Despite prosecution fears that their case will be “irreparably prejudiced” if they do not gain access to important background statements by Charles Taylor’s current defense witness, judges today disagreed, and ordered cross-examination to start on Monday.
Fayia Musa, a Sierra Leonean national and former spokesperson for Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group has this week been testifying for Mr. Taylor, who is on trial for allegedly providing support to the Sierra Leonean rebels as they committed crimes during the country’s 11-year conflict. Mr. Musa, who was an RUF insider, has denied prosecution claims that the former Liberian president had control over RUF rebels, telling the judges that Mr. Taylor severed all relationships with the RUF as far back as 1992.
As the witness concluded his direct-examination today, prosecutors made an application to the judges that the witness’s cross-examination be postponed, citing reasons that Mr. Musa had testified about events which were not contained in his written statements disclosed by defense lawyers. Prosecution counsel, Nicholas Koumjian, told the judges that the prosecution will suffer undue and irreparable damage if the cross-examination of the witness was not postponed.
“This summary indicates that this witness only had one relevant topic to provide evidence on and that is the trips around the sub-region for fund raising. Now he’s testified about many other facts including personal interactions with Charles Taylor. Are these recent inventions? The prosecution can only know that if we see the witness statement and the original statements that this witness gave,” Mr. Koumjian said.
He added that “So we are irreparably prejudiced if we don’t get the statement to see if all these interactions with Charles Taylor that this witness testified to that are not in the summary. So the witness summary is patently insufficient.”
Mr. Koumjian asked for the witness’ previous statements to the defense, and for a short postponement before cross-examination starts.
Defense counsel for Mr. Taylor, Courtenay Griffiths, opposed the defense application, arguing that the witness’s statement had sufficient information to assist the prosecution in their cross-examination of the witness and that the prosecution had enough time to research any necessary information about the witness. He asked the judges to deny the prosecution’s request for additional statements of the witness to be disclosed as well as the request to postpone the witness’s cross-examination.
“How is he now unable to cross-examine given that all of the material disclosed by this witness has been in the public arena for a very long time indeed?” Mr. Griffiths asked.
He went on that “it would seem to us that the prosecution has failed miserably to place before this court any evidence that they have in fact been prejudiced, that’s the important word, irreparably prejudiced by the so-called paucity of the content of the summary.”
“In our submission, they have neither shown nor sought to show why they are unable to commence their cross-examination now. So in summary, we would submit that both of the applications [disclosure of more witness statements and postponement of the cross-examination of the witness] made by Mr. Koumjian should be refused,” Mr. Griffiths concluded.
After hearing arguments from both parties, the presiding judge of the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s Chamber, Justice Julia Sebutinde, ruled that while the witness summary disclosed by the defense to the prosecution was insufficient, such insufficiency was not gross. Justice Sebutinde also stated that prosecutors had not demonstrated any undue or irreparable prejudice that they would suffer if the defense did not disclose additional information or statements about the witness’s testimony.
Reading the ruling of the Chamber, Justice Sebutinde said that “the prosecution motion for disclosure of the witness statement is therefore denied.”
She added that “However the Trial Chamber does agree with the prosecution that the witness’s evidence-in-chief did span over areas not specifically mentioned in the summary and to this extent, the summary could be considered as insufficient although not grossly so. As mentioned in our prior rulings, the proper remedy in that case is to allow the prosecution sometime to prepare its cross-examination in relation to those areas not contained in the summary.”
The witness’ cross-examination will start on Monday.