U.N. prosecutors at the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor want to limit his access to defense lawyers during cross-examination. Taylor's lawyers say that would violate his right to counsel.
Lead Prosecutor Brenda Hollis wants the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone to restrict Taylor's communication with defense counsel during her cross-examination.
"It is very important that this phase of the examination not be susceptible to rehearsal or other preparation," she said.
Lead Defense Counsel Courtenay Griffiths says prosecutors apparently fear Taylor's attorneys may affect the truthfulness of his responses during cross-examination.
"The particular mischief to which my learned friend's application is addressed is the suggestion that whether directly or inadvertently contact between the accused and his counsel might in some way either coach or influence the content of his testimony," Griffiths said. "That is the mischief at which it is aimed."
Taylor is pleading not guilty to an 11-count indictment that includes murder, rape, enslavement, and conscription of child soldiers during Sierra Leone's civil war. While President of Liberia, prosecutors say Taylor acted as the effective leader of the Sierra Leonean rebel group the Revolutionary United Front.
Taylor has spent most of the past 13 weeks on the stand dismissing the prosecution case as a series of lies. With cross-examination now under way, prosecutors say they intend to challenge the accuracy, truthfulness, and completeness of Taylor's testimony.
And for that they say he should not be coached in court by his lawyers. If defense counsel needs to communicate with Taylor on other issues, Hollis wants judges to order that they must first notify the court.
"It may be that other matters arise that would require consultation between defense counsel and the accused - matters not related to the accused's testimony such as the request for instructions or guidance relating to other aspects of the case, " Hollis noted, "perhaps relating to other witnesses, other evidence that the defense may choose or try to bring before the court in the future."
Hollis says she is not asking that defense lawyers disclose the content of their discussions with Taylor, simply the subject matter that they intend to discuss.
Griffiths says even that notice denies Taylor attorney-client privilege.
"The difficulty with notice is that such notice runs up against the brick wall of legal professional privilege," Griffiths said. "That is the difficulty because how is such notice to be provided without lifting the veil of legal professional privilege, which even in these courts exists between a defendant and his lawyers?"
Justice Richard Lussick ordered prosecutors to make a written submission of their request Thursday and the defense to file a written response by next Monday. Until then, he says Taylor's access to counsel will be the same as during direct examination.
"In the mean time, the normal access that has been applicable between the accused and his counsel shall continue," Lussick said. "And of course the caution shall continue to be administered everyday that the accused is forbidden to discuss his evidence with any other person."
Taylor is the last defendant before the U.N. Special Court. The Freetown session of that court has convicted the last of the Sierra Leonean rebels indicted. Taylor's trial is being held in The Hague because of concerns that his supporters might disrupt proceedings in West Africa.