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Taylor War Crimes Trial Extended

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor awaits the start of the prosecution's closing arguments during his trial at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, February 8, 2011.

The trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been suspended pending the outcome of a defense appeal seeking to get its written summary of the case accepted by the court. Mr. Taylor is on trial for 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and mutilation.

Friday was supposed to be the last day in the case of the prosecutor versus Charles Taylor, leaving judges to their deliberations and a likely verdict later this year. But instead, the defense got what it asked for: an extension of the proceedings until an appeals chamber decides whether or not to accept its closing trial brief.

The judges hearing Mr. Taylor’s case refused to accept the 500-plus-page brief because it was filed late, but Friday they granted the defense its request to send the matter to the appeals chamber to decide.

The controversy has disrupted proceedings and stolen news headlines in The Hague all week, with Mr. Taylor and his defense team boycotting the prosecution’s closing argument. Mr. Taylor’s lawyer Courtenay Griffiths was ordered to appear and apologize for storming out of court on Tuesday or face possible sanctions.

He did come to court, but he didn’t say a word. Instead, another member of Mr. Taylor’s defense team requested a separate hearing into the dispute between Mr. Griffiths and two of the three judges. The third judge, Julia Sebutinde, had dissented from the other two, arguing that the defense brief should have been allowed. Friday, she said that what she had feared had now come to pass.

"The disciplinary hearing is now taking over, or taking us away, from the trial," he said. "We are sitting at a crucial stage of the proceedings, towards the closure, where there is an important application for leave to appeal. It is a very, very crucial application that could fundamentally effect this trial and the work we’ve done in three and one-half years and now we’re veering off into a side proceeding that deals with counsel’s conduct. I think that this is sad."

In the end, Mr. Taylor’s trial was delayed because of his appeal and not because of his lawyer’s behavior. But that lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, will be back in court in two weeks time to make his own case for why he shouldn’t be penalized by this court.