Court Delays Taylor Trial until January 7, 2008

August 20, 2007

The Hague

The Special Court for Sierra Leone today ordered a delay in Charles Taylor’s trial until January 7, 2008. Presiding Judge Sebutinde granted the Defense request for a four-month delay based in part on the newly composed defense team’s need for additional time to prepare for trial, as well as the Prosecution’s lack of opposition to such a delay. As Brenda Hollis from the Office of the Prosecutor stated, the Prosecution agrees that the defense has shown “good cause for reasonable delay.” Justice Sebutinde emphasized that it is entirely within the Trial Chamber’s discretion to order such a delay.

Defense Arguments for Delay

Present at the status conference was Taylor’s new defense team: Courtenay Griffiths, QC, Terry Munyard, and Andrew Cayley. Taylor, dressed in a gray pinstripe suit and shielded by gold-rimmed sunglasses, conferred with defense counsel prior to the start of the status conference and took notes during various stages of the proceeding. Griffiths argued that a delay was reasonable and that “a myopic insistence on expeditiousness” would render the accused’s right to counsel “an empty formality.”

Both the Prosecution and the Defense, as well as the Court, believe that granting additional time to the Defense to prepare its case will prevent further delays. The defense team affirmed that it is anxious for the trial to start and end as quickly as possible. Griffiths, in a press briefing following the status conference, stated assuredly that he doubts there will be further delays in the trial because the Court is under too much pressure both politically and economically.

Status of Defense Team and Access to Disclosed Documents

Judge Sebutinde questioned Griffiths as to the status of the defense team and the extent of their access to the Prosecution’s disclosed documents. Griffiths responded by noting that the Court must look at all of the circumstances in the present case to determine what will constitute a “reasonable” amount of time for the defense to prepare for the trial. In support of their request for a four-month delay, Griffiths stated that all of the core legal team are new to the case (having signed their contracts to represent Taylor on August 1), two former legal assistants are no longer a part of the defense team, and the team is still in need of an international investigator.

Judge Sebutinde questioned Griffiths about the stated 40,000 pages of disclosed materials from the Prosecution that contain items related to crime-based witnesses, linkage witnesses, and expert evidence. Griffiths said that he first had “sight” of the materials three weeks ago when he visited The Hague and saw the materials stored in the defense office. Charles Jalloh of the Office of the Principal Defender told Justice Sebutinde that the new defense team has access to approximately 80 percent of the Prosecution’s disclosed materials. The Office of the Principal Defender is reviewing and cross-checking the materials and has yet to catalogue the remaining 20 percent of materials.

According to Griffiths, an investigator appointed in Liberia had discovered some 50,000 pages of materials that may contain original documentation that is relevant to the case. Although acknowledging that these materials fall outside the disclosure obligations of the Prosecution, Griffiths stated that the materials came from the personal archives of the accused and include items such as a personal letter from Jimmy Carter to the accused. Although Griffiths argued that “proper perusal of that material is a necessary pre-condition for [the defense] to be in a position to challenge the prosecution’s case,” the Prosecution questioned why these materials were not discovered sooner.

Defense Motion for Extension of Time to Respond to Expert Witnesses

The Special Court also granted a Defense motion for an extension of time to respond to two expert witness’ testimony. The Defense sought additional time to examine and potentially challenge the prosecution’s expert testimony under Rule 94bis(B) of the Special Court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Under this rule, an opposing party has 14 days within the filing of an expert witness statement to file a notice indicating whether it accepts the witness statement or wishes to cross-examine the witness.

Defense Arguments Against Prosecution’s Use of Live Testimony

Griffiths revealed the defense team’s interest in avoiding the use of live testimony and eliminating any “emotional baggage” the Prosecution intends to put before the Court. He questioned why the Prosecution would want traumatized women who had been raped and individuals who were mutilated to travel to The Hague when their evidence would be of little relevance to the trial. Griffiths argued that such crime-based testimony is irrelevant because the Defense concedes that atrocities occurred in Sierra Leone. According to Griffiths, the Prosecution is not arguing that Taylor was on the ground issuing commands in Sierra Leone; therefore, the relevant evidence is that of the linkage witnesses and not the crime-based witnesses. Hollis argued, however, that live testimony is “of course” relevant to detail the facts and circumstances surrounding the alleged crimes.

Defense Motion to Address UN Travel Bans

The defense team expressed concern over the UN-imposed travel bans on certain individuals connected to the accused. According to Griffiths, many individuals are afraid to testify for the Defense because they may be subject to such travel bans. Given the “climate of fear in Liberia,” Griffiths argued that these travel bans may have a chilling effect on Taylor’s ability to receive a fair trial. Griffiths urged the Special Court to rule on the Defense Motion to address this matter with the Security Council.