Chaos in the Courtroom: Charles Taylor Style

The Charles Taylor Trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting at the International Criminal Court in The Hague began on Monday, June 4, 2007.  As soon as the trial began, Taylor’s lawyer, Karim Khan, announced that Taylor, who had refused to show up in court, had fired Khan and had instead asked to represent himself.  Khan then walked out of the courtroom despite Presiding Judge Sebutinde’s order that he remain and continue to represent Taylor notwithstanding Taylor’s wishes.  The Tribunal then permitted Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp and his Sierra Leonean colleague, Mohamed Bangura, to present their opening argument, depsite the absence of Taylor and his lawyer.  For a detailed description of the first day of trial see:  http://charlestaylortrial.org.

Taylor is not the first war crimes defendant to attempt to disrupt or derail his trial by failing to attend the sessions, firing his lawyer, and seeking to represent himself.  Indeed I was unable to attend the opening act of the Taylor trial because I was in Arusha, Tanzania, conducting a series of workshops for the Rwanda Tribunal judges about maintaining order in the courtroom in the face of such disruptive tactics.  For my paper on the subject, see: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=967431 

Among the proposals contained in my paper is the idea of appointing stand-by defense counsel, ready to step in if defense counsel ever becomes so disruptive that he/she must be removed from the courtroom, or if defense counsel ever boycotts the proceedings, or if a self-reprsented defendant attempts a boycott or becomes too disruptive or ill to continue. During the discussion in Arusha, some of the ICTR judges felt that it would be inappropriate to appoint such stand-by defense counsel over the objections of a defendant.  They pointed out that lawyers cannot effectively represent a client who refuses to speak with them.  Others felt that the interests of justice justified appointment of stand-by defense counsel in such circumstances so that the trial could continue without appearing one sided and unfair.  Finally, an answer that seemed acceptable to both sides emerged: the Tribunal could appoint “amicus counsel,” who could cross examine witnesses and make arguments to assist the court, but would not purport to be representing (or “instructed” by) the defendant.  Admittedly, this is a much broader conception of amicus counsel than has been employed by international tribunals in the past, but there is no principle that requires Amicus counsel to be limited to pre-trial jurisdictional issues and legal questions. I would be interested in the thoughts of others on whether this could be the solution in the Charles Taylor trial.