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Milosevic Lawyer in Talks Over Taylor Defence

Former Liberian leader, who has been boycotting his trial, wants a top UK barrister to defend him.
By Katy Glassborow
The lawyer for the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic is in talks with the Special Court for Sierra Leone, SCSL, to take over the defence of Charles Taylor, the former leader of Liberia, IWPR understands.

Steven Kay, a leading British barrister, represented Milosevic at the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia, until the Belgrade leader's death in March 2006.

Taylor boycotted the start of his trial on June 4 and fired his attorney Karim Kham because he felt not enough money was provided for his defence, which he says should match that of the nine-attorney prosecution team.

At a press conference in The Hague on July 6, SCSL registrar Herman von Hebel said a new team of up to nine people will be given 70,000 US dollars a month - enough money for a lead counsel, co-counsels, legal assistants, senior investigators and expert advisors.

The SCSL registry is also offering Taylor’s lawyers office space in Monrovia, Freetown and The Hague, so Von Hebel calculated that in real terms, the defence team package is worth 100,000 dollars a month.

Taylor faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers.

SCSL prosecutors say he supported Revolutionary United Front, RUF, rebels in Sierra Leone, who committed brutal acts against civilians, including amputations and sexual slavery, in return for access to the country’s diamond wealth.

He was elected president of Liberia in 1997 and ruled for six years before going into exile in Nigeria. He was indicted in 2003 and returned to Liberia in March 2006 where he was taken into custody by the Special Court.

After Taylor refused to show up in court and fired his counsel, judges ruled that the court’s registrar must find him a new head lawyer, co-counsel, senior investigator and legal assistants before the end of July. The trial was postponed until August 20 so that the matter could be sorted out.

This delay is a setback for the SCSL which is striving to complete the trial - being hosted in The Hague because officials felt it could spark violence if held at the court’s base in Freetown - within 18 months.

“This [defence budget] is three times as high as other SCSL cases, and twice as much as defence lawyers get at the ICTY,” said Von Hebel.

He had already increased the funds available for Taylor’s defence from 25,000 dollars a month, which other SCSL teams get, to 45,000 dollars, during negotiations with Khan in March.

Stephen Rapp, the Chief Prosecutor of the SCSL, said on July 6 that making sure Taylor has a robust defence is a priority for prosecutors too.

Enabling Taylor to investigate and challenge prosecution witnesses, and find witnesses to defend his own case, is important for “justice to be done, and be seen to be done”, said Rapp.

Rapp urged judges that Taylor needs an adequate defence, and that proceedings should be halted until this time.

The former Liberian president claims he does not have enough money to pay for his own defence and that the SCSL should foot the bill, but the UN Security Council isn’t convinced.

A 2004 Security Council resolution ordered governments to freeze the assets of Taylor and his immediate family, and council members recently called for an investigation into whether Taylor has investments in Nigeria that have been unfrozen.

Instead of halting the trial until the day Taylor’s alleged wealth is found, the registry will foot the defence bill and recover assets from him if and when they are unearthed

SCSL budgets are tight, with court president Justice George Gelaga-King admitting recently that funding could run out by November.

Taylor has asked to be represented by a leading British barrister, but they are expensive to hire, and Von Hebel says they are considering a range of options. “Many other lawyers who are equally as capable,” he said.

Katy Glassborow is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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