July 26, 2012

Lessons Learned

Charles Taylor’s trial provides important lessons that may be useful for similar types of trials involving the highest-level suspects. These include:

  • Appointing judges with substantial complex criminal trial experience could contribute significantly to effective courtroom management.
  • Crafting indictments that are representative of the crimes committed but not burdened by an unmanageable number of charges or excessive detail is desirable, although ensuring that they contain adequate information to provide sufficient notice to the accused is vital.
  • Measures aimed at increasing efficiency—such as a schedule that does not provide significant hours outside the courtroom—should be periodically assessed for their contribution to the desired outcome and amended as necessary.
  • Active management of examinations by the bench and attempts to focus testimony may contribute to more expeditious proceedings without compromising international fair trial standards.
  • Decisions on motions should be rendered in a timely manner to avoid inefficiency and negative implications for ensuring the fairness of proceedings.
  • Active engagement by judges and Registry staff with defense regarding concerns about resources and time to prepare in the lead-up to trials may be important to avoid disruptions in proceedings and ensure the promotion of international fair trial rights.
  • Transparent projection of accurate timelines and active consultation with key staff with substantive knowledge may promote greater staff retention during judgment drafting.
  • Developing guidelines for the provision of funds by prosecution offices to potential witnesses and sources during investigations, and greater transparency regarding these payments, can help minimize concerns over potential inappropriate use of such funds.
  • Providing adequate protection and support to witnesses requires high-quality and complex organization of witness logistics and should be a priority in trials concerning serious crimes, as was the case in the Taylor trial.
  • When witnesses come forward to testify, often at great risk to themselves and their families, it is crucial that all court actors treat them with dignity and respect.
  • Ensuring communities most affected by the crimes receive timely and accessible information about proceedings should be a priority for future trials, as the Taylor trial demonstrates.
  • Transparency in decisions on the location of the trial, especially when it will be held far from the affected communities, can minimize misunderstanding and frustration.

In addition, to ensure justice for serious crimes in Liberia and the fuller realization of justice for serious crimes in Sierra Leone:

  • The Sierra Leone government should overturn the amnesty in the 1999 Lomé Accord as it pertains to serious crimes, while civil society should press for legislators to overturn the amnesty if the courts do not declare it unconstitutional.[2]
  • The Liberian government should take concrete steps to initiate fair, effective investigations and prosecutions of serious crimes committed in violation of international law in Liberia, with international assistance as necessary.
  • The international community should encourage and support trials for serious crimes committed in Liberia and trials in Sierra Leone that are not within the Special Court’s mandate, whether in proceedings that are wholly domestic or that involve a mixture of domestic and international involvement.

[2] The Lomé Peace Accord includes a broad amnesty before domestic courts for crimes committed during the armed conflict in Sierra Leone. Peace Agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone, signed in Lomé, Togo, July 7, 1999.