May 12, 2014

Status Conference of 12 May 2014: A date has been set for the resumption of trial

Today during a status conference the Trial Chamber set a date for the resumption of trial. The Chamber had already requested the parties to file their position last Friday. The motion filed by the Merhi defence explained why the trial should not resume before the end of September, whilst the Prosecution outlined a plan on the order of the evidence to be called if the trial would resume. During the status conference the Trial Chamber requested the parties to orally reply to each other’s motions.

The Prosecution explained that during a meeting it had agreed with the Merhi Defence that the material identified as the first part of the Prosecution’s case is the only evidence that realistically can be called upon resumption of the trial. This evidence has been split into three groups, in order of contentiousness. This evidence would include forensic evidence, crime scene evidence, DNA and identification evidence, and – the third, most contentious, group of this part of the trial – evidence relating to the explosives.

The Merhi Defence subsequently explained the difficulties it is facing in preparing for trial, including the volume of disclosure, and the need to have an overview of the whole case before being ready to commence. Especially in relation to the evidence about the explosives, the Merhi Defence will need more time, as the defence expert will only have its report ready in August. The Defence for Merhi further explained that the issues relevant for the crime base are inseparable from the issues regarding the explosion, thus suggesting that their overall readiness (also) depends on this expert report.

Of special interest were the questions put by Judge Nosworthy to the Prosecution about the competing rights and interests in  relation to an expeditious trial, with the accused being the primary beneficiary of the right to a speedy trial (but absent in the current case). The Prosecution pointed to the interest of the Lebanese people to see justice to be done. Judge Nosworthy recalled that both the Prosecution and the victims have not indicated any risk of undue delay by facilitating the Merhi Defence’s request for more time. This line of questioning corresponds with the recent dissenting opinion rendered by Judge Nosworthy (Click here for this dissenting opinion) containing her views as to why the Merhi Defence should receive more time to file its Defence Pre-Trial Brief (which is, according to the majority decision, due on 26 May).

After deliberations, the Trial Chamber issued an oral decision setting 18 June as the date of the resumption of trial. On this day the Prosecution will start with its opening statement in relation to the accused Merhi, followed by an opening statement by the Merhi Defence if they choose to do so, and subsequently the resumption of witness evidence. Evidence directly going to the acts or conduct of the accused, including the telecommunication evidence, cannot be called before the judicial recess; also the parties will be heard before calling this type of evidence. Further, until the judicial recess the Chamber will sit on a reduced basis of several days a week, allowing the Merhi defence additional time to prepare. This sitting schedule is to be reassessed in July. The Chamber also left open the possibility to extend the judicial recess. The Merhi Defence requested leave to appeal the decision, which was granted.

Another matter discussed during the status conference was the cooperation of the government of Lebanon in relation to a number of requests for information by the Defence for Sabra. The Defence sought an order of non-compliance as only part of the requested information had been provided. The Chamber however issued an interim decision, encouraging Lebanon to provide all information to the defence. The Chamber will revisit the matter before the resumption of trial.

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