Charles Taylor’s Lawyer Now Needs a Lawyer Himself

For more than three years, the charismatic defense lawyer Courtenay Griffiths has stood in front of international judges, arguing that former Liberian president Charles Taylor is not responsible for the horrific rapes, murders, and mutilations committed during Sierra Leone’s 11 years civil conflict.

This week, Griffiths will walk back into the same courtroom, this time, though, not as a defense lawyer arguing on behalf of his high-profile client, but as a “defendant counsel.” Griffiths, himself, has become the subject of a disciplinary hearing before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Griffiths is facing the possibility of sanctions after walking out of court on February 8, when the court had convened to hear closing arguments from both prosecution and defense lawyers in the Taylor trial. Griffiths had protested the judges’ decision not to accept the defense final brief, which had been filed late—20 days after the January 14 deadline. The brief was late because Griffiths and his team were waiting for decisions from the judges on eight outstanding motions—decisions, Girffiths says, which could have impacted the shape of his closing arguments. Two of the three judges remained unconvinced.

At the closing arguments last week, Griffiths protested, telling the Court that he saw no role for himself and Taylor in the proceedings if their final brief was not accepted.

As Griffiths attempted to walk out of court, the presiding judge of the Trial Chamber, Justice Teresa Doherty ordered him to take his seat.

Ignoring the presiding judge’s order, Griffiths walked out of the courtroom. Griffiths also failed to appear in court the next day to make closing arguments for his client. In his absence, judges ordered Griffiths to appear in court on Friday, February 11, to apologize for walking out of court or risk being sanctioned.

Rule 46 of the court’s procedural rules states that “A Chamber may, after a warning, impose sanctions against or refuse audience to a counsel if, in its opinion, his conduct remains offensive or abusive, obstructs the proceedings, or is otherwise contrary to the interests of justice.”

Griffiths did appear in court on Friday as directed. But rather than apologize to the court, he requested a special disciplinary hearing where he would be represented by an experienced counsel. The judges accepted Griffith’s request.

When Griffiths appears as “defendant counsel” tomorrow he will be represented by an American lawyer, Peter Robinson. Like Griffiths, Robinson is also defending a big fish before an international court: Robinson is the defense counsel for former Bosnian president Radovan Karadzic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Also like Griffiths, Robinson is no stranger to controversy. In June 2010, he was a subject of contempt proceedings before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Robinson, who was defending an accused genocidaire in the 1994 Rwandan massacres, refused to examine a defense witness because of developments outside the courtroom: his co-defense counsel had been arrested in Rwanda on allegations of genocide denial. Robinson asked to withdraw from the case until his colleague was released. The judges at the ICTR denied his request, and, despite being ordered to continue the examination of his witness, Robinson refused. The judges brought contempt proceedings against him, but he was ultimately acquitted.

Disciplinary hearings before Special Court for Sierra Leone judges are not new, either. In December 2005, the Trial Chamber sentenced Yada Williams, a defense counsel at the Special Court to a public reprimand and a fine of Le. 1000000 ($250) after a disciplinary hearing found that he assaulted a female court staff.

Although the circumstances surrounding the disciplinary hearings for Robinson, Williams, and Griffiths are different, the outcomes could have similarities. Griffiths could put up a strong defense for his action, like Robinson did at the ICTY, and the judges could decide that there is no case against him. Alternatively, the judges could find a case of misconduct against him and ask him to apologize. An apology, like that made by Williams in 2005, could save him any further sanctions. A third option could be that Griffiths is found guilty of misconduct and have penalties leveled against him.

According to the court’s rules, a number of possible sanctions exist. Penalties can include a fine, a report to Griffith’s home bar association in the UK, a “refusal of audience” (or inability to present arguments in court), or he could be dismissed as the defense lawyer for his client.

A refusal of audience would not bar Griffiths from being Taylor’s lead counsel. While he would still be in a position to sign legal documents or file motions on Taylor’s behalf, he would not be entitled to actually present arguments in court. If this happens, then Taylor would have to rely on another counsel to make arguments to the judges (including his closing statement), at a sentencing hearing if Taylor is found guilty, or at any appeals hearings after the Trial Chamber’s final judgment. If, on the other hand, Griffiths is declared ineligible to represent Taylor, the former Liberian president would need to look for another lawyer to finish the case.

For any sanction imposed on Griffiths, he would be able to appeal it to the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Any such appeal might delay proceedings in the trial further, as a final determination by the Appeals Chamber might be needed to work out who will conclude Taylor’s defense.

Whatever the outcome of this hearing, it makes its own contribution to the many dramatic events that have unfolded in this war crimes trial. This hearing will see Griffiths, the charismatic lawyer who has fiercely defended the interest of his client, become a client himself.

Whoever thought that Griffiths would need a lawyer? Or become a client like Taylor? What a way to wear someone else’s shoes.


  1. Alpha,
    Who really cares how much you blow this out of proposion as have done, onething thats paramount here is that Griffiths voice must be heard on a pending burning issue. The fact still stands that whatsoever made him to walk away may factor is a significant aspect of his trial and may as well impact the outcome of the Judges decision. So don’t try to promot fear around here like Griffith had killed somebody. The brother walk away in the name of justice and watch it, watch my words. The stand Griffith took will imperitively cause the Judges to address the pending concerns of the defence…Just so you know for the future, the brother use a simple method called, CAUSE AND EFFECT strategy, and trust me , IT WILL WORK.

  2. I think the drama King and drama Queen should be the one wearing President Taylor’s shoes. They were the perpetrators to begin with. If the King and Queen had only listened to the advice from their colleague Justice Sebutinde, this mess would have never happened.

    1. Dear noko5,

      The first comment was a pingback to another blog. These comments do not show up on the public space, even though they are counted. Our website team is working to correct the problem to make sure the the total count of comments reflects only the comments from our readers that we post.

      Apologies for the confusion.

  3. Alpha,
    After reading your if, and, but, Judge Lussik and Doherty may regret starting this issue with Mr. Griffiths.

    1. It seems very sad how silly people, sometimes, sound! Why is it a problem, almost all the time, when taylor trial goes, or seems to not favor the preconceived notion that taylor is innocent? Tell me, for God’s sake, why you guys are so adamant and unrational. Anyway, this is all after the fact, taylor will never walk the earth a free man! Mark my words, Ken, Jose, NOKO4&5,Aki, and all die-hards of this legitimate trial! Taylor is History!

  4. What is a shame is that this distracted from the presentation by the prosecution of the overwhelming evidence against Taylor. I said it before and will say it again….can anyone cite any case at the Yugoslavia or Rwanda tribunals with so much evidence against such a high level perpetrator. Just on the radio oeprators….seven! all more or less corroborated,,,,something like 13 witnesses who took ammunitions from Taylor to Bockarie. And by the way, when the defence at end of its case changed course and said well really yeaten did everything and Taylor didnt know… the silence was deafening. Talk about desperate. It is unfortunate Taylor wont be tried for crimes in Liberia. (Just as it is unfortunate Kaddaffi wont be tried for Liberia)…..but at least there is measure of justice for SOME of his conduct. He should plead guilty before deliberations and offer to cooeprate on further prosecutions against his business contacts in the arms and diamond industry…

    1. Bundu,
      I saw the trial and didn’t see a FITTEN evidence produced… that had Mr. Taylor’s finger prints…anyone can come in court and say X, Y or/and Z….that doesn’t amount to evidence.

      Can you please point out a SINGLE PIECE of evidence??

  5. fallah,

    You may be right “Taylor is History” maybe you know something that the rest of us don’t know. But what I do know though, if this trial is strictly base on evidences, there is no way under the sun President Taylor will be found guilty.

    Therefore, I challenge you fallah, to make a commitment right now, right here, if the evidence is there the judges must convict, if the evidence is not there the judges must acquit.

  6. Fallah,
    The ONLY reason Mr. Taylor will not be walking out a FREE MAN will be because of POLITICAL REASON!!! We on the other side of the debates/discussions understand the game that is been play out and won’t be shock at that verdict.

    Now to further address your thought…..IS MR TAYLOR OF CRIMES??? YES!!! Which ones?? The ones I will say done in Liberia but this trial is about Sierra Leone. So let’s factor in the MANDATE of the court then apply the evidences and tell me if there is a PERFECT MATCH.

  7. God will be with Ghankay and his lawyers. They want to see him down, they lie, God will protect him from the hands of the wicked. Ghankay must be free now!!!!

  8. Noko5 and Taylor’s Extremist:

    Why can we just for once be rational enough? Noko5 I don’t really see that Alpha is portraying Griffith as a killer. Alpha is simply reporting what is unfolding in these proceedings.

    He is just preparing the readers of possible scenarios that may occur after the outcome of Griffith’s hearing, giving some background thoughts and other references. I think his style of reporting is balance and highly professional as always.

    Isn’t it true that Griffith needs a lawyer? Did he not walk out of court? What is there that is put out of proportion or portraying him as a killer?

    We do understand your extremist views for justice for Taylor, but sometimes try to be rational in your thoughts and give reasoning a chance.

    Let us attack issues and not individuals that are performing their jobs to the highest ethical standards.

    1. JusticeLIB,
      Sorry, but I don’t think you understood certain portions of my post implicitly. I suggest you take a look at it again. Also, let it be understood that Alpha is now serving in the capacity of a public servant. It is imperitive that all his reportings reflect balance ethical standers as much as possible. Again remember, whatsoever this guy does could either promote or destroy the integrity of the insttution he is now working for and may extend to his race, geographical origin and probably family. So he needs to do the right thing wether he likes Charles Taylor or not. THANK YOU

  9. Griffiths misconduct hearing adjourned: – Justice Sebutinde declined to take part, resulting in panel not being properly constituted. what a drama is onfolding here.

  10. Look folks this is a mere strategy for the defense, What the defense is attempting to do here is revisit the the fact that the judges were over zealous in their decision not to accept the defense’s brief, though late. Remember there was a dissenting view from one the judges in the court’s decision not to accept the brief. In a high profile case like this the defense would seek to highlight any partiality(ies) and/or biases toward their client. A hearing for Griffiths, allows the dense the opportunity to reiterate their arguments. Good Psy-ops, way to go Grifiths

    All the court would do is fine him and allow him to continue to carry on as CT’s lawyer; for anything different would be kangaroo-ish .

  11. WHO are those that send Taylor to come and fight in Liberia? Now, if anyone can answer this question, I want to see in the answer the fact that someone wanted to gain wealth for themselves through Taylor. Now, when Taylor failed to met up with that selfish aims of his sender, he needs to be judge for war crimes. Why if Taylor had send those talkabout diamonds to those selfish guy, he would had never been trial for world crimes. Why not trial the late Guinean president for world crimes in Liberia? Why not trial the present president of Ivory Coast for crimes rebels he back committed in Liberia?
    Because those presidents were helping those greedy guys to cutoff someone who did not accomplish their aims.

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