In the latest episode of the trial, the ICTY Trial Chamber just decided to appoint counsel to Karadzic following a first week of trial where he chose not to attend the proceedings on account of not having had enough time to prepare… and to postpone the commencement of trial until march. Moreover:
In the present circumstances, considering the fundamental nature of the right to selfrepresentation, which cannot be diminished lightly, and in accordance with the principle of proportionality, the Trial Chamber finds it necessary to instruct the Registrar to appoint counsel, who will begin immediately to prepare him or herself to represent the interests of the Accused when the trial resumes, if that should be required. Notwithstanding the appointment of counsel for this specific purpose, the Accused will continue to represent himself, including by dealing with the day-to-day matters that arise, such as the filing of motions and responses to motions filed by the Prosecution, and further preparing himself for the trial.
the defendant will therefore continue to defend himself (even at the recommencement of trial), the counsel only coming in if there is further obstruction…
We won’t go into the legal technicalities of the issues, dealt with elsewhere. Just a few comments.
If I’m undestanding this correctly, their refusal to allocate more time to the defendant led him to refusing to attend his trial, therefore crossing the judges who, to punish him, give me an extra four months for his appointed counsel to prepare for trial, while still allowing Karadzic to continue representing himself for the time-being, thus somewhat giving him what he asked for in the first place… makes sense.
Moreover, this does not really solve the issue of his presence at trial. The drafters of the ICTY Statute decided not to have trials in abstentia. One can argue the pros and cons of that (I would actually be in favour of having those… blame my French legal training… more on this some other time…). But that’s the situation right now. Given that, contrary to the ICTR, the ICTY did not adopt a rule allowing it to proceed in the absence of the accused, I don’t really see on what basis they would continue the trial even with an appointed counsel. The decision seems to suggest that the defendant might forfeit his right to be present by refusing to be present. This is the reasoning behind in abstentia trials and cannot be sustained here (argument in absurdum here, but if this is the case, let’s apply it to Mladic and start his trial tomorrow). Karadzic did not say “go ahead guys, i can’t be bothered attending”. He is making a procedural statement (if a somewhat overdramatic one) on the fair conduct of proceedings. That is not the same as forfeiting his right to attend.
More generally, whatever the position one adopts on this issue, the chamber has put itself between a PR rock and a communications hard place. What kind of mixed message is it sending out, by trying to be tough, and then by threatening the defendant with what he asked for? On the other hand, this is a semantic way of sorts to save face. They couldn’t really say “ok, you win this time, but be careful, we’re watching you”, which is in effect what they have done.
And now, bow your heads and let’s have one minute silence for the completion strategy…