Monday 30 January 2012

The Paris Appeal Trial I

 Scientology had  vowed to expose the case against them as empty. In court however, the procedural motions launched by their  lawyers' delayed any examination of the facts of the case.

Scientology had vowed to expose the hollowness of the case against it.

When the battle returned to the courtroom however, the movement’s lawyers seemed determined to avoid returning to the facts of the case, on that day and – if at all possible – on any other.

On Thursday, November 3, the first day of the trial on appeal, the court had a request before it to have the case postponed by three to six months because of a circular issued to the justice ministry on the legal remedies against cults.

Although Scientology was mentioned nowhere in the five-page document, the defence argued that this was a blatant attempt by the executive to put pressure on the court – and they blamed the government’s cult watchdog Miviludes.

The circular, they argued, had “pre-condemned the Church, without naming it,” said a statement issued the day the trial started. “For the defence lawyers, the court cannot serenely examine the case under such executive pressure, brought about by Miviludes,” it said.[i]

President of the court Judge Claudine Forkel, together with her two judge assessors Patricia Richet and Didier Safar, felt sufficiently serene: motion denied.

Next, Maître Gérard Ducrey, for the defendant Sabine Jacquart, argued that the case should be referred to the Constitutional Court because the case had dragged on too long, which prejudiced his client. It had been 13 years since the first complaint was filed, in 1998, and the facts in question dated back more than 10 years, to between September 1997 and 1999, he argued.[ii]

This was the first in a series of Questions de Prioritaires de Constitutionnalité (Priority Questions of Constitutionality, QPCs), a procedural measure intended to ensure that defendants’ rights are respected at every stage of their trial.

If the appeal court were to decide that a valid issue had been raised, the judge could halt the trial until the matter had been referred to Cour de Cassation, the Supreme Court, for a ruling.

Scientology’s lawyers were to make liberal use of this new tool, to the growing frustration of the lawyers on the other side.[iii]

On Friday, November 4, the second day of the trial, Ducrey introduced a second QPC, arguing that the delay of the trial had extended the time before which any conviction would become “spent”, and thus expunged from the record. This too compromised his client’s rights, he argued.

The same day Louis Pamponet raised three other QPCs on behalf of his client, Scientologie Espace Librarie (SEL), Scientology’s network of bookshops.

Enlisting the help of the greatest minds of the Enlightenment, he quoted liberal doses of Montesquieu and Beccaria to argue that SEL could not be held responsible for the offences for which they had been convicted, which in any case did not exist at the relevant time.

Where there was any doubt over the interpretation of the relevant law, the court should rule in favour of the defendant, he added.

For the prosecution, Hugues Woirhaye opposed any delay of the trial. Olivier Morice, for UNADFI (the National Union of Associations for the Defence of the Family and the Individual, Victims of Cults), denounced the tactics as shameless time-wasting.

The defence motions came to nothing: when the court reconvened the following week on Tuesday November 8 – the third day of the proceedings – all five motions were denied.

Ducrey immediately filed a reformulated version of his QPCs, Pamponet submitted another and their colleague Maître Jean-Marc Florand, filed his own on behalf of the Celebrity Centre, the other Scientology body convicted.

Scientology also maintained the pressure outside the court, releasing a statement within hours of the day’s proceedings. The court’s rulings, they said, were the first response to the question they had posed at the start of the trial, namely: can Scientology get a fair trial in France?

Scientology was not afraid of a debate on the facts of the case, it added: but they wanted proceedings to go ahead on conditions that guaranteed a fair trial, “respectful of the rights of the defence, of public freedoms and fundamental rights.”[iv]

Three days into the trial however, the court was no closer to the heart of the matter.

[i]The Church of Scientology seeks the postponement of the case to a later date”: French-language Scientology statement, November 3, 2011.
[ii] Ducrey raised the case of the former mayor of Paris, Jean Tiberi, and his wife Xavière: convicted of electoral fraud in 2009, in September 2011 – only a couple of months before Scientology’s trial on appeal had opened – they had managed to get their appeal trial delayed on exactly the same grounds. But in December, the Cour de Cassation, France’s Supreme Court, decided against referring the matter to the Constitutional Council. The Tiberis’ appeal trial is scheduled to go ahead in November 2012.
[iii] QPCs were introduced to French law in March 2010, which is to say between the original convictions and the trial on appeal.
[iv] Celebrity Centre expects serene and impartial justice: French-language Scientology statement issued November 8.

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