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Catriona Murdoch

April 2012

The Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague delivered its judgment on Thursday 26 April after a trial spanning nearly four years, convicting Charles Taylor of aiding and abetting all eleven counts on the Indictment.

The Indictment charged Taylor with eleven Counts: five were crimes against humanity; five were violations of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and of the Additional Protocol II; and the final Count was conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups. These were justiciable under the Statute for the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL), Articles 2, 3 and 4 respectively.

The indictment period was from 30 November 1996 to 18 January 2002, during which time the well-documented civil war raged in Sierra Leone, notorious for “blood-diamonds”, amputations and child-soldiers. Ninety-four witnesses testified for the Prosecution detailing atrocities including “Operation No Living Thing”, during which a civilian was killed in public view, his body disembowelled and his intestines stretched across the road to make a “checkpoint”.

Taylor pleaded not guilty to all Counts, arguing that he had been instrumental in fostering peace and security in Sierra Leone. His defence team, headed by Courtney Griffiths QC, and which included Michael Walker of Crown Office Row, Brighton during 2008, maintained Taylor’s prosecution had been based on political motives. Trial Chamber II dismissed the allegation that Taylor had been singled out for “selective prosecution”.

The Trial Chamber found that whilst Taylor publicly played a substantial role in the Sierra Leone peace process, privately he significantly and intentionally undermined it, by continuing to fuel hostilities and by providing the AFRC/RUF with arms and ammunition and by urging them not to disarm. These findings may impact significantly on the outcome of the sentencing hearing, scheduled for 30 May 2012.

Aside from the more direct modes of liability, familiar to the common law, individual criminal responsibility can be founded upon ‘command responsibility’, where a defendant exercises command and control over subordinate members. It can also be established by the doctrine of ‘joint criminal enterprise’ (“JCE”), in which a common plan, design or purpose must be established along with a defendant’s participation or with reasonable foresight of the consequences of such a common plan.

These forms of responsibility have been criticised as too remote and amounting to guilt by association. Significantly, the Prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Taylor was criminally responsible under either of these modes of liability. The Trial Chamber held that whilst Taylor had substantial influence over the conduct of others, it “fell short of effective command and control”. The Trial Chamber differentiated between guidance, advice and direction and “effective command and control”. In relation to JCE it did not accept that the evidence sufficiently demonstrated that Taylor’s support was provided pursuant to a common plan.

The Prosecution did establish that Taylor aided and abetted (with clear intent to support the crimes) by providing military personnel, operational support, encouragement and moral support, all of which had a substantial effect on the perpetration of the crimes charged in the Indictment. Taylor was found guilty of planning in regard to specific attacks, but acquitted of ordering and instigating, in respect of each of the eleven Counts.

Taylor’s sentence will be handed down on 30 May 2012, at the end of which he will be transferred to the United Kingdom to serve the remainder of his sentence.

This prosecution, the first against an incumbent Head of State since the Nuremberg Trials, has been scrutinised by the ‘international community’: a trial of one man has cost in the region of a 250 million US dollars; it has taken place remotely from West Africa (owing to security concerns); and has been criticised, not least by its defence team, for being “selective and vindictive”.

The Judgment summary can be found here:

Catriona Murdoch
Crown Office Row, Brighton
Former member of the ICTY defence team in The Prosecutor v Prlic et al (IT-04-74).

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