New Milosevic Judge Faces Stiff Task

Lord Bonomy's hard-line approach to court discipline will be put to the test in The Hague.

New Milosevic Judge Faces Stiff Task

Lord Bonomy's hard-line approach to court discipline will be put to the test in The Hague.

Wednesday, 9 November, 2005

The Scottish judge appointed to the Milosevic trial is expected to bring a no-nonsense attitude to the tribunal's most high profile and problematic case.


Lord Iain Bonomy will replace Judge Richard May - who has stepped down for health reasons - on a three-man panel including judges Patrick Robinson and O-Gon Kwon when the trial restarts after a three-month adjournment.


Bonomy, who is greatly respected in his native country for his efficiency and outspoken attitude, is expected to stay in the post until November 15, 2005 - the end of his predecessor's term.


He was elevated to the bench in 1997, and was soon dubbed "Judge Dread" by the Scottish tabloids after he gave a suspected drugs dealer 24 hours to name his supplier or face a ten-year prison sentence. The accused declined to do so, and was jailed.


Known for a hard-line approach to his work, the Scottish law lord has a number of difficult challenges ahead before he even reaches the bench.


There's a mood of apprehension in the tribunal about prospects of meeting the tight deadline the court has imposed for itself. Bonomy has only a short space of time to study tens of thousands of documents, and there are fears that nobody - no matter how talented and accomplished - could possibly familiarise themselves with the intricacies of the case by the start of the defence phase of the trial next month.


The Milosevic trial will reconvene June 22, later than had been expected, in order to allow for translation of material recently submitted by the former Serb leader, including the controversial witness list.


In postponing the re-start, the tribunal also took the defendant's poor health in the preceding three months into consideration. Milosevic, who does not recognise the tribunal as a legitimate body and is conducting his own defence, suffers from high blood pressure and a heart condition, which led to frequent interruptions in the prosecution phase of the trial.


Tribunal observers say that the biggest challenge facing Bonomy and his fellow judges will be controlling Milosevic during the defence phase of the trial.


This was comparatively easy to do during the prosecution stage, but when the trial reconvenes at the end of June, Milosevic will have the floor - and he has to be given the right to speak freely in order for it to be a fair trial.


The defendant's witness "wish list" - which runs to more than 1,600 names including British prime minister Tony Blair, former US president Bill Clinton and his ex-secretary of state Madeleine Albright - may also cause difficulties for the panel, which has to decide which figures are relevant to the proceedings and should be called to give evidence.


"The judges will have to decide whether or not to subpoena these high-profile witnesses. They are damned if they do - and damned if they don't. In Serbia, the trial is already viewed as being unfair, [and this view will be reinforced] if the judges refuse to bring Milosevic's chosen witnesses to the trial," said one tribunal watcher.


The defendant's witness list is five times longer than that put forward by the prosecution in the trial's first two years, leading to fears that the case may drag on indefinitely if a firm line is not taken by the judges.


The new judge's reputation as a strong character who tolerates no dissent or obstruction in his courtroom suggests that he is well-placed to tackle the troublesome defendant.


Bonomy, 58, was educated at Glasgow University and worked as a solicitor for a number of years before joining the Faculty of Advocates in 1984. He served as a high court prosecutor and became a Queen's Counsel in 1993. He was then appointed Home Advocate-Depute, the third-highest position in the country.


Three years later, he led the prosecution evidence at the Cullen Inquiry into the Dunblane primary school massacre. He was elevated to the bench the following year.


In another high-profile case connected to the murder of Sanjit Chhokar, an Indian waiter gunned down outside his Glasgow home in 1999, Bonomy hit the headlines once more after he jailed two prosecution witnesses for two years for what he called "the most serious contempt of court" in February 2001.


In 2002, he strongly criticised the Scottish high court system, and was asked to draw up a suggestions for possible reforms. He delivered his review in December of that year, suggesting radical changes to improve efficiency, which have since been passed by the Scottish parliament.


His most recent case, at the end of last month, also attracted much media attention after he ruled that a convicted criminal being held on remand in Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison had had his human rights abused by being forced to "slop out", a practise that was outlawed in neighbouring England some years ago. The prisoner was awarded compensation, potentially opening the floodgates for thousands of similar claims.


His outspoken attitude brought him into conflict with the Scottish parliament on a number of occasions, but in spite of this, he is well respected by the political establishment.


British foreign office minister Bill Rammell said, "We are delighted that Lord Bonomy will be contributing his very considerable skills and experience to the [tribunal]."


Bonomy's name was put forward by the British government and rubber-stamped by the United Nations after Judge May announced that he would step down at the end of the prosecution phase of the trial due to ill health.


Though May won acclaim for his handling of the prosecution phase of the hearing and the manner in which he dealt with the defendant's habit of making political speeches in court, he and his colleagues have been criticised in some quarters.


Former chief prosecutor Richard Goldstone, who is widely recognised as one of the driving forces behind the tribunal, has often been critical of the length of time that the Milosevic trial is taking - laying the blame on the judges.


"I've been critical of the rope and leeway that the judges at the tribunal have given Milosevic. No trial should ever last two years. If the [panel] had been less tolerant of [the defendant's] tactics, those two years would have been one," he said recently.


Alison Freebairn is an IWPR editor in London.


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