Monday, 26 October 2009

Karadzic on trial

The trial has started of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for alleged war crimes during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war when he was president of (part of) Bosnia.

Radovan Karadzic

Since the matter is Sub Judice we will leave that to one side and talk about the trial, in the same court, of one Slobodan Milošević. His trial started at the Hague in February 2002 and the prosecution took two years to present their case, calling almost 300 witnesses and presenting 5,000 items of evidence. Several million pages of written material were put before the court.

Milosevic though-out refused to appoint counsel; he had lawyers but represented himself in court. After he started his own defence he started to get ill with heart problems. There is some suggestion his gaolers were poising him, others think he was poisoning himself so as to get out for medical treatment. He started missing court days and the court imposed limits on his court time to hurry him along. By the beginning of 2006 he was asking to be transferred to a specialist heart unit in Moscow - the court declined this request on the reasonable grounds he might not return - and in March 2006, after five years of custody, never having been convicted of a crime, he died of a heart attack.

Over a hundred million dollars was spent on the trial, Milosevic was incarcerated for five years, and yet died an innocent man. Credible medical opinion has it that he could have been successfully treated for his heart condition.

So the whole thing was a complete fiasco, as you would expect if you give a bunch of lawyers unlimited time and unlimited money. They inevitably wanted to string out the gravy train forever.

Since the maximum penalty Milosevic faced was life in prison, the prosecutors should have picked out their strongest couple of murders, enough to justify the maximum sentence, and used them to nail him. In the UK a murder trial can be done and dusted in two weeks' court time.

The fault, though, lies at the political level; lawyers cannot be expected to control their appetites.

There are lessons here for the Karadzic trial.


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