Charles Taylor verdict at the SCSL: not guilty of JCE or command responsibility

Friday 27 April 2012

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The Special Court for Sierra Leone yesterday handed down its judgment in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor. Despite the prosecution's claims to the contrary, the court found that there was no evidence of either Mr Taylor having command responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes, or of a Joint Common Enterprise to destabilise the region.

Courtenay Griffiths QC and Terry Munyard were both in court yesterday in The Hague to hear the judgment. Courtenay has led Mr Taylor's defence team, since the trial began.

Mr Taylor was convicted on all 11 counts which he was charged with. However the judgment makes clear that the Trial Chamber found him guilty only of aiding and abetting and planning those crimes, rather than active participation.

The prosecution failed to prove two central planks of their case. Firstly, they had claimed that Mr Taylor had been part of a joint common plan to spearhead revolution across whole swathes of West Africa from Gambia to Cote d'Ivoire, taking control of mineral resources in the region.

Charles Taylor and Courtenay Griffiths QC in court
Courtenay Griffiths QC (front right) was in court to hear the verdict on Charles Taylor (back)

Secondly the prosecution had claimed that Mr Taylor was the de facto head of, and therefore had command responsibility over, the Sierra Leonean rebel group the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The Trial Chamber dismissed these claims, finding that Mr Taylor's involvement was of an advisory nature, and that at times his guidance was not even followed by the RUF leadership.

Having been cleared of these more serious modes of responsibility, this is expected to have an impact on the sentence the court will now pass on Mr Taylor on 30 May.

The Special Court has received both praise and criticism since its establishment. Writing in yesterday's Guardian, Afua Hirsch commented "ironically it is the thoroughness of special court defence teams - and Taylor's most of all - that added the necessary element of legitimacy to the process. Some observers felt that the quality of Taylor's lawyers - led by the formidable Courtenay Griffiths QC - played a significant role in inspiring confidence in the fairness of proceedings".

Courtenay Griffiths QCand Terry Munyard are both senior members of Garden Court International, and of the Garden Court Crime Team.

For media enquiries, please contact Ben Walker on 020 7993 7671 or email benw@gclaw.co.uk.

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