Why are lawyers of the November 2015 victims telling us what we already know?

·2-min read

The past week at the Paris terror trial has been devoted to the summing-up by the lawyers who represent hundreds of "parties civiles", the families of the injured survivors, and those who lost loved ones in the November 2015 attacks. An essential legal exercise which has inspired many questions and some criticism.

This concluding phase of the trial opened last week with pleading by the legal professionals who represent the victims, a last chance to formalise their clients' grief.

The problem is that we have already heard from the victims themselves. And they were terribly eloquent.

In total, this trial has devoted six harrowing weeks to hearing the testimony of those for whom the night of 13 November 2015 was the end of a previous life. Whether physically injured, psychologically traumatised, or robbed of the future life of a child, a friend, a sibling, a spouse, that night defined a before and an after.

As my colleague Henri Seckel, one of the journalists covering the trial for daily paper Le Monde, has observed, we've heard from hundreds of the victims themselves. What can the most well-meaning of lawyers add to that?

In fairness, some of the lawyers have recognised the problem and have agreed to forego their right to address the court. Not a minor concession in a profession marked by status and ego. Others have confronted the contradiction head-on.

"What can I tell you that you have not heard before," one lawyer began. "What can we add to the immense evidence offered by the victims themselves?"

Good questions. The speaker, unfortunately, offered no answers.

Worse, some of her colleagues over the past week have allowed themselves to be carried away by the histrionic possibilities of their position, centre stage. We have had drama, robe waving, eye rolling and rhetorical effects worthy of a third-rate Greek tragedy.

As Henri Seckel has pointed out, "if ever a trial could have done without artificial drama, this is surely it. I've told myself a few times that this historic hearing deserves better."

Aurélie Corviaux is among those who have done better. She represents dozens of victims and has been an unfailingly benign presence in the often austere corridors of the vast central Paris courthouse.

She spoke on behalf of those who feel guilty because they survived, "those who are so ashamed that they didn't even apply to be civil witnessers, those whose applications were accepted by the court but who then disappeared, those who refuse any form of compensation."

If this phase of the trial does nothing other than include those solitary sufferers in the sad family of the victims, and write their anonymous stories into the collective memory, it will have achieved something remarkable. And worthwhile.

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