A mixture of incomprehension and consternation. “It’s absolutely saddening,” said a lawyer for the civil party. “A shipwreck for justice,” adds a colleague from the defense. “Humanly, it is very difficult for the defendants to live. And that shows the total decay of our justice, ”adds a third.
In short, it shoots all over the place after the dismissal, Thursday, January 26, of a trial in which people suspected of having prepared an attack just before the 2017 presidential election have been on trial for more than three weeks. could not be replaced, the hearing was adjourned to a date not yet known. At best, this will be in the fall of 2023. But then the audience will have to start from scratch. A “real mess”, believe these lawyers.
A “situation that I find unacceptable”
In this trial, 12 people appeared: 10 of them are suspected of having supplied weapons to the main defendants, Mahiedine Merabet and Clément Baur. Arrested in Marseille in April 2017, five days before the first round of the presidential election, these two radicalized men were, according to the DGSI, about to commit an attack. As is the case in all terrorism trials, the facts were judged by a special assize court composed of five magistrates: a president and four assessors.
Monday, January 23, one of the assessors was absent for health reasons. The hearing was postponed until Thursday without this magistrate, still suffering, being able to resume her post. His unavailability, possibly for several weeks, led President Corinne Goetzmann to announce the dismissal of the trial. “I would like to present on my own behalf all my apologies for this situation which I find unacceptable,” she said.
The problem is that no substitute magistrate had been appointed to sit during the trial. “It is totally incomprehensible in this trial which was to last five weeks”, estimates Me Paul Faucon, lawyer for Clément Baur with Me Nicolas Brillatz. “We wanted to save pennies by considering that this trial was hardly important,” says Me Raphaël Kempf, who defends Mahiedine Merabet.
The appointment of a substitute is at the discretion of the first president of the Paris Court of Appeal. The subject is sensitive because a trial cannot continue if the court is not complete. And it is not possible, in an emergency, to bring in a magistrate who has not attended the debate. Of course, it is possible to postpone a hearing for a few days if a member of the court or an accused person is ill. “But there, the duration of the absence of this magistrate was indefinite. We were faced with a hazard that left no other option than dismissal, ”laments Me Raffaëlle Guy, another defense lawyer.
In very long, important and highly publicized trials, the judicial authority does not take any risks. Thus, four substitutes have been appointed for the trial of November 13 and two for that of the attack of July 14, 2016 in Nice. “For my part, I also obtained two additional assessors. They did not have to sit but they attended the whole hearing, ”explains Régis de Jorna, president of the trial of the January 2015 attacks.
“It’s always making difficult choices”
For this trial of the foiled attack of 2017, the president had requested reinforcement from the court of appeal. “But he was told that no magistrate was available,” underlines Me Claire Josserand-Schmidt, lawyer for the French association of victims of terrorism. Like many courts of appeal, that of Paris is certainly faced with a real lack of staff.
In a speech on January 12 before the Minister of Justice, Jacques Boulard, its first president appointed in September, indicated that he would need at least 70 additional magistrates. “Appointing one or more assessors always means making difficult choices. Because these substitute judges are stationed elsewhere. For example, a juvenile or family court judge can be appointed as an assessor. But that means that during the five weeks of the trial, they will be absent from their office, which may already be overloaded, ”explains Régis de Jorna.
Appointing an additional assessor therefore amounts to undressing Peter to dress Paul. “Certainly, but it is psychologically terrible, for the defendants as well as for the victims, to start an assize trial entirely again,” indicates Michel Huyette, president of the Toulouse assize court. “Our client has been in pre-trial detention for almost six years and it will last several more months without his fate being fixed, adds Me Faucon. He thought he would know his sentence on February 3. On that date, he may not even know when his trial will take place. Contacted, the first presidency of the Paris Court of Appeal specifies that it does not plan to “communicate at this stage”.
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