Free legal Advice to Taylor for his Request to the Special Court in Sierra Leone to Drop Charges Against him

By Tiawan S. Gongloe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 9, 2003


Tiawan Gongloe
For the past two months President Charles Taylor and his supporters have been finding ways to relieve him of the burden of appearing before the UN backed Special Court in Sierra Leone for charges against him for his role in the Sierra Leone in the Sierra Leoneon civil war. At one point Taylor’s foreign minister argued that the Government of Liberia did not recognize the jurisdiction of the court and therefore, the issuance of a warrant from that court of no legal effect. Taylor and his supporters also argued that as a sitting president, the court did not have jurisdiction over him. Now, Taylor is arguing that one condition for him to leave the country is for the charges against him to be dropped by the Special Court.

First, I want to advise Taylor and his supporters that their argument that the government of Liberia does not recognize the jurisdiction of the court contradicts his request for charges against him to be dropped. If Taylor’s government does not recognize the jurisdiction of the court, then that means it considers the indictment against him irrelevant and of no legal effect. If the indictment is irrelevant, then there is no need to talk about dropping charges against him. Why should Taylor and his supporters be concerned about something that they say does not matter and has no legal effect on him? Why? Why bother with a court that they argue has no legal authority to charge Taylor?

Second, I advise Mr. Taylor and his supporters to stop asking the international community to cause the Special Court in Sierra Leone to drop the charges against him, because that request will not be granted as granting same will be eroding the independence of the judiciary. The Special Court in Sierra Leone is separate and distinct from the mediation committee in Ghana. It should also be noted that the indictment is based purely on crimes committed in Sierra Leone and has no connection to the search for peace in Liberia and therefore, its retention or withdrawal is neither a reasonable nor a legal condition for Mr. Taylor’s departure from Liberia. Further, it should be noted that Taylor’s departure from Liberia is a political issue and his indictment by the Special Court is a legal issue-two separate and distinct issues that require different avenues of resolution, one political and the other legal. Courts only deal with legal issues by applying principles of law. Courts do not handle political issues, as Taylor wants the Special Court in Sierra Leone to do.

My third and main advice to Taylor and his supporters is that if Mr.Taylor wants the Special Court to drop the charges against, he must first appear before the court and then raise whatever issue he wants to raise. Since this is a criminal case, appearance would mean making himself available for the writ of arrest from the court to be served on him. When he is arrested and placed under the jurisdiction of the court, his lawyers can then raise the issue of the jurisdiction of the court for whatever legal reason his lawyers may have, whether it an issue of territorial jurisdiction, subject matter jurisdiction or jurisdiction over the person of Mr. Taylor, etc. The simple legal reason is that in order to seek relief from a court; the requesting party must be under the jurisdiction of the court from which the relief is being sought. Jurisdictional issues are always the first issues to be decided by a court when raised by a party. Jurisdictional issues can also be decided by a court sua sponte (by the court itself even if not raised by any party) because courts must always take cognizance of their own jurisdiction before they can proceed with any matter. The important issue here is that in a criminal matter the defendant must be arrested placed under the jurisdiction of the court before the court can pass on any issue raised by him. Therefore, my advice to Mr. Taylor is that he proceeds to Sierra Leone as soon as possible in order to raise all the jurisdictional issues he wants to raise. This is a pro bono legal service; no legal fee.