Courtenay Griffiths discusses Charles Taylor trial on BBC Newsnight

Tuesday 17 August 2010

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After a dramatic week at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, Courtenay Griffiths QC gave a rare televised interview yesterday, live on the BBC's Newsnight.

Courtenay is Lead Counsel to Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia. Mr Taylor faces an 11-count indictment for crimes against humanity, violations of Article 3 Common to the Geneva Conventions and of Additional Protocol II, plus other serious violations of international humanitarian law during the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Last week saw dramatic scenes during the testimony of model Naomi Campbell in relation to the trade of blood diamonds. The world then watched Courtenay pull apart the testimony of Ms Campbells's former agent Carole White and actor Mia Farrow, in what one commentator described as "world-class work".

After reviewing other high-profile cases Courtney has worked on, including acting for defendants in the Brighton and Harrods bombings, Kirsty Wark began by asking what draws him to defending people who are vilified. Courtney replied "It's important that everyone, no matter how notorious the crime they may have committed, has a fair trial, and that involves having good representation. I think it's the standard we have always set here in the United Kingdom."

Asked about whether it is more challenging than easier cases, Courtenay replied "Often the first hurdle is getting over the bad publicity and prejudice which has been heaped on the defendant even before the trial began. You have to overcome that before you can reach the stage of dealing with the facts themselves."

Talking about the skills required for advocacy, Courtney went on to say "Advocacy is a performance art, and it has to be practised ... which is why what you see in the court room is only the tip of the iceberg. It's all the preparation and the late nights that go before that that one has to bear in mind."

When it was put to him that he is becoming something of a celebrity himself, Courtney modestly said that he did not want the label of a celebrity - despite the intense public interest in the case since Ms Campbell gave her testimony, he would happily apply his legal skills to any case.

To watch the full interview on the BBC's iPlayer, click here. (Available until 23 August)

For more information about Courtenay's practice and background, click here to read his profile.

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