Analysis: Court Irked by Milosevic Sick Leave

Judges losing patience with Milosevic persistent refusal to turn up for court.

Analysis: Court Irked by Milosevic Sick Leave

Judges losing patience with Milosevic persistent refusal to turn up for court.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

Slobodan Milosevic’s battle of wills with his trial judges reached a climax this week when he declared himself too sick to come to court for the second week running.


But the judges are now planning to intervene – after hearing that the reason Milosevic is sick is because he refuses to take his pills.


Since last year, the defendant has suffered from high blood pressure. In the previous five months, he has managed just 40 days in court.


Judges thought they had the solution when doctors at his jail prescribed stronger pills.


But Milosevic has refused to take them, complaining that they make him drowsy and thus unable to conduct a proper defence in court.


His argument has a clever circular logic, giving the court an impossible dilemma: if it does not give him the pills, he is too sick to take the stand. If it does, he is too drowsy to do so.


Judges would prefer not to have to deal with this problem – because there is a limit to what a defendant can be made to do.


Officials here say the high blood pressure is in effect self-induced – because Milosevic insists on conducting his own defence, the strain of which would give anyone high blood pressure, they argue.


Trial judge Richard May said this week that he would now consider a number of options. None are attractive.


The most obvious is to force Milosevic to take his pills – not easy, and possibly an infringement of human rights.


A second is to delay the trial for an extended period – a nightmare for the court, which is already resigned to the case lasting well into 2005.


Earlier this year, the judges considered forcing the accused to take a defence lawyer. They have the power to order this move, but equally, it would be tricky.


First, Milosevic is likely to refuse to cooperate, making the lawyer little more effective than the current amici curiae – friends of the court – who try to make sure the defendant is aware of all his options.


And of course, forcing a defence counsel on Milosevic would send a controversial message to the outside world.


Milosevic refuses to recognise the court, hence his refusal to have a lawyer. Imposing one on him would be seen by opponents as proof that the court was rigged.


But the alternative is a trial stretching into infinity.


The one crumb of comfort for the judges is the news that in refusing to take his pills, Milosevic – in effect - is making himself sick.


This should provide legal cover for any judicial intervention aimed at getting the trial back on the road again.


Chris Stephen is IWPR’s bureau chief in The Hague.


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