Barrister fears Saddam may escape justice.

Saddam Hussein could walk free of crimes against humanity charges unless next week's Baghdad trial is moved to The Hague, a Sydney-born human rights lawyer has warned.

Geoffrey Robertson, QC, who has trained Iraqi judges and prosecutors, said the jury was still out on whether justice would be done in Wednesday's trial of the former dictator.

However, he warned that without a delay in proceedings, due to start four days after today's crucial vote on a new Iraqi constitution, Saddam could escape conviction.

"The Iraqi judges took their oath under the old constitution, which gives the president immunity for everything he does during his presidency, so they may find themselves required to acquit him," Mr Robertson said from his north London home.

"If they were a proper international court, such clauses have no effect in relation to crimes against humanity and genocide. He is being charged with international crimes and his conviction would carry more weight if it was rendered by both international and national judges."

Mr Robertson, 59, said a similar scheme had worked for the United Nations war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone, where he sits as an appeal judge. He was member of a team of legal experts from Britain and the US that schooled Saddam's prosecutors and judges in humanitarian law and war crimes.

The training included a mock trial of a fictional dictator during secret sessions in London in January.

Mr Robertson said the judges on the Iraqi Special Tribunal, one of whom was assassinated in March, wanted to move the trial for fear of inciting further violence.

More than 400 people have died in explosions and suicide bombings in less than three weeks in Iraq. But that pales beside the 280,000 that Human Rights Watch believes were executed during Saddam's 20-year rule.

Three Iraqi judges, sitting without a jury, will first hear charges Saddam ordered the 1982 massacre of 143 people in Dujail, a mainly Shiite town north of Baghdad, after a failed assassination attempt.

The trial is expected to be the first of about a dozen involving the alleged crimes of Saddam and seven underlings, including the 1988 gassing of 5000 Kurds in and around Halabja. None of the judges has experience in genocide or mass murder cases.

Mr Robertson said time was running out for the Iraqi authorities to resolve this and other problems that could undermine the proceedings.

Saddam's lawyer, Kahil Dulaimi, has also criticised the prosecution for allegedly failing to provide access to his client or details of the charges.

"The trial was set up by the Americans and the hope was that the Iraqis would have these problems sorted out by now," Mr Robertson said. "But the Government hasn't dealt with them."

In October last year, Mr Robertson lectured Iraqi judges and prosecutors against pushing for the death penalty for Saddam.

Mr Robertson used as an example the trial and execution of the British monarch Charles I, as detailed in his new book The Tyrannicide Brief. The prosecution case was led by John Cooke, who, for his role in the regicide, was subsequently hung, drawn and quartered, with his head put on a spike above Westminster Hall.

"I tried to get across to them the mistake in executing Saddam," Mr Robertson said.

"I also had a number of arguments with the Americans, who want him to swing from a makeshift gallows in some dusty square with thousands of Shias screaming in delight. I can't think of anything more likely to rev up the civil war."

Mr Robertson said Cooke's case laid the groundwork for continuing attempts to bring dictators such as Augusto Pinochet, Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam to account.

Saddam adopted almost the exact words of Charles I when appearing as a defendant last year: "By what lawful authority do you bring me to trial?"

"That is still a point that has to be answered," Mr Robertson said.

? Press Association reports: A British barrister who helped free the Guildford Four, four Irish people wrongly jailed for a pub bombing, has been asked to defend Saddam.

However, a representative of his chambers said Anthony Scrivener, QC, had not yet taken on the job.

[Source: By Peter Munro in London, Sydeny Morning Herald, Aus, 15Oct05]

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