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Trial of former Liberia president halted pending appeal

Judges for the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website] on Friday indefinitely postponed closing arguments in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor [case materials; JURIST news archive] in order to allow the defense to appeal a prior decision. The SCSL will allow Taylor to appeal a ruling that denied the admission of a defense document due to untimely filing. Friday's court ruling [AP report] comes following a boycott by Taylor and his lawyers of this week's closing arguments [JURIST report] in protest of the court's decision to refuse to accept a written defense brief that was filed 20 days late. Taylor's lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, said that he viewed the court's decision optimistically and expressed hope that the court's decision to hear the appeal is an indication that the remainder of the trial will be conducted in a reasonable manner [Reuters report]. Griffith also stated that the disputed document was not filed in a timely manner because the defense was waiting on the court to rule on eight legal matters before they could complete their brief. Taylor's trial, which has lasted nearly three years, will resume after the appeals chamber decides whether to accept the defense document.

Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity and has denied all allegations [JURIST report] against him. Charges include [indictment, PDF] murder, rape, sexual slavery and acts of terrorism, all stemming from from a "campaign to terrorize the civilian population" of Sierra Leone. Taylor's defense lawyers, who began presenting their case [JURIST report] in July 2009, have claimed that he could not have commanded rebel forces in Sierra Leone while acting as the president of Liberia. His trial continued after the court denied his motion for acquittal [JURIST report] in May 2009. Prosecutors previously expressed concern that the defense's list of 256 witnesses could make the trial last up to four additional years [JURIST report].

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