Jezik / Language:
17 June 2011

Outcry Over Limit to War Crimes Defence Lawyers

State Court says it will pay for only one defence lawyer per war-crimes case in future. Attorneys say the move will inevitably affect the quality of the service they can offer.
After looking into the justification for appointing two defence lawyers in war-crimes cases, Bosnia’s State Court, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has decided that only one lawyer should be appointed in future, unless the cases are very complex.

Meddzida Kreso, president of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the decision was taken because the State Court considered the presence of two attorneys was “sometimes unjustified” and led to huge expenses.

Defence teams for some indictees, currently comprising two ex-officio attorneys, have objected on being informed that costs would only be paid for one lawyer at hearings.

Some lawyers have warned the State Court they will no longer accept war crimes cases if the Court imposes a limit of one defence lawyer per case.

The State Court pays each lawyer 390KM to 430KM [about 200 euros] per hearing if it concerns a hearing for the custody of the suspect or indictee.

A few wealthier indictees pay for their own lawyers, but for the rest, the state allocates the money. According to Bosnia’s criminal code, an indictee or suspect for any offence for which the sentence exceeds 10 years’ jail must have a lawyer.

Quality will suffer:

Lawyers working on war crimes cases before the State Court have reacted sharply to the initiative, saying the quality of the defence they can provide to defendants will inevitably suffer.

Petko Pavlovic, a lawyer who works on several cases of war crimes and genocide, told BIRN-Justice Report that one defence attorney alone cannot conduct a proper defence in a complex case involving a large numbers of witnesses and items of evidence.

The State Prosecutor’s Office was being put into an advantageous position as it had the support of the police and the State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA, he added.

Slavko Asceric, the principal attorney for Srpko Pustivuk, accused of committing crimes in 1992 in Ilijas, near Sarajevo, agreed.

He said clients’ right to a proper defence were being infringed by the one-lawyer ruling.

The State Prosecutor’s Office charges Pustivuk with assault on the village of Gornja Bioca in May 1992 in which one civilian was killed and three others were wounded.

He is also charged with participation in the unlawful arrest and detention of civilians.
“The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina says the [state] budget has not been adopted, which is why it can pay for only one lawyer,” Asceric said.

“I said, ‘Then pay when you get money, because we are not asking to be paid immediately,’” he added.

Asceric maintains that in his current case he will have difficulties in the preparing for his defence because of the lack of time to interrogate witnesses.

“I had an additional colleague and wanted to take another one because we need to interrogate witnesses,” he recalled.

“I have two trials per week, which means I’m practically always at trials and cannot even interrogate my witnesses,” he added. I can only call them to come to the Court, and what they say, they will say,” Asceric concluded.

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina rejects most of the lawyers’ complaints, noting that defence attorneys at the State Court enjoy the professional support of the Criminal Defence Section, OKO.

“The [right of] defence in war crimes cases will not be jeopardized by this decision in any way,” the State Court said.

Petko Pavlovic disagrees. At the trial of Dragan Neskovic, Zoran Ilic and Dragan Crnogorac, - indicted over the capture and execution of more than 1,000 people from Srebrenica at the Kravica Agricultural Cooperative - “for a short period of time the hearing will be attended by only one attorney”, he said.

“At the interrogation of the witnesses, we won’t know what our colleague has examined previously. We are really in a difficult situation,” Pavlovic said.

Two layers in exceptional cases:

In certain cases, Trial Chambers have decided that justification remains for the presence of two defence attorneys.

As a result, both Asceric and Pavlovic may attend the trial of four former members of the Army of the Republic of Srpska, VRS, charged with having shot more than 1,000 men in the Military Economy Branjevo in Pilici, in Zvornik Municipality, in July 1995, where they will together defend Zoran Goronja.

The aforementioned Neskovic, Ilic and Crnogorac are indicted for crimes against humanity, while Goronja, with three other members of the 10th Commando Platoon of the VRS, are accused of genocide.

The State Court explains that additional defence attorneys may be granted “if the Council deems it in the interest of providing an effective defence and [upholding] the principles of a fair trial”.

It will later be decided whether the extra lawyer is entitled to reimbursement of expenses.

The defence team of Ratko Dronjak, former director of the Kamenica camp and prison sited in the Slavko Rodic primary school in Drvar, charged with torturing and killing non-Serb prisoners, also has the possibility of providing an additional ex-officio attorney at hearings.

Zlatko Knezevic, Dronjak’s main defence attorney, told BIRN-Justice Report that the absence of one attorney would not affect the work of this case because he was exchanging information from the hearings with an additional defence attorney.

But if having only one defence attorney becomes the practice of the State Court in war-crimes cases, Knezevic says he will seriously consider whether to accept such cases in future.

“In such cases, the role of additional defence attorney is not to replace the main attorney when he is not able to come but to work together [with him/her] on a complicated case,” Knezevic explained.
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