Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Paris Appeal Trial III

The judge in Scientology’s Paris appeal trial deferred a decision on French counter-cult group UNADFI’s status at the trial, effectively allowing them to play a full role in proceedings – a major blow to the defence.

The proceedings on Tuesday, November 15, were markedly more civilized than the shouting match that closed the previous week’s session

After all the sound and fury that had brought the last hearing to a close, the fifth day of the trial was something of an anti-climax.

But when the dust had settled Olivier Morice, lawyer for the French counter-cult group UNADFI, was still standing.

Five days earlier, the seven defence lawyers for the five Scientologists and two Scientology organisations appealing their sentences had spent three hours attacking a request by the counter-cult group UNADFI to be granted plaintiff status.

Olivier Morice, lawyer for UNADFI (the National Union of Associations for the Defence of the Family and the Individual, Victims of Cults) had tried to reply. But within minutes he was having to shout to make himself heard over repeated defence objections.

At issue was whether Morice had filed papers in the case to show that UNADFI had changed its statutes in such as way as to make it eligible to apply for plaintiff status in the trial.

Such was the uproar, Judge Claudine Forkel had been forced to suspend the hearings. She, the lawyers and the batônnier, a senior lawyer who acts as mediator, had disappeared into chambers to try to settle the issue – and immediately afterwards, proceedings had been adjourned.[i]

As soon as Tuesday’s hearing reopened, the defence lawyers tried to return to the issue – but Judge Forkel was having none of it. Whatever had happened during that closed-door session, she was satisfied with what she had heard and whatever inquiries had been subsequently made.

“This incident is closed,” she declared emphatically.

Morice was not the only lawyer showing signs of impatience. The prosecutor Hugues Woirhaye, while he had kept his interventions to a minimum, had made no attempt to hide his growing exasperation.

Maître Olivier Saumon, lawyer for the National Order of Pharmacists, the only remaining plaintiff in the case, did not look happy either.

He had been very much a spectator in this last dispute, but it was clear from his manner that his patience with the defence manoeuvres was wearing thin.

After all, in four days of hearings – four days of procedural motions and arguments – the court had still not started considering the actual facts of the case.

Since Morice had been prevented from setting out his arguments at the previous hearing, Judge Forkel gave him the floor.[ii]

The defence, he noted, seemed determined to get UNADFI – and himself, as their lawyer – out of the courtroom.

For three hours, he said, the court had been subjected to a caricature of the true situation.

After all the invective that had been launched against the association, it was worth going over UNADFI’s credentials again, he said.[iii]

The defence had tried to portray the group as some kind of threat to public order, he said: but UNADFI’s public service role had been formally recognised by the government.[iv]

In fact it was Scientology’s methods and practices that had come under scrutiny in several parliamentary reports, he said.

He cited a number of court cases involving cult-related abuse in which UNADFI had played a key role.

He went over the much-disputed issue of UNADFI’s change of statutes, which he insisted did allow it to be admitted as a plaintiff in the case. And he cited a recent case involving anti-corruption activists Transparency International that set out on what grounds associations with a legitimate interest in an case could be admitted as plaintiffs.[v]

And he denounced what he said was a longstanding, systematic campaign of attacks by Scientology against UNADFI, its presidents over the years and its senior officers.

Following one such attack, former UNADFI president Janine Tavernier had launched a successful defamation action against the Scientology magazine Ethique et Liberté, he noted.

With the last individual plaintiff in the case having settled with Scientology since convictions in 2009 (his own client, Aude-Claire Malton) Scientology was doing everything it could to ensure that he – and UNADFI – could play no further part in proceedings.

The defence had spoken about equality of arms, he said: but if UNADFI was excluded from the proceedings there would be no one to explain Scientology’s techniques to the court.

For Morice, the defence strategy was clear. “Now they want at all costs to stop anyone explaining how Scientology works.”

Picard “does not exist”

Morice took about an hour to state his case. When he was done, Judge Forkel invited comments from the prosecutor, Hugues Woirhaye.

So far as he was concerned, UNADFI’s papers were in order: he had seen associations with fewer credentials than theirs accepted as plaintiffs, he said.

Eric Roux, the Scientologist speaking for the Celebrity Centre, one of the movement’s two organisations appealing its conviction, asked to address the court.

If he were a Jew or a Muslim, he said, and someone had spoken about him in the terms used against Scientologists in court today, it would never have been allowed.

“Scientology is a religion,” he said. “We didn’t come here to be insulted.”

Judge Forkel set him right.

“You are here because you are appealing a court judgment,” she said.

She had heard three and half hours of arguments on this issue, she said. “I don’t want any more of last week’s pleading.”

But Maître Gérard Ducrey, for the defendant Sabine Jacquart, had a go anyway.

He launched into a denunciation of what he said was the unpleasant political context surrounding the current trial, and was just beginning to detail recent left-wing funding for UNADFI when the judge broke in.

“You’re off the subject,” she said, calling him to order.

The defence lawyers returned to the attack on Morice personally, suggesting that he had not submitted the papers relating to UNADFI’s statues to the court as he had claimed.

Maître François Jacquot, for the defendant Alain Rosenberg, argued that under UNADFI’s own statutes Catherine Picard had not been correctly voted in as president and therefore had no standing to represent the organisation. There had been too many board members at the meeting in question, he said.[vi]

“Mme Picard has no mandate,” he declared. “She does not exist.” UNADFI’s bid for plaintiff status was, therefore, “radically inadmissible”.

Maître Ducrey returned to the attack, arguing that the court’s good faith had been abused, that vital documents concerning UNADFI were not available.

By now the prosecutor Woirhaye was losing patience. They hadn’t raised this issue at the original trial, he growled.

The defence kept up their barrage: it was not their fault if proceedings were dragging on, said one lawyer. It was down to Morice’s flagrant bad faith, his ill will: if he had provided the documents they were requesting, none of this would be necessary.

“We are not being legalistic for the sake of it,” said one. “We are trying to get the law applied properly.”

After this fresh onslaught – which took up another hour of court time – it was Morice’s turn once more.

The defence had a nerve accusing him of trying to deceive the court, he said.

They had tried to mislead the court by saying that UNADFI had never been granted plaintiff status in a court case.

They knew for a fact that this was not true, because it was in a case involving Scientology that UNADFI had been recognised as plaintiffs. (That may have been overturned by the Court of Appeal, he said: but UNADFI had since changed its statutes.)[vii]

Scientology, he said, had been wasting the court’s time with procedural motions for days now: talk about self-righteous!

« Quels donneurs de leçons! Quels donneurs de leçons ! »

What they were really trying to do was delay the time when the court would actually start to examine the facts of the case.

Judge Forkel announced her decision: the issue of UNADFI’s status in the case would be deferred until the judgment in the case had been handed down.

For the defence, that was almost as bad as UNADFI being accepted outright.

It meant that the association – and Morice – would continue to play a full part in the proceedings even if their application was eventually rejected.

Maître Jean-Marc Florand, representing the Scientology Celebrity Centre (ASES CC) immediately lodged what a ninth QPC (Priority Question of Constitutionality): the court had by now rejected all eight previous submissions.

Florand argued that by delaying the decision on UNADFI’s status, the court had effectively granted it a full role in the trial and so tipped the scales against the defence.

His colleagues, supporting the QPC, went over the arguments presented earlier: the Carlos trial, the Tiberi case, the justice ministry circular, equality of arms.[viii]

Tiberi, said Morice? Carlos? We need to end the QPC parade.

Proceedings were adjourned to Thursday, November 17: the sixth day of the trial.

[i] See the previous posting, The Appeal Trial II.
[ii] The first remarks here, Morice actually said in the first 10 minutes of his presentation at the previous hearing, before being interrupted by the defence. For ease of presentation I have incorporated them into his resumed speech to court.
[iii] He cited among others Les Sectes et L’Argent a 1999 parliamentary report.
[iv] UNADFI has received official recognition of its public service role from the interior ministry, where it is listed as an association: reconnues d'utilité publique (ARUP).
[v] On November 9, 2010, France’s Supreme Court, le Cour de Cassation, overturned an appeal court ruling that had rejected a bid by Transparency International from being plaintiffs in a case concerning property and other assets that had allegedly been corruptly acquired in France by a number of African rulers and their cronies – the “biens mal acquis” case. You can see TI’s media release on the ruling here.
[vi] Catherine Picard had testified in her capacity as president of UNADFI at the original trial (see my earlier posting Picard for UNADFI). If Maître Jacquot could establish that she had not been properly elected as its president then it had a bearing on the fairness of those proceedings.
[vii] This was a case in which the Spiritual Association of the Church of Scientology of Ile-de-France  (L’Association Spirituelle de l’Eglise de Scientologie d’ile de France, ASESIF) was convicted of a violation of the data protection laws for having kept personal data on their records when the people in question had specifically requested it be removed. Convicted in 2002, the case was confirmed at the Paris Court of the Appeal the following year and by the Supreme Court (le Cour de Cassation) in 2004. UNADFI had been accepted as a plaintiff at the original trial, but that ruling was overturned on appeal and its exclusion was confirmed en cassation. 
[viii] You will find the Carlos reference in the previous posting, Paris Appeal Trial II; the reference to Tiberi in the notes to The Paris Appeal Trial I; the justice ministry circular in both – and more extensively in my coverage of the run-up to the trial Preparing the Ground.

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