UN tribunal defence lawyers complain of raw deal

THE HAGUE, Apr 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) Lawyers defending 23 war crimes suspects have complained that their clients are getting a raw deal because the rules of the UN tribunal for former Yugoslavia favor the prosecution.

They have asked judges to invalidate new rules coming into force on May 1 cutting the amount of time defence lawyers may devote to their clients.

In a statement circulated at the tribunal on Friday, the lawyers said the new scheme violated the international legal principle of "equality of arms" between prosecution and defence, noting that prosecutors' time and budget were unlimited.

"This new scheme places the accused at a significant disadvantage vis-a-vis the Prosecutor..." the lawyers said. "The new scheme virtually ensures that the tribunal will not be able to conduct fair trials of the accused."

The tribunal in the Hague says it currently has 37 war crimes suspects in detention.

The tribunal, founded in 1993, is under pressure to speed up proceedings. Earlier this year, Tribunal President Claude Jorda urged the courts and prosecutors to accelerate the legal process to cut into a huge backlog of cases.

But the defence lawyers said reducing the hours per day they could work would increase the number of days they required.

The defence counsel's permitted working hours have been cut to 125 hours per month from 175 in the pre-trial phase and to 115 from 175 during the trial itself, the emergency motion said.

A tribunal spokesman said he could not comment on the motion as it was being studied by judges.

The court is steadily taking on higher profile defendants. This month Momcilo Krajisnik, right-hand man to wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, made his first appearance before the court, pleading not guilty to multiple war crimes.

"At a time when higher profile defendants are being brought to the Hague, defence counsel's efforts on their behalf are being severely curtailed," the lawyers said in their statement.

"It would appear to any observer that there is a fear in the tribunal that a vigorous and thorough defence may result in acquittals of high-profile accused. Thus restricting defence counsel is one method to make convictions more probable."

Original article