Friday, May 8, 2015

World's slowest court-martial?

Judge Advocate Otto During
This deadpan report about the April 8 session of that long-running mutiny court-martial in Freetown, Sierra Leone, paints a disturbing picture. First, one of the 13 remaining accused (who have been confined since August 2013) asked to be taken to a bank so he could withdraw money to pay for medical attention because he has hepatitis. Second, the proceedings had to be suspended (yet again) on motion of the prosecution because one member of the six-member panel was unexpectedly absent in order to have surgery. Finally, no one was really sure what to do because neither presiding Judge Advocate Otto During nor anyone else actually had a copy of the governing statute in the courtroom. From Politico's report:
Defence counsel for the 8th accused, Ishmail Philip Mamie, objected to the prosecution counsel’s application describing it as “unnecessary,” and insisted that the proceedings continued in the absence of the board member. He cited the Armed Forces Act of 1961 as amended which, he said, prescribed the Legal Minimum of board members to “five” in the trial of capital offences, although he did not mention the section of the Act that contained such provision. 
“There is no rule that says the proceedings should stop in the absence of a board member,” Mamie argued. The defence counsel also described to the prosecution counsel’s argument of conducting his cross examination during the next adjournment date even if the number of board members remained the same as delaying the proceedings. 
“Why do we adjourn the matter waiting for a board member who we are not sure when he would recover,” Mamie asked. He further contested that it is only the absence of the Court Martial President that could delay the proceedings. He said even if a situation in which the President of the court martial could not attend the proceedings arose, another competent person could be appointed in his stead. Mamie ended his submission by urging the court to continue with the proceedings, stating that “time is of the essence.” 
Having heard both arguments, the Jud[g]e Advocate ruled that the matter should be adjourned for a short period, saying that “although time is of the essence, but my understanding of the principles of law is more of the essence.” He expressed disappointment over the unavailability of a copy of the Armed Forces Act of 1961 in the court martial secretariat, s[t]ating that the Act was mentioned by defence counsel during his argument about the legal minimum of five board members. 
“[H]ad I got access to the Act, consulted it and discovered that ‘five’ is the ‘legal minimum,’ I would have continued with the proceedings,” the Judge Advocate said. 
Otto During rounded up his ruling saying that the Court Martial was a court of law, and that everything done with regards to the proceedings must be based on legal principles.

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