Based on a request by prosecutors, the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today suspended the cross-examination of Charles Taylor’s defense witness whose direct-examination was concluded this morning by defense lawyers for the former Liberian president.
Charles Ngebeh, a Sierra Leonean witness and former arms repairer for Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF), has been testifying for Mr. Taylor, who is on trial for allegedly providing support to RUF rebels while as leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group and as president of Liberia. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations against him.
As Terry Munyard, defense counsel for Mr. Taylor concluded the direct-examination of Mr. Ngebeh today, prosecution counsel, Ms. Brenda Hollis, requested that the cross-examination of the witness be suspended because certain things to which Mr. Ngebeh testified had not been contained in his statement disclosed to prosecutors. She told the judges that the information provided by defense lawyers was insufficient for the cross-examination of the witness.
“Prosecution therefore is unable at this time to cross-examine this witness because of the inadequacy of the summary. We are unable to achieve the purpose of cross-examination, which is to test the evidence for the benefit of the fact-finders, that is, for the benefit of your honors. That’s why cross-examination is allowed and that’s why it’s so important,” Ms. Hollis told the judges.
Ms. Hollis further added that there were inconsistencies in the witness’s oral testimony in court and his written statement made to defense investigators.
Defense counsel for Mr. Taylor, Mr. Munyard, objected to the prosecution’s request for the suspension of the witness’s cross-examination, telling the judges that the prosecution had not given enough reasons to delay the cross-examination of the witness.
According to Mr. Munyard, “the test for the court to determine is whether the prosecution has demonstrated such undue prejudice that it is in the interest of justice to disclose the statement. In other words, what the prosecution is saying is, without the statement, we can’t reasonably proceed to cross-examination. In our submission, of course they can reasonably proceed to cross-examination.”
After hearing arguments on both sides and conferring with her colleagues, presiding judge, Justice Julia Sebutinde, issued a ruling that while agreeing with the prosecution that the witness’s cross-examination should be suspended, his written statement disclosed by defense lawyers did not necessarily contradict his testimony in court.
“The Trial Chamber is of the view that although the summary is inadequate, what little there is of it is not necessarily inconsistent with the witness’s testimony given in chief. The Trial Chamber therefore finds that the proper remedy for the prosecution complaints is to allow the prosecution some time to prepare its cross-examination of the witness in respect of those parts of his testimony that were not contained in his summary,” Justice Sebutinde said.
This is the second time that prosecutors have requested the suspension of the cross-examination of a defense witness. As Mr. Ngebeh was led out of court today, another defense witness, John Vincent, a Liberian from Bomi County in Liberia, took the witness stand. As defense lawyers commenced the direct-examination of the witness, the court adjourned for the day.
Mr. Vincent’s direct-examination continues tomorrow.