Mladic's courtroom antics

Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic appears in court at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague
Image caption Mr Mladic's behaviour in court on Monday was not unexpected

It was a morning of extraordinary legal confrontation, but one that was not totally unexpected.

The judges and court officials at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have grown accustomed to the bursts of anger from the accused.

They have learned how to deal with requests from defendants intent on playing on their physical ailments and drawing out the legal process.

After Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic et al, there are few surprises in store for the ICTY.

Gen Ratko Mladic's appearance at this pre-trial hearing was fractious from the start.

Contrary to expectations, he did appear in the chamber when proceedings opened on Monday.

There had been talk of a possible boycott by Mr Mladic, but there he was, albeit looking sullen, as though he would rather be elsewhere.

He brought with him a cap, as he did a month ago. This time, he was more insistent about wearing it, leading to an early reprimand from the presiding judge, Alphons Orie, when he turned, with cap in hand, to the public gallery.

Even before he was extradited from Serbia, Mr Mladic had complained of ill-health.

On Monday, he claimed he needed to wear his cap in court because his head was cold and half of his body was not functioning properly. He added that he was elderly and sick.

Mr Mladic then began an argument with the judges about his legal representation.

The duty counsel appointed by the court, Aleksander Aleksic, said he had been to visit Mr Mladic 10 times in the nearby detention centre, but since last week, it had been made clear by Mr Mladic that Mr Aleksic's services would no longer be required.

The former Bosnian Serb commander wants to appoint his own lawyers, a fundamental right to which he is entitled, subject to certain conditions being met.

As the atmosphere became more feverish, Mr Mladic lost his temper and refused to listen to the judge enter pleas of not guilty on his behalf. This led to his ejection by security guards.


Mark Ellis, the director of the International Bar Association, points out that Judge Orie was co-defence counsel in the first war crimes trial to be heard by the ICTY.

"He'll be very firm. If there's any sense that Mladic will try to obstruct the proceedings, this judge will have none it. He's going to move this trial forward", says Mr Ellis.

In the wake of Monday's court theatrics, Ratko Mladic will have a choice. He can appoint his own lawyer, a move which the court would no doubt attempt to facilitate.

Alternatively, he may try to boycott the case. Mark Ellis says if that happens, the tribunal's response will be straightforward. The court will appoint a representative for Mladic, and the trial will go ahead.

Clearly, what will not be tolerated by the judges will be further histrionics and obstruction by Gen Mladic.