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Ex-Liberian leader Charles Taylor's lawyer storms from war crimes court

Walkout comes after judges' rejection of former Liberian leader's written defence summary.

Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, waits in court yesterday for the start of the prosecution's closing arguments. He is being tried on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, waits in court yesterday for the start of the prosecution's closing arguments. He is being tried on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

LEIDSCHENDAM // Calling the trial "a farce," Charles Taylor's lawyer stormed out of court yesterday after judges refused to accept a written summary of the former Liberian president's defence at the end of his landmark war crimes case in the Netherlands.

The British lawyer Courtenay Griffiths ignored judges at the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone who ordered him to stay in court after unprecedented angry exchanges erupted before closing arguments in the three-year case.

"How will posterity judge the credibility of this court if, at this 11th hour, they prevented Mr Taylor from presenting … 90 per cent of his closing arguments?" Mr Griffiths said outside court. "We have decided not to participate in these closing arguments because as far as we are concerned it is a complete farce."

But the prosecutor, Brenda Hollis, argued that neither Mr Taylor nor his lawyers had the right to walk out.

"The accused is not attending a social event. He may not RSVP at the last minute," Ms Hollis said. "He is the accused at a criminal proceeding."

Mr Taylor himself remained in court as Ms Hollis began summing up the prosecution case.

The courtroom fireworks were ignited on Monday, when the three-judge panel issued a majority decision rejecting Mr Taylor's final brief in which his lawyers summed up their defence case, because it was filed 20 days after their January 14 deadline.

The Ugandan judge Julia Sebutinde dissented, warning that refusing to accept Mr Taylor's brief "is to deny him his fundamental right to defend himself".

Mr Griffiths said he would file an appeal yesterday against the trial chamber's decision to reject the summation.

Mr Griffiths argued earlier that he could not submit the defence summary on time because the court had not ruled on several outstanding motions, including one challenging the UN-backed court's independence, based on diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

In one leaked cable from the US embassy in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, diplomats warned that if Mr Taylor were acquitted and returned to Liberia it could destabilise the country's fragile peace.

"The best we can do for Liberia is to see to it that Taylor is put away for a long time" said the cable, dated March 10, 2009. It also suggested that building a case against Mr Taylor in the US could be one way of ensuring he does not return to Liberia should he be acquitted by the Sierra Leone tribunal.

Mr Griffiths said the cable showed the tribunal is not independent "because the Americans are already putting in place contingency plans so if Mr Taylor is acquitted they will put him on trial again in the United States".

Mr Taylor, the first former African head of state to be tried by an international court, has pleaded innocent to 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and using child soldiers.