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Defense Attorneys Complain About Access To Lubanga

Defense attorneys for Congolese war crimes accused Thomas Lubanga today protested what they said were attempts by the court’s registry to restrict post-hearing meetings between the accused and his lawyers. 

Lead defense attorney, Catherine Mabille, told the trial presided over by Judge Adrian Fulford that while at the moment to meet Mr. Lubanga 30 minutes after the end of hearings, registry officials have informed them that this would no longer be possible.

“We have a further two and a half weeks of considerable work, and the court officer says we can go and see our client from 6:00pm to 7:45pm at Scheveningen [detention facility in The Hague]. This does not seem realistic for us,” stated Ms Mabille.

She added, “This is quite a difficult period for us, and I don’t see why at this moment access to our client should be abolished. So I express the wish that we continue the current system.”

Mr. Lubanga’s defense is preparing an application asking judges to dismiss the case on grounds of abuse of process related to the alleged coaching of witnesses by intermediaries of the court’s prosecution office. Ms. Mabille says this application will be lodged around December 12. All the witnesses scheduled to give evidence in the trial are expected to have completed testifying by the end of this month.

In response to Ms. Mabille’s complaint, Judge Fulford ordered the registry to provide a written explanation to judges by the end of tomorrow, explaining why they were proposing changes to the existing arrangement. He said judges approved the current arrangement a long time ago, and a new regime could not be implemented without consulting the judges.

 “Until that happens, the previously existing arrangements will apply. There may have to be some adjustment, however, if over the course of the next day or two we are having to sit later in the evening that hitherto. And if it is considered that because we are sitting later there may be difficulties in relation to post-hearing conferences, there is to be an approach to the judges first by the registry before any changes are implemented,” Judge Fulford stated.

The judge also said that the issue at stake is one that “quintessentially concerns the fairness of the trial of the accused, and judges should be involved in any variation to the arrangement.”

Mr. Lubanga, the alleged former head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), is on trial over the recruitment, conscription, and use of children in armed conflict during 2002 and 2003.

Meanwhile, defense lawyers continued cross-examining ‘intermediary 316’ about the payments he received from the International Criminal Court (ICC) while he helped prosecution investigators contact some of witnesses that went on to testify against Mr. Lubanga. This intermediary is among those who have been implicated in forging evidence, which is why judges ordered him to testify.

After showing the intermediary several payment vouchers, defense counsel Marc Desalliers asked him why he continued being paid after he had ceased being an intermediary of the Office of The Prosecutor (OTP).

“Looking at these documents, will you change your testimony, namely that from March 2006 to April 2008, you were no longer providing services to the OTP but continued receiving a salary?” asked Mr. Desalliers.

“I said officially I was no longer working on contract,” replied the intermediary. He explained that after his contract with the ICC expired, he was often asked to perform certain duties, and he was paid for the work he did.

The intermediary denied that any of the reimbursements he claimed from the ICC were unjustified. “I had to provide supporting information for these payments,” he said.

Mr. Desalliers then asked to question the witness in private session. Since he started testifying on Monday, the intermediary has given the bulk of his evidence in closed session. He has testified with voice and face distortion to keep his identity secret.

Earlier in the week, the witness denied accusations that he bribed and pressured a witness to provide testimony that would implicate Mr. Lubanga. 

The trial continues tomorrow.