BEIRUT: Special Tribunal for Lebanon judges David Re, Janet Nosworthy and Micheline Braidy were requested to provide written responses Wednesday following allegations of bias against them raised by the defense counsel representing Hussein Oneissi last Thursday.
Citing lack of impartiality in recent months and “unacceptable disregard for the Defense case of Mr. Oneissi,” the defense counsel led by Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse filed a motion seeking to disqualify and remove Trial Chamber President Re and his colleagues from their positions.
The allegations came after mounting tensions between the defense counsel and trial chamber judges since February, when the defense lawyers requested their client be acquitted of all charges due to “insufficient evidence” provided by the prosecution against Oneissi.
Oneissi is one of the four men on trial for the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
If the trial chamber had ruled in favor of the defense lawyers, charges against Oneissi would have been dropped resulting in a “no case to answer.” Such a situation would not have rendered him “innocent.”
On Feb. 23, two days after the defense counsel submitted their motion to acquit Oneissi, trial chamber judges issued a scheduling order calling upon defense teams – including that of Oneissi – to file documents in preparation of their upcoming cases.
“In effect, the trial chamber ordered the defense to elect to bring a case, and to file exhibit and witness lists ... The trial chamber’s conduct can only give the appearance that it had no interest in the [motion of acquittal],” read the Oneissi team’s accusations.
Courcelle-Labrousse and his colleagues regarded the request as an obstruction to their client’s right to a fair trial. Shortly after, the trial chamber denied the defense team’s motion to acquit their client.
Tension mounted as the trial chamber argued that its decisions were made to ensure the efficiency of the trial. Oneissi’s defense team, however, maintained their argument that their will to be expeditious sabotaged their client’s right to justice.
In the most recent move before the defense lawyers sought action, the trial chamber issued another scheduling order informing the Oneissi team that its closing arguments would be heard from June 25 to July 6, 2018.
According to the defense lawyers, the dates were arbitrarily and unjustly decided. One of their two witnesses, former General Security chief Jamil Sayyed, would be unavailable to testify until the last week of June.
Sayyed is currently running with Hezbollah’s list in the Lebanese parliamentary elections in May.
“Culminating in the scheduling order,” the Oneissi defense team wrote that such “conduct meets the threshold of both actual bias and a reasonable apprehension of bias.”
This article was amended on Thursday, April 19 2018
A version of this article appeared in The Daily Star on April 19 reporting that the three judges stood before the panel following allegations of bias. It has now been edited to reflect that they were requested to submit written responses to the claims.
The Daily Star regrets this error.