Seselj Puts Judges in Awkward Position

Serbian ultranationalist leader lashes out at tribunal and defence lawyer.

Seselj Puts Judges in Awkward Position

Serbian ultranationalist leader lashes out at tribunal and defence lawyer.

Friday, 10 November, 2006
Status conferences this week intended to thrash out details of Vojislav Seselj’s trial were instead dominated by yet more outbursts from the Serbian Radical Party leader.

As he has done many times before, Seselj used the courtroom to complain about alleged maltreatment, forged videotapes and spying.

At the first conference held on November 1, he called his standby defence lawyer David Hooper a spy, and demanded that Presiding Judge Alphons Orie “either remove Mr Hooper or remove me”.

This was not the first time that Seselj - who has insisted on the right to represent himself in court - has lashed out at defence attorneys.

Judges assigned a standby lawyer to take over the running of his case when his vitriolic outbursts became too much. Then in August, they gave him a permanent one because of his obstructive behaviour and “unwillingness to understand and respect the ground rules” of the tribunal.

In a further twist, the appeals chamber on October 23 overturned this decision, handing Seselj back the power to conduct his own defence. However, the appeals judges warned that if he continues to “substantially obstruct…proceedings in this case” the trial chamber will be justified in assigning him defence counsel.

This week, Seselj added the seating arrangements of the court to a long list of his previous complaints. He told the judges that because he was sitting behind the defence lawyers, witnesses will get the impression he was “not on an equal footing with the prosecution”.

“If I am conducting my own defence, I need to be sitting where the defence sits, not the row behind,” he said.

Hooper then offered to give up his seat for Seselj, but Judge Orie told the defendant that “disrupting the order of this courtroom is not a remedy open to you”.

Seselj then interrupted the judge again, demanding to be removed from the courtroom - a request that was granted.

“It is absolutely impossible for Mr Hooper and I to be present in the same courtroom at the same time,” he said.

After Seselj left, Hooper told the court that his relationship with Seselj is “absolute zero” and he cannot informally raise matters with him outside court.

Judge Orie admitted that the judges were in an “awkward position”, saying they “would have liked to hear from Seselj what he needs before starting the trial”.

Deliberations over whether Seselj should conduct his own defence have cost Seselj almost two months of preparation time, said Hooper. He pointed out that Seselj lost his right to represent himself at the end of August and only got it back again on October 20.

At a second status conference on November 3, Seselj was again on combative form. He objected to the wording that he had been “removed” from the earlier one because of obstructive behaviour, suggesting he left on his own accord, because he “did not want to be in the same courtroom as your spies”.

Seselj went on to tell the judges that he had not seen a recording of the November 1 conference because the video player in his cell does not work.

“You are mistreating me in every conceivable way,” said Seselj, adding that “the registry gave me forged recordings where there are parts of the status conference that are missing”.

He also objected to fact that most tribunal submissions are only available in an electronic form on computer. “You deny me the right to defend myself, because I do not want to accept things in an electronic form,” said the defendant.

He told the judges that asking him to deal only with electronic paperwork is “like asking me to stand on my head”.

Finally, Seselj talked about his detention facilities, saying he wants everything the former president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, was granted before his death in custody in March this year. This includes “an office so that I can receive my legal advisors”.

He said he wanted two cells with an adjourning door and to be able to “carry the key in my pocket”. “I want to same rights as the late Mr Milosevic, that is until I die too,” he said.

The next status conference is scheduled for November 8.

Katy Glassborow is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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