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Disagreements abound over trial’s second panel

Disagreements abound over trial’s second panel

As expected, there was little agreement and much scepticism at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday as parties, the trial chamber and court administrators grappled over whether the trial chamber could create a second panel of judges to begin the second sub-trial in Case 002 right away.

The Supreme Court Chamber (SCC) has said that there are “no legal impediments” to the trial chamber appointing a new panel to hear Case 002/02 thanks to a rule that allows it to appoint new reserve judges to replace outgoing judges. However, some parties to the proceedings – and at times, even the trial chamber itself – questioned whether the rule gave the trial chamber president legal authority to appoint brand new full-rights judges.

Trial chamber president Nil Nonn put the question directly to Office of Administration deputy director Knut Rosandhaug early in the proceedings.

“What qualification do I possess to appoint judges from other chambers to establish the second trial panel?” he asked, after noting that the SCC’s decision followed a memo from Rosandhaug asserting there were no legal obstacles to a second chamber. “Because to me, your office sent the memo to the SCC, and the SCC relied on it in its decision.”

Rosandhaug replied that the memo had been his “opinion”, but that he would bow to the chamber’s final call. In any event, he continued, starting the second sub-trial as soon as possible would be cheaper than awaiting a verdict, because “it costs much more to keep the [court] machine going every month than the cost of these 10 staff”.

New lead co-prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian also insisted on a speedy start, but with the current judges – as opposed to a new panel – hearing the new case while still drafting their verdict.

“Not only do we believe it’s possible, we believe it’s an obligation of all of us,” he said, noting that the practice was used in other tribunals.

Nonn, however, had all but shot down that idea before it was even broached, saying at the day’s outset that “all the current judges of the trial chamber are required to focus on the verdict in Case 002/01”.

The civil parties, in a rare divergence from the prosecution, argued forcefully against the commencement of Case 002/02 without a verdict in Case 002/01, with lawyer Beini Ye describing the SCC’s interpretation of the rules as “highly doubtful”.

Even the defence teams were at cross-purposes yesterday, with Khieu Samphan defender Anta Guisse taking a similar stance as the civil parties, and Nuon Chea defender Victor Koppe arguing for a laissez-faire approach to selecting new judges that still preserved the defence’s right to object on a case-by-case basis.