Posted by Nov. 17, 2011 by Jonny Jacobsen ("Albion") on WWP:
The defence lawyers in the trial on appeal of Scientology staged a mass walk-out this morning after the judge rejected their ninth QPC (Priority Question of Constitutionality). From the brief comments made outside the court their position is that they cannot proceed when the scales are tipped agains them. The central issue appears to be the judge's decision at the previous hearing to effectively allow counter-cult group UNADFI to play an active part in the proceedings by deferring until after the trial whether or not their application to be treated as plaintiffs in the case should be accepted.
The final QPC, filed on Tuesday after the judge's decision regarding UNADFI, concerned just this question of égalité des armes, having the same rights and opportunities as the prosecution and the plaintiffs. Scientology having settled with all the individual plaintiffs, the lawyers for the defendants had tried everything to get the trial either delayed or the previous judgment set aside. When that failed and the trial of the facts of the case looked like going ahead, they launched an attack on UNADFI, questioning its right to be there as plaintiffs. The decision of Judge Claudine Forkel to defer a ruling on the issue effectively meant that Olivier Morice, for UNADFI, would have been able to play exactly the same role that he had in the initial trial.
The defence argument appears to be that this means the dice are loaded against them in court and they cannot proceed under those conditions.
It took Judge Forkel less than five minutes to read out her ruling rejecting the final QPC and a defence lawyer made a brief statement saying they could not continue under such conditions and staged their mass walk-out. The judge immediately suspended the hearing. The lawyers for Scientology are preparing to release a statement that will set out their position in more detail.
Outside the court, Scientologist Eric Roux said there was no point in remaining when their most basic rights had been denied and every argument they put forward was rejected. Outside the court, Olivier Morice for UNADFI, described the walk-out as laughable. The defence team, he added, had, with their multiple QPCs, been pursuing a carefully thought-out but nevertheless suicidal strategy from the start of the trial.
It may simply be that they are abandoning the trial on appeal to concentrate on pleadings at the Cour de Cassation to try to get the convictions overturned on legal grounds. Morice describes it as a suicidal strategy, even if it was clearly carefully planned: but it's not over until the last gavel has fallen. If they do decide to boycott the trial on appeal, the judge has announced that the trial goes ahead without them, but the sight of the empty defence benches has a fairly powerful symbolic value, which they will no doubt try to exploit. They will argue that it shows that proceedings have been stacked against them.
Or this may just be a piece of courtroom theatrics and they will return to the proceedings at a later date. Watch this space...
UPDATE: according to the latest report from Reuters, the issue is indeed that of UNADFI's role in the trial.
Thursday's hearing resumed without the defendants and their lawyers and the court began looking at the facts of the case.
As things stand, since there appear to be no witnesses lined up and the defence will not be making its contribution, it looks as if the trial may well wind up by the end of next week instead of the first week of December, as originally scheduled.