The defence lawyer for former Liberian President Charles Taylor walked out of a war crimes court on Tuesday protesting that his client's rights to a fair trial were being abused.
Lawyer Courtenay Griffiths walked out after judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone ruled on Monday against allowing the defence to file a final document because they had missed a Jan. 14 deadline to submit it.
Presiding judge Teresa Doherty warned Griffiths he risked being ruled in contempt.
"Our presence in court is incompatible in representing the interests of the accused," Griffiths said.
"It's a complete farce given that judges won't have the foundational information enclosed in our written submission," Griffiths later told reporters outside the court.
Although dramatic, the walkout did not significantly slow proceedings and judges allowed prosecutors to continue with their closing arguments.
Taylor, the first African ruler to stand trial for war crimes, is charged with instigating murder, rape, mutilation, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers during a civil war in Sierra Leone. Prosecutors allege Taylor tried to win control to exploit the country's diamond resources.
Taylor has dismissed the allegations against him as lies.
Prosecutors and defence lawyers were due to present their closing arguments over three days this week, summing up more than three years of often gruesome testimony.
Griffiths has questioned the court's independence and impartiality. He said the defence wanted time to respond to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables suggesting Taylor's prosecution was politically motivated.
The U.S. ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, wrote in a March 10, 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks that if Taylor was acquitted or given a light sentence, his return to Liberia could "tip the balance in a fragile peace".
"The international community must consider steps should Taylor not be sent to prison for a long time," she wrote.
Judges were expected to hand down their verdict in the case later this year. It was not immediately clear whether Tuesday's events would delay that ruling.
Griffiths said he would boycott the rest of the week's hearings and appeal Monday's decision, requesting that appeals judges allow him to submit the evidence and reschedule the closing arguments.
Justice Richard Lussick challenged Griffiths' actions, stressing that he was in violation of a court order to lodge his final document by the deadline.
"If Taylor thinks he can ... disobey orders at will, then he is running this court, not us," Lussick said. "You're not running the court you know," he added.
Prosecutor Brenda Hollis was also critical of the "whims and wishes" of the defence. "The accused is not attending a social event. He cannot RSVP at the last moment," she said.
ReutersLast Mod: 08 Şubat 2011, 14:53