A place where the language of justice can confront the madness of murder

·3-min read

This is to be an extraordinary trial, and the facilities deployed to house it are, themselves, at an extraordinary scale.

The trial opens in Paris next week of the twenty people accused of involvement in the 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks at the Bataclan concert venue, the Stade de France, and at several bars and cafés in the centre of the French capital.

Special courtroom

One hundred and thirty people lost their lives. To accommodate the huge number of survivors, witnesses, relatives, lawyers and journalists, a special high-security courtroom has been built inside the venerable Palais de Justice in central Paris. A vast stage for the final act of a terrible tragedy.

The statistics are mind-numbing, not to say heart-breaking.

One hundred and thirty dead, hundreds injured, physically and psychologically. At least one suicide directly linked to the tragedy.

5 years of investigations

Nearly five years of police investigation, 47,000 interviews, giving rise to 542 volumes of evidence. The trial is expected to last 140 days, spread over the next nine months.

There will be 330 lawyers, there could be as many as 1,800 relatives of victims and survivors. Journalists from 141 media, 58 news organisations from outside France, have been accredited. Perhaps as many as 3,000 people will be in attendance on the busiest days.

To accommodate them all, a vast new courtroom has been constructed at a cost of eight million euros inside the Parisian Palais de Justice.

A deliberate choice of venue

The choice of venue was deliberate, an effort by the French authorities to provide a solemn background for the tragic events which will be examined here.

As the judge Denis Salas told Le Monde newspaper recently, "the location of the trial is absolutely crucial.

"Criminal justice offers a counter-violence to political or social violence. Against the noise of weapons, justice offers a space where words are used . . . this is where we, as a democratic society, take up the challenge thrown down by terrorism and barbarity.

"This attack was part of a war by Islamic State against France, against unbelievers. But for us, this trial has nothing to do with war.

"What is at stake is to show that our liberal criminal justice is more powerful than that envisaged by the enemy.

"We believe that words can control and contain violence, which is why this space has been conceived and constructed to allow every voice to be heard."

A structure in which science fiction meets the baroque

If the outside of the court building dates from the mid-1800s, the new courtroom is ultra-modern.

Unprecedented security

Inside a predominantly white and blonde-wood structure in the main hall of the old courthouse, with a level of security never before reached, the tribunal will sit in what is effectively a gigantic television studio, 45 metres long, 15m wide.

Live TV coverage of the proceedings will be available in a dozen other rooms in the Palais de Justice, for family, the general public, the majority of the journalists.

For the families who can't or don't want to attend, an internet radio service will be available so that those who are centrally concerned can listen to the deliberations. The relatives have been given special codes to enable them to access this webradio.

The entire trial will be filmed for historical purposes.

Judgement is to be handed down at the end of May 2022.

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