Court decides that glass boxes of Brussels attacks trial should be taken down

The individual glass boxes for the accused at the assize trial on the 22 March 2016 attacks in Brussels and Zaventem violate defence rights and must be demolished. This was decided by the Brussels assize court on Friday. According to the court, the boxes as they currently exist make a fair trial impossible, partly because free communication between accused and lawyer is compromised, as is the presumption of innocence.

Ten accused are on trial. One of them, Oussama Atar, is in all likelihood killed, so only nine accused will be present at the assize trial. Nine individual glass boxes have been built in the assize room for those accused. These are completely enclosed and, from behind the large glass windows, the accused can only talk through a strip of drilled holes to their lawyers, who must be seated in front of them. There is also a small pass-through hatch through which papers can be passed.

At the preliminary hearing last Monday, the defence had argued that the boxes violated Article 3 of the ECHR, which prohibits degrading and inhuman treatment, and Article 6 ECHR, which guarantees the right to a fair trial. According to the assize court, there is no degrading and inhuman treatment, but the accused's right to a fair trial is violated by the boxes as they currently exist. Thus, it is difficult for the accused to follow the trial, and it is difficult for them to communicate freely with their lawyers. The holes and phone provided for this purpose are not sufficient, according to the court.

Sébastien Courtoy, the lawyer for one of the accused, is satisfied that the individual glass boxes are to be taken down. "It's a very bad week for the federal prosecutor," Courtoy said after the hearing. "I can only be satisfied with the decision that the accused boxes should be demolished in their current form. They violate the right to a fair trial," added Mohamed Abrini's lawyer Stanislas Eskenazi.

The court did not decide in what way the individual boxes should be replaced. It is not clear whether the decision will have an impact on the budget and timing of the trial on the 22 March 2016 attacks. "The [Federal Public Service Justice] is making every effort to come up with a new tailor-made solution that minimises disruption to the planned course of the process," said a written statement.


Lawyer Michel Bouchat, who is defending Salah Abdeslam, pictured during a judgment on the individual glass boxes in which the accused have to sit for the trial of the attacks of March 22, 2016. - © BELGA PHOTO POOL PHILIP REYNAERS


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