For a second day, Charles Taylor’s defense team refused to appear in court to take part in the closing arguments of the former Liberian president’s trial in The Hague.
The Court was scheduled to hear closing arguments from both prosecution and defense lawyers this week. When proceedings commenced yesterday to hear the closing arguments from the prosecution, defense lawyers refused to take part in the process because the judges had refused to accept the defense final closing brief. The judges had originally ordered that all closing briefs be filed by the parties on January 14 , 2011. While prosecutors filed their brief by the necessary date, defense lawyers refused to file because they wanted outstanding motions to be dealt with first before they could finalize their final brief. When all outstanding motions were dealt with and defense lawyers finally filed their final brief, the judges rejected it on the ground that it had been filed out of time.
Defense lawyers have therefore taken a position that until their final brief is accepted, they would not take part in the proceedings.
When court resumed this morning, a date that had been scheduled for the defense closing argument, Mr. Taylor and his entire defense team were absent.
The Principal Defender of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Claire Carlton-Hancilles, who had been ordered by the judges to serve as duty counsel and represent the interest of the accused, was the only one present in the defense section of the court.
When asked this morning to explain why Mr. Taylor was absent in court, the Principal Defender said, “I have no information on why the accused is not in court this morning.”
The Presiding Judge of the Chamber, Justice Teresa Doherty, informed the parties that “Mr. Taylor has opted not to come to court and pursuant to Rule 60 [of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the court]. I will rule that the matter will proceed.”
Before the court adjourned for the day, a note was handed over to the judges that read: “Mr. Taylor has waived his right to be present for the closing hearings.” No indication was given as to where the note came from.
One of the judges of the Chamber, Justice Julia Sebutinde, had two questions for the prosecution based on the content of their final brief submitted yesterday. Chief Prosecutor Brenda Hollis provided answers to the questions.
The judges decided to adjourn the proceedings until Friday, February 11. Both prosecution and defense teams were scheduled to present rebuttal arguments to each other’s closing arguments on Friday. The prosecution is scheduled to present their rebuttal at 9:00a.m., while the defense is scheduled to present at 11:30a.m. on Friday. However, because there are no closing arguments for prosecutors to make rebuttals to, as a matter of procedure, the court will resume at 11:30a.m. on Friday to give defense lawyers an opportunity to make any rebuttal arguments they might have.
Outside the courtroom, Mr. Taylor’s lead defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths addressed the press, during which he said that his team will not be in court on Friday. He made clear that the defense team had not withdrawn from the case entirely, but rather they were just withdrawing from this stage of the proceedings until the defense final trial brief is accepted.
By close of business Tuesday, defense lawyers filed a motion for leave to appeal the decision of the Trial Chamber to reject their final trial brief. If they are granted leave by the Trial Chamber, the defense will file an appeal to the Appeals Chamber of the court, which has the authority to review the decision of the Trial Chamber. If the defense team is not granted leave to file an appeal, Mr. Griffiths says the defense will continue to stay away from the proceedings, in which case, all parties will wait for the final judgment of the Trial Chamber. The final judgment will determine whether Mr. Taylor is guilty or not of the charges against him.
The trial resumes on Friday.