An example of how international justice still needs improvement is provided by the three-year duration of Taylor’s trial (seven months were taken up by his own testimony) and the unacceptable 13-month delay in delivering the judgment. Particularly jarring is the 50-year sentence, which consigns Taylor to prison until his 114th birthday. The US prosecutor, ludicrously, had demanded 80 years. It is a peculiarity of US criminal justice to sentence people to terms that expire long after they will: it is a custom both irrational and cruel which should have no place in international justice.
The UK has offered to house Taylor in its prisons, but not for a sentence of such unconscionable length. The appeal court is likely to reduce it. Taylor was, after all, acquitted of much more serious offenses; and for all the horror produced by his money and his munitions, punishment must always be kept in perspective. The real problem for international justice is the diplomats and politicians — in the UN Security Council — who refuse to send those who ordered the bayoneting of Syrian children in their homes to the International Criminal Court.
Geoffrey Robertson QC is author of Crimes Against Humanity.