"I cannot continue to defend the decisions of the appeal court"

Belgian justice minister Koen Geens has intervened in the discussion about why Steve Bakelmans, suspected of killing Julie Van Espen, was at liberty.  Mr Geens (Flemish Christian democrat), says he cannot continue to defend the decisions of the appeal court and that this is an autonomous body that organises itself.

Mr Geens was asked why murder suspect Steve Bakelmans was at liberty, on conditional release, following rape convictions in 2004 and 2017 and able to kill Julie Van Espen. The justice minister notes that the decision to set Bakelmans at liberty under conditions was taken by an independent judge: "Another judge could have taken a different decision, but this is how our justice system works."

The court that convicted Bakelmans felt that he could be released and that there was no need for his detention because he was complying with the conditions set on his release.

The justice minister insists he can't be held responsible for a decision taken by an independent court.

"I don't make the law.  That's the job of the legislative assembly.  The law employed in this case has been around for some time."

Mr Geens agreed that a change in the law could be discussed to avoid any repeat.  Bakelmans received a four year sentence on account of his second rape, but technically this wasn't a repeat offence because earlier crimes happened over 5 years ago.

Mr Geens wants to make Belgium’s justice houses responsible for monitoring the conditions of conditional release. Immediate arrest following Bakelmans's second rape conviction may not have been such a bad idea says the minister.  He adds that each court organises itself and decides which judge presides in which court.  As a minister he cannot intervene in such matters.

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