Paris terror trial enters final phase with pleas on behalf of the survivors and the bereaved

·3 min read

The Paris attacks trial, where 20 men are being judged on charges of complicity in the November 2015 terrorist killings, continues with concluding pleas from the lawyers representing the injured and those who lost family members.

There are nearly 2,500 civil witnesses registered with the special criminal court. They include survivors of the attacks, the families who lost loved ones, security and medical professionals traumatised by the events they witnessed on the night of 13 November 2015.

Summing up

They are represented by 327 lawyers.

This week and until 7 June, those lawyers are being called to the bar to resume their version of this epic trial which began on 8 September last year.

In order to avoid pointless repetition, more than one hundred of those representing the civil witnesses have agreed to forego their right to speak. And those who do address the court have promised to limit themselves to 25 minutes.

The point of this unusual professional solidarity, according to one of the lawyers behind the collective pleading proposition, is to ensure that no witness feels lost in the crowd, "that each can be treated as an individual".

To that end, this week's hearings have opened with a rapid succession of presentations, each one evoking the memory of particular victims in a few phrases.

The lawyers quote their bereaved clients, read letters or press reports, recite poems.

The messages stress the value of the lives lost, the talents, generosity and potential of those who died, the impact of each loss on a wider group of family and friends.

There is a lot of incomprehension, enormous grief, very little anger. When the accused are directly addressed, the tone is calm, factual, frequently forgiving.

The limits of professional detachment

None of what we are hearing is new. This is a summary of established facts, as understood by some of those tragically involved. It is part of the procedure.

What is remarkable about this version of events is the tone: professional, detached, generally without emotion.

These are lawyers speaking on behalf of their clients, even if several admit to feeling that, after six difficult years together, those clients are now friends.

Not all of the legal professionals manage to keep the mask in place. There are sobs, hesitations, tears. Such moments are rare, and reassuring.

There is a great variety of rhetorical technique on display, from polished performance, through caricatural excess, to flat, meandering incompetence.

As the French writer Emmanuel Carrère, who is covering the trial for a weekly magazine, puts it, referring to the legal tribe: "After eight months, we know them only too well. There are those we like, and others who make you yawn with boredom before they even open their mouths." He's not exaggerating.

Court president Jean-Louis Périès listens to each presentation impartially, thanking the professionals and the boring incompetents alike.

If the planned schedule is maintained, the state prosecution lawyers will next sum-up between 8 and 10 June, leaving the final word to the defence.

The tribunal will then retire to deliberate, with verdicts expected to be announced on 29 June.

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