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COURTSIDE: Milosevic Amicus Curiae Dismissed

Judge rules Wladimiroff’s media interviews raise serious questions about his role as friend of the court.
By Chris Stephen

A legal adviser appointed to help the court trying Slobodan Milosevic protect his interests has been dismissed after telling a newspaper that the defendant had as much chance of escaping conviction as game had of evading a hunter equipped with a machine gun.


Following a complaint from Milosevic, Dutch attorney Michail Wladimiroff was sacked from his post as amicus curiae, friend of the court, on October 10. Wladimiroff was one of three such lawyers appointed by the court after Milosevic refused defence counsel.


Although Milosevic does not recognise either the court or the amicus curiae, they offer the defendant advice and can challenge prosecutors.


But Wladimiroff’s decision to share his opinions with the media was judged a step too far by Milosevic’s chief trial judge, Richard May.


On September 7, the Dutch attorney gave an interview to The Hague newspaper Haagsche Courant which was headlined “Wladimiroff: Already enough evidence against Milosevic”.


The report quoted him saying, ”If this trial were only about Kosovo and one had to draw up the balance now, Milosevic would certainly be convicted. A link has been established between the army and the police, the warring parties in Kosovo and Milosevic himself.”


A few days later, he gave a second interview, this time to Bulgaria’s Kultura newspaper, in which the paper asked him whether Milosevic had a chance of being found innocent. “Theoretically yes, but in practice, no,” he is quoted as replying. “If you went hunting and shot at game with an automatic rifle you would stand a greater chance of hitting it than he stands of being found innocent.”


This was too much for judge May. In the first judgement of its kind in the court’s nine-year history, he accepted Wladimiroff’s insistence that he was misquoted by both newspapers, but ruled his decision to discuss the trial raised “serious questions about the appropriateness of his continuing as an amicus curiae”.


”Not only did he comment on parts of the case in which evidence has been given, but he also made an assessment of parts in which evidence had not yet been adduced. The statements taken as a whole, would, in the chamber’s view, give rise to a reasonable perception of bias.”


As a result, Judge May ordered that Wladimiroff’s appointment be revoked.


Wladimiroff had insisted that his comments had been intended to reflect the fact that Milosevic was refusing to defend himself, and might as a result damage his chances.


As there are no set rules governing the behaviour of amicus lawyers, the judge has fallen back on court procedure, ruling that even a suspicion of bias or impartiality must be dealt with.


In a brief written statement, Wladimiroff, writing about himself in the third person, said, “Mr Wladimiroff did not intend to make any comment which would affect the trial, but appreciates the trial chamber’s concerns that an amicus curiae is perceived to be impartial.”


A new friend of the court will be appointed for the Milosevic trial, currently hearing evidence on war crimes charges related to Bosnia and Croatia.


Chris Stephen is IWPR's Hague correspondent and project manager.