Spectacular Tactic Was Classic Verges, But Uncertain Defense

To the apparent surprise of even his own co-lawyer, famed French attorney Jacques Verges risked the sanction of the Khmer Rouge tribunal Wednesday, announcing the contents of a closed-door hearing to the public and attacking the court’s legitimacy.

Classic Verges, an observer of the lawyer’s 50-year career may say.

However as the dust settled Thursday it remained unclear how much closer the maneuver had gotten former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan to leaving his jail cell, where he has been since his arrest five months ago.

Claiming he was unable to read the Khmer and English-language evidence against his client, Verges refused to participate in Khieu Samphan’s bail hearing, in what both the prosecutors and the Pre-Trial Chamber described as an 11th-hour move.

Verges however said Thursday that no one ought to have been surprised.

“Look, I said it from the start,” Verges said by telephone, ex­plaining that in February he had already told the court’s Co-Investigating Judges of his objections. “When they say they were surprised, either they were tired and mistaken or they are lying,” he added.

He also denied that he was seeking to disrupt the proceedings.

“I am not troubling the procedure. Demanding the law is not to disturb matters,” he said.

Anne Heindel, a legal advisor to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said that whatever Verges’ tactics had achieved, they had not likely advanced his clients’ interests.

“I’d say it’s the first gambit in probably a long strategy of trying to show that the court is illegitimate,” she said.

“As far as defending Khieu Samphan before this court, I’m not certain this can be considered a victory.”

While Khieu Samphan may wish to keep Verges as a lawyer, and the court may wish to respect his choice of counsel, there were limits, she added.

Judges would likely find a way to be certain the procedure goes forward.

Rupert Skilbeck, head of the court’s Defense Support Section, said that drawing the ire of the courts often came with the territory of the defense.

“The duty of the defense law­yer is to zealously defend their clients and they often must do that in the face of judicial antagonism,” he said, adding that national judges may find this unwelcome.

“One of the problems is that in Cambodia, there is not a long tradition of forceful defense,” Skilbeck said.

“That will often entail upsetting the judges. The lawyer from his experience will know how far he should go in the interest of his client.”

Whatever the merits of Verges’ refusal to participate in Wednes­day’s hearing, the fact remained that Khieu Samphan had yet to receive a ruling on the legality of his detention after nearly six months, which was “much longer than is acceptable in most judicial systems,” Skilbeck added.

Peter Foster, the court’s UN spokesman, wrote by e-mail Thursday that the judges were working to ensure that Wednes­day’s interruption to the hearing would be brief.

“We are confident that a new date for the hearing will be scheduled quickly and that the delay to the overall proceedings will be minimal,” he wrote.


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