Charles Taylor's lawyer storms out of court

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The Independent Online

Charles Taylor's lawyer has stormed out of court after judges refused to accept a written summary of the former Liberian president's defence case at the end of his war crimes trial in the Netherlands.

British lawyer Courtenay Griffiths ignored judges at the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone, who ordered him to stay in court after unprecedented angry exchanges 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% of his closing arguments?" Mr Griffiths said outside court.

He said he refused to "lend legitimacy to proceedings" by staying.

But prosecutor Brenda Hollis argued that Taylor and his lawyers had no right to walk out.

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

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

Yesterday, the three-judge panel issued a majority decision rejecting Taylor's final brief in which his lawyers summed up their defence case, because it was filed 20 days after their January 14 deadline.

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

Taylor, the first former African head of state to be tried by an international court, has pleaded not guilty to 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, torture and using child soldiers.

Prosecutors allege he armed and supported brutal rebels responsible for many of the worst atrocities of Sierra Leone's civil war, which left tens of thousands dead and many more mutilated after enemy fighters hacked off their limbs, noses or lips.

Taylor, however, in months testifying on his own behalf, cast himself as a statesman who tried to pacify Western Africa.

He boycotted the opening of his trial in June 2007 and fired his defence team, saying he had not had enough time to prepare his defence. The trial got under way again six months later with the first witness.

"We have seen this attempt at manipulation of the proceedings at the beginning and now we are seeing it at the end," Ms Hollis said.