Final observations on behalf of the 'witnesses of witnesses' at Paris terror trial

·3-min read

This has been a difficult week at the Special Criminal Court, where the men suspected of involvement or complicity in the November 2015 terrorist attacks are being tried. The hearings have been devoted to the final observations from lawyers representing the survivors and the relatives of the bereaved.

The legal profession, like every other, is a mixed bag. So many different personalities, so many different styles. We have been harangued, cajoled, seduced, surprised and, even, spoken to normally. The closing summaries have ranged from the excessively theatrical to the conversational. The language has veered from inspired to bog-standard banal.

The court president, Jean-Louis Périès, has kept his thoughts to himself. He has been unfailingly polite.

The accused have sat, calm or comatose, through it all.

Except for Tuesday, when nine of them staged another boycott of the hearing, in solidarity with Muhammed Usman, one of the prisoners, who has been complaining that his health problems are not being taken seriously by the authorities.

Jean-Louis Périès, with typical workmanlike pragmatism, sorted the situation with a phone call.

Striking prisoners return to courtroom

Usman and the other strikers were back in the security box on Wednesday.

But you have to wonder how much of this particular part of the criminal procedure they are understanding.

Usman is from Pakistan and speaks Urdu. His neighbour in the security enclosure, Osama Krayem, has learned French but is Swedish. Both are assisted by court translators.

What they make of the more fanciful legal flights is anyone's guess.

The lawyer who made reference to Hemingway's Moveable Feast (incorrectly translated as Paris est une fête in French) played on the echo of "fête" in the word "défaite", as he told the accused that Paris had defeated them. It would be hard to know how many of his French hearers got the point. It seemed to leave the Swedish and Pakistani parts of the audience completely unmoved.

Who is this part of the trial for?

And that has been a major part of the problem. Exactly who is being addressed in this phase of the trial, now into its tenth month?

We know all that forensic science can reveal about the events leading up to and away from the tragic events which cost 132 people their lives. We have heard from many of those who survived.

If this week's black-robed professionals have sometimes erred in the choice of tone, if they have sometimes repeated unhappy facts in unworthy language, if they have sometimes failed their clients, that is the price of justice.

Because, as several of the week's speakers have reminded us, behind the histrionic trappings and the verbal misjudgements have been the voices of those victims who have not felt themselves to have a legitimate place in this vast courtroom. They would otherwise be the forgotten victims. This has been their week.

As one of their legal representatives put it, quoting a survivor of the horrors of Nazism: "we have become the witnesses of witnesses."

The trial continues.

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