“Your honours, I’ve unwillingly made a decision to take care of my own defence and to participate in this trial in an active rather than a passive way, as my defence team at the moment is unable to assist me in establishing the truth,” Krajisnik told the judges on May 25.
Since the beginning of the trial in February 2004, the former speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament - who is accused of genocide and eight counts of crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war - has repeatedly asked for greater involvement in the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.
Although his decision to conduct his own defence was not welcomed by his current counsel – British and Australian lawyers Nicholas Stewart and Chrissa Loukas respectively – Krajisnik made it clear that he did not have any grudges against them.
“My defence team are good lawyers, but they are not conducting my defence properly,” he said.
Stewart said that Krajisnik’s request to defend himself had “nothing whatever to do with disagreements over strategy tactics or anything like that” and added that his client had informed all parties in writing about his decision, as he was required by the tribunal’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence.
“The essential reasons for what Krajisnik says about his defence team’s inability to represent him effectively are, in fact, a matter of complete agreement between [the parties],” said Stewart.
“As a result of steps that Krajisnik has taken, we are no longer his counsel. He is now conducting his own defence.”
Presiding judge Alphons Orie said the trial chamber was “surprised by these new developments” and tried to warn Krajisnik about possible consequences of such decision, which “will be significant for everyone involved”.
But the accused seemed undeterred. “Your honours, I’ve made my decision very unwillingly, but it is firm,” he said.
The Krajisnik trial has been a rocky one from the start. It was originally scheduled to begin in May 2003, but was postponed when the tribunal learned that the accused’s choice of defence counsel, Serbian-American lawyer Ranko Brasich, had been disbarred in the United States for repeatedly overcharging his clients.
Although 1.5 million US dollars had already been spent by Brasich’s team on preparation of the trial, the tribunal agreed to allow Krajsinik to appoint a new lawyer. He then chose Stewart as his lead counsel.
When Krajisnik announced his request for self-representation this week, some prosecution witnesses had already arrived, or were on their way to The Hague.
This caused unexpected problems for the prosecution, as it was suddenly unclear who would be responsible for cross-examination of the witnesses – Stewart and Loukas had withdrawn from the case, but Krajisnik was yet to receive permission from the judges to conduct his own defence.
Therefore, Judge Orie - who has scheduled a special hearing for next week dedicated to Krajisnik’s request - found a unique interim solution.
He told the parties that until a decision on this issue is reached, the trial will hear testimonies of two pre-scheduled witnesses, but their cross-examination will not start before the decision on Krajisnik’s request has been made. Judge Orie also announced some other new measures.
“As an experiment, the trial chamber will from today allow Krajsnik to put some questions to the witnesses,” he said, and advised the accused to be “properly prepared”.
“Your lack of legal experience means that there is a serious risk that you’ll damage your position,” the presiding judge warned. “You should be aware that is something you will have to live with.”
The trial continues next week.
Merdijana Sadovic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.