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Last Updated: Friday, 12 November, 2004, 13:35 GMT
Delays plague Milosevic's trial
By Chris Stephen
The Hague

The genocide trial of Slobodan Milosevic suffered the latest in a succession of delays this week when the former Yugoslav president's attorney, Steven Kay, asked for permission to resign.

Mr Kay, a British barrister, told judges that there was no point representing Mr Milosevic since he was refusing to co-operate.

Slobodan Milosevic
Slobodan Milosevic's ill health has caused endless delays to the trial
His application, due to be answered next week, is only the latest in a chain of hold-ups in a 30-month trial the length and complexity of which casts doubts over the practicality of the entire war crimes process.

The root problem of this trial is Mr Milosevic's decision to defend himself against charges including genocide and crimes against humanity despite worsening health.

Through no fault of his own, the 63-year-old's bouts of flu and high blood pressure have seen months of court time lost.

Combined with other delays, the result has been that the prosecution side of the case, which began in February 2002, did not end until February this year.

Mr Milosevic was due to begin his defence in May, after a three-month delay to prepare his evidence.

Lawyer imposed

But the death of the leading judge, Sir Richard May, saw a delay for an appeal over the court's decision to bring in a new judge, Scotsman Iain Bonomy, rather than order a retrial.

There were new delays throughout the summer as Mr Milosevic's health worsened and it was August before he was ready to begin his defence. In a four-hour speech he blamed the wars of the former Yugoslavia on outside forces including the United States, Great Britain, Middle Eastern extremists and the Vatican.

Some Hague insiders think [Mr Milosevic] may have concluded that, with the weight of evidence against him, he expects to be found guilty and is therefore dragging out the case as long as possible
But he fell sick yet again, and in September judges ruled that Mr Milosevic must have a lawyer, whether he wanted one or not, imposing Mr Kay as his court-appointed attorney.

Mr Kay seemed the ideal choice: a vastly experienced lawyer, he had followed the case from the beginning as a Friend of the Court, a lawyer appointed by the court to make sure Mr Milosevic was kept aware of his rights.

Yet this is a controversial ruling because one of the key rights of the UN court in The Hague is the right of a defendant to represent themselves.

Mr Milosevic cannot be blamed for his sickness, but the judges ruled that the delays were now so severe that they infringed on the interests of justice. In other words, they decided that a case had been made and it must be answered.

However, the case was soon stalled again because of a lack of witnesses.

More than 250 witnesses assembled by Mr Milosevic withdrew once the court ruled that Mr Kay would be running the case. In late September, Mr Kay asked the judges for a new delay because he could find only five witnesses to testify.

Ethical concern

Mr Kay's hunt was fruitless, and he was soon back in court applying to be relieved of his post.

In October, came further complications when the appeals court overturned the decision to impose a lawyer, saying that Mr Milosevic was not yet ill enough to justify such a move.

Bill Clinton (left) and Tony Blair
Milosevic wants Blair and Clinton to testify before the end of the year
Instead, they said Mr Milosevic could again run his own defence, and could only be relieved of the job if his condition worsened. The trial judges complied, ordering Mr Kay to become "standby counsel"', shadowing the case ready to jump in if Mr Milosevic's health deteriorated.

However, Mr Kay insists he still wants to quit, and this week told judges he was within his rights to resign.

Normally, a lawyer is tied to his client for the duration of a trial but Mr Kay argued that, as Mr Milosevic refused to talk to him, he would not be damaging his client by pulling out.

Mr Kay told the court he had ''ethical'' problems in representing a client who refuses to talk to him or to help in constructing a defence.

Judges will make a decision on this later in the month and know they face a further headache if they allow him to leave because a new standby counsel would need months to swat-up on the two years of evidence already presented.

Mr Milosevic's reasons for refusing a lawyer are that he does not recognise the court. Some Hague insiders think he may have concluded that, with the weight of evidence against him, he expects to be found guilty and is therefore dragging out the case as long as possible.

Triple trial

Be that as it may, he renewed calls this week in court for senior world figures, including UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and former US President Bill Clinton to appear in the witness box, if necessary by subpoena.

Uncertainty continues to hang over the future conduct of the trial. Judges have given Mr Milosevic 150 court days to complete his evidence, and have limited hearings to three days each week to give him time to rest.

However, if his condition worsens, they will again appoint a lawyer, and the whole process of appeal, and coping with the withdrawal of witnesses, may begin all over again.

One possibility to save time that judges have considered is cutting some of the charges. Mr Milosevic's trial is, in effect, three trials in one, because he is charged with war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

But prosecutors insist that this mountain of evidence is necessary to expose the full extent of his alleged crimes.

The result is a whale of a trial that will last more than half a decade, cost many millions of pounds, and stretch international law to breaking point. Even if Mr Milosevic is found guilty, it is an experiment the outside world may conclude is too impractical to be repeated.

Chris Stephen is author of Judgement Day: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic, published by Atlantic Books in 2004. He covered the wars of the former Yugoslavia for UK newspapers including The Guardian, The Observer and The Scotsman.

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