STL Confirms June 18 Date for Resuming Trial, Rejects Merhi's Counsel Appeal

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Thursday issued a decision confirming June 18 as the date for the resumption of trial in the Ayyash et al. case, rejecting a postponement appeal filed by the counsel of the accused Hassan Merhi.

“The Appeals Chamber today rendered a decision confirming June 18 as the date for the resumption of trial in the Ayyash et al. case,” the STL said in a statement.

The decision follows an appeal filed by Merhi's counsel on May 22, 2014, the court added.

“The Appeals Chamber denied three of the four grounds of appeal raised by counsel for Mr. Merhi but it upheld, in part, one of Merhi's Defense complaints,” the tribunal announced.

It said the Merhi team had requested to postpone the trial until an expert had reviewed the Prosecution’s evidence and prepared a report.

The Appeals Chamber found that the Trial Chamber had “abused its discretion when it failed to consider whether counsel for Mr. Merhi required the assistance of their expert – at least on the basis of interim reports – for particular witnesses or groups of witnesses that the Prosecutor intends to call in the next part of his case.”

The Appeals Chamber judges instructed the Trial Chamber to “assess on a case-by-case basis whether the Merhi Defense can challenge the evidence of certain witnesses without the assistance of an expert.”

According to STL's statement, a pre-trial conference is scheduled for June 16 and trial will resume on June 18.

On February 26, the Trial Chamber had ordered the adjournment of the trial sessions “until at least early to mid-May to allow Defense counsel for Hassan Habib Merhi adequate time to prepare for trial and to conduct their own investigations.”

And following a May 12 status conference, the Trial Chamber issued an oral ruling setting the date for the resumption of trial as June 18.

The chamber had adjourned the trial following an oral ruling on February 11 on the joinder of the Merhi case to the Ayyash et al. case.

The five Accused – Hizbullah members Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Assad Sabra Hussein Oneissi and Hassan Merhi -- are indicted for their alleged role in the February 14, 2005 bomb attack that killed former premier Rafik Hariri and 22 other people.

During a February 12 trial session, the defense team objected against several logistical procedures adopted by the Trial Chamber, refusing the fragmentation of trials.

“We oppose the fragmentation of trials and conduct ethics oblige us to acquaint ourselves with all the aspects of the case,” Merhi' defense lawyer Mohamed Aouini said.

“We must be able to cross-examine the witnesses and we can't just attend for the sake of attendance,” he stressed.

Aouini then requested to have “a certain reasonable period to look into all the files of the case.”

The in absentia trial had opened on January 16 at the STL's headquarters in The Hague.


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