Brussels attacks: “We will look ridiculous” says federal prosecutor

Belgium’s federal prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw has called for the case against those charged in connection with the Brussels attacks to be tried before a criminal court and not before the court of assizes where a jury would determine the guilt or innocence of defendants. 

Mr Van Leeuw points to the great complexity of the case involving those held responsible for the attacks on Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station on 22 March 2016.  He adds: “You don’t ask somebody on the street to carry out an operation.”

The switch would require a change in Belgium’s basic law and that would need the support of two-thirds of lawmakers.

The investigation into the Brussels attacks is at an end.  Preparations for the trial expected to start before the court of assizes in September 2021 are underway. There will be up to 13 defendants and 900 interested parties.  The old NATO HQ in Evere is pencilled in as the location, though works costing 20 million euros will be needed.  The trial could last six months.

The federal prosecutor suggests a trial before the court of assizes is a practice that dates back to the 19th century.

“People couldn’t read.  There was no DNA or telecom evidence.  There’s a big risk of procedural errors.”

Mr Van Leeuw compares the trials against defendants accused of involvement in the shooting in the Driesstraat (Salah Abdeslam) on the one hand and the Jewish museum (Mehdi Nemmouche) on the other.  The case before the criminal court took 4 days, the other before the court of assizes 9 weeks.

Mr Van Leeuw suggests only simple cases like crimes of passion should be tried by juries.  In the Brussels attacks’ case 30,000 questions of guilt need to be answered. “We will look ridiculous” Mr Van Leeuw concludes.

The Flemish nationalist N-VA, Belgium's biggest party, has now pledged to bring forward legislation to make the court of assizes a thing of the past.

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