Charles Taylor’s defense team will not file any final trial briefs until several outstanding motions before the Trial and Appeals Chamber are disposed of, the former Liberian president’s lead defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges at a status conference Thursday in The Hague.
The status conference had been convened to give defense lawyers the opportunity to explain why they had failed to file their final trial brief on the January 14, 2011 deadline that had been ordered by the judges, and also why they had refused to accept service of the prosecution’s final trial brief.
“Mr. Taylor has provided us with written instructions that we are not to file a final trial brief until such a time as decisions are reached on all outstanding motions and appeals,” Mr. Griffiths told the court yesterday at the opening of the status conference.
“This is not meant to be a delaying tactic. It is a point, in our submission, of fundamental principle,” Mr. Griffiths added.
When asked by the Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber, Justice Teresa Doherty, whether it is the intention of the defense team to submit a final trial brief, Mr. Griffiths responded that “we do intend to file a final brief, circumstances permitting.”
Mr. Griffiths explained that at the time that the Court made an order for final briefs to be submitted by all parties on January 14, 2011, certain matters which must be addressed by the Court had not arisen. These matters, Mr. Griffiths said, are important in order to decide “on all the issues to include in [the defense] final brief.”
“At the time the order was made, we did not know, for example, about the WikiLeaks cables which implicated the very integrity of the Prosecution and the Court,” Mr. Griffiths said.
On why the defense had refused to accept service of the prosecution’s final brief, Mr. Griffiths told the court, “We do not want to be accused in due course of tailoring our final brief, no pun intended, based on the contents of the Prosecution’s submissions. We want our submissions to stand alone in their own right.”
When asked to respond to the submissions made by the defense, Chief Prosecutor Brenda J. Hollis told the Court that the “accused has made a deliberate election not to file a final trial brief.”
Ms. Hollis added that to allow the accused to file final briefs only when conditions are appropriate for him will, “in effect, let him sit in the middle of the courtroom and run the trial.”
“He has no such right. No accused has such a right,” Ms. Hollis added.
Mr. Griffiths on his part responded, “Mr. Taylor is not seeking to control these proceedings. He is seeking, instead, to get a fair trial.”
The judges adjourned briefly to deliberate on the matter. When court resumed, the judges issued a majority ruling, with Justice Julia Sebutinde dissenting.
In the ruling, which did not say in clear terms whether and when the defense were to file their final brief, the judges, by majority said, “The majority of the Trial Chamber, Justice Sebutinde dissenting, consider that they have not heard submissions that causes the Trial Chamber to review or amend the original orders rendered on 22 October 2010.”
The order of October 22, 2010 required all parties to submit final trial briefs by January 14, 2011.
The judges added, “The outstanding appeals and motions referred to were filed after the Defence closed its case, at a time when the Trial Chamber expected that the Defence would be preparing its final brief.”
“The decisions on outstanding motions and appeals may call for further orders to be made in relation to the presentation of the Defence case and in the interests of a fair trial. But the Trial Chamber emphasises that any such orders will be made by the Trial Chamber and not by Mr Taylor. Mr Taylor does not have the option of obeying or disobeying court orders as he sees fit,” the judges added.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sebutinde said, “For me, it would not be fair to ask the defendant to wrap up his defence when there are issues on the table of the judges that we have not been able to deal with yet. In other words, the ball is in the court – is in the court of the Court, so to speak.”
“In my view, it is not unreasonable for Mr Taylor to say to the judges, ‘I will file a trial brief as soon as you give me the judgments or the decisions that I’m waiting for.’ On the other hand, what we are saying to Mr Taylor is, ‘File a piecemeal final brief in your defence,'” she added.
The Presiding Judge, Justice Doherty, then adjourned proceedings until February 8, 2011 when closing arguments will commence.