their final trial brief was rejected by Trial Chamber judges because it was filed outside the specified time ordered by the judges.
On Monday, February 7, just one day before prosecution and defense lawyers were to make their final closing arguments, the Trial Chamber judges issued a decision in which they rejected the defense final trial brief because it had been filed 20 days after the January 14 deadline required for the submission of final briefs by all parties. Defense lawyers said they were awaiting decisions in about eight outstanding motions that were before the judges.
When the court convened this week to hear closing arguments from the parties, Mr. Taylor’s lead defense counsel stormed out of the courtroom, telling the judges that he was not prepared to take part in the proceedings because the defense final brief had been rejected. Mr. Taylor also stayed away from the proceedings. Before the close of business day on Tuesday, February 8, defense lawyers filed a motion seeking leave to appeal the decision of the Trial Chamber.
By a majority this morning (Justice Richard Lussick dissenting), the Trial Chamber judges granted leave to the defense to file an appeal against the Trial Chambers original decision to reject their final brief. This opens the way for defense lawyers to take the matter to a panel of five Appeals Chamber judges, who will determine whether to uphold or overturn the Trial Chamber’s decision.
Also to be dealt with in court today was a directive from the judges to Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths to appear and make an apology for his conduct of walking out of court on Tuesday. In their order, the judges warned Mr. Griffith’s that his failure to appear and apologize in court would cause them to issue sanctions against him in accordance with the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
When court convened this morning, Mr. Griffiths was present along with his co-counsel Terry Munyard. Mr. Munyard spoke entirely on behalf of the defense while Mr. Griffiths sat quietly. In his submission, Mr. Munyard told the judges that the order directed to Mr. Griffiths was a very serious matter dealing with the conduct of counsel and the threat of a possible sanction. There was therefore a need to have a special hearing at which Mr. Griffiths would be represented by an experienced counsel before the judges, Mr. Munyard explained.
Mr. Munyard argued that it was not proper for a member of the defense team to represent Mr. Griffiths. Therefore, the defense would need more time to contact an experienced counsel who does not work for the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He asked that the defense be given two weeks to make this search and prepare for the special hearing.
Despite opposition from the prosecution, the Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber, Teresa Doherty, ruled that it was within Mr. Griffith’s rights to be heard on the matter. She therefore granted the defense request and tentatively set a special hearing date for February 25, 2011.
The special disciplinary hearing, however, will be completely separate and will not in any way interfere with the normal running of proceedings in Mr. Taylor’s trial.
Mr. Taylor’s trial is adjourned indefinitely until the Appeals Chamber delivers its verdict.