The Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague have unanimously dismissed a request by former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s defense to change the date for the delivery of judgment.
After the announcment that the judgment to determine Taylor’s guilt or innocence will be delivered on April 26, 2012, defense lawyers filed a motion requesting a change of date because Mr. Taylor’s lead counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, has prior engagements in proceedings in the UK that cannot be changed. In addition, the defense argued that delivering the judgment on the eve of Sierra Leone’s independence will pose a security threat and add a bad taste to the country’s celebrations. Sierra Leone celebrates its 51st independence anniversary on April 27. Prosecutors opposed the defense request, urging the judges to stand by their originally announced date of April 26.
In a decision delivered today, the judges dismissed the defense request. Judges noted that when it issued their Scheduling Order on March 1 confirming that the judgment will be delivered on April 26, this gave Taylor’s lead counsel a notice of about eight weeks, which according to the judges “is more than reasonable time for Counsel to make arrangements to be present for delivery of judgment.”
The judges also noted that there are other co-counsel as part of Taylor’s defense team who would be present in court in a case that lead counsel cannot attend proceedings on that day.
On the point that delivery of the judgment on the eve of Sierra Leone’s independence could pose potential risk to security in the country, the judges noted that such an assertion “is entirely speculative and without merit.”
For these reasons, the judges maintain that they will deliver their verdict on the guilt or innocence of Mr. Taylor on April 26 as originally announced.
Taylor is accused of bearing responsibility for crimes committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone during the country’s 11 year civil conflict. The war in Sierra Leone ended in January 2002. Throughout his trial, the former Liberian President has maintained his innocence.