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Taylor's lawyer walks out on tribunal

The lawyer representing Charles Taylor 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.

Courtenay Griffiths, a British attorney, defied 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. The judges said that the final defence brief had been filed after their 14 January deadline.

"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 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.

Mr Taylor, the first former African head of state to be tried by an international court, has denied 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and using child soldiers. Prosecutors allege he armed brutal rebels responsible for many of the worst atrocities of Sierra Leone's civil war, which left tens of thousands of people dead and many more mutilated.