Belgian soldiers to receive improved access to legal assistance

Active and former members of the Belgian military will soon be able to benefit from legal assistance, like civilian suspects, in the event that they are suspected of a criminal offence in the exercise of their duties, reports La Libre Belgique.

Soldiers will now have the right to the immediate assistance of a lawyer in the event of an offence, even during a mission.

The Salduz Judgement, made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2008 in the case of Kurdish activist Salduz versus the State of Turkey, establishes the right for citizens to have access to a lawyer as soon as they are accused of a crime, to prevent forced confessions before they appear before the courts.

In Belgium, the so-called Salduz law was adopted in 2012 and expanded in 2016. In the context of Belgium, the law guarantees that anyone suspected of a crime (with a few exceptions) is entitled to free assistance from a lawyer from the time he is first questioned, whether by police or an investigating judge or prosecutor.

However, this guarantee was not expanded to members of the military. As such, Defence Minister Ludivine Dedoner has now tabled a bill in the Chamber of Representatives to address this exception.

The bill aims to “broaden the possibility of granting legal assistance to soldiers or former soldiers who are suspected of certain acts committed in the exercise of their functions,” the text said.

The minister says that the legal assistance, which will be provided at the expense of the Belgian State, will be beneficial given that “the military, in the exercise of their function, may be the subject of all kinds of complaints and possible prosecutions.” For Dedonder, the expansion of this law aims to right what she perceives as an oversight in Belgian legislation and a deprivation of soldiers’ rights.

While the reputation of the Belgian army is generally well regarded, soldiers from other countries have been prosecuted for serious offences committed on duty in foreign war zones. Members of the Australian SAS have been accused of executing non-combatants, US forces killed 16 civilians during the Kandahar massacre, and a British Sergeant was sentenced for the murder of an injured Afghan soldier in 2011.


Belgian soldiers during an exercise of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence Battalion in Pabrade, Lithuania © BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM

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