The disciplinary hearing for Charles Taylor’s lead defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths, which was scheduled to take place today, was adjourned as the Trial Chamber could not be properly constituted.
Griffiths was to be subject to a disciplinary hearing for walking out of the court on Tuesday, February 8, 2011 after he had made complaints about the rejection of the defense final trial brief by the judges. The judges said Griffiths had filed the final brief 20 days late. Griffiths responded he was awaiting decisions in several outstanding motions before the judges. After his walk-out, the judges asked for an apology from Griffiths, but the defense lawyer instead requested a disciplinary hearing, which was granted by the judges. The disciplinary hearing had been set for today, February 25.
However, when court was convened this morning, Ugandan judge, Julia Sebutinde, who had originally dissented to the order requesting an apology from Griffiths, refused to take part in the proceedings. Only the Presiding Judge Justice Teresa Doherty, Justice Richard Lussick, and the Alternate Judge Justice El-Hadj Malick Sow were present in court.
In giving the reason as to why Justice Sebutinde was absent in court, Justice Doherty read a notice that had been sent by Justice Sebutinde to her colleagues indicating that she did not intend to sit on the disciplinary hearing.
“This is to notify you that in view of the recent developments in the Trial Chamber, and consistent with my earlier views and opinion on those matters both in chamber and on the bench, wherein I dissented from the directive to lead counsel, I will not in principle attend Friday’s hearing,” the statement from Justice Sebuntinde read.
When asked whether the defense has any comments on the constitution of the court in Justice Sebuntinde’s absence, defense counsel Terry Munyard requested that the alternate judge, Justice Sow, be invited “to participate so the bench is constituted of three regularly constituted judges.”
The disagreement among the judges became very public, first with Justice Sebutinde’s notice of absence and then with Justice Sow’s remarks after the defense lawyers had suggested that he be allowed to participate in the proceedings.
“Let me make this clear…two judges cannot sign decisions. When the bench is sitting, it’s sitting with three judges, not two judges… I’m not here for decoration. I am a judge. This bench is regularly composed as everybody can see. I don’t know how people can think that two judges – I don’t know where in this world you will see two judges sitting. It’s not possible. This bench is regularly composed with three judges. This is my comment. No matter how parties will look at it, it shows and it’s apparent that this bench is composed with three judges. We are three judges sitting,” Justice Sow said.
His comments made clear that the other judges had prevented him from participating in the proceedings as a replacement for Justice Sebutinde.
Justice Doherty made clear that while the Chamber was not properly constituted, the situation still did not warrant the inclusion of Justice Sow as alternate judge in the proceedings.
“The Articles governing the composition of this Court and the Trial Chamber mandate that it is to be composed of three judges…Accordingly, in our view, this Trial Chamber is not properly constituted and we consider we have no option but to adjourn this hearing today. The matter is adjourned to a date to be fixed.”