MH17 trial begins today

AMSTERDAM: All eyes will be on the District Court of The Hague at the Schiphol Judicial Complex (JCS) in Badhoevedorp as the criminal proceeding against four men accused of shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 begins.

It was reported that MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile while flying over the conflict-hit eastern Ukraine.

All 298 people on board, comprising 43 Malaysians, 193 Dutch nationals and 27 Australians, were killed.

Members of the Malaysian media here to cover the start of the trial were given a briefing by press secretary for the judge, Yolande Wijnnobel, on what to expect at the start of the much-awaited trial.

The trial will begin at 10am (5pm Malaysian time) today.

Here’s a quick look at what will happen at the start of the trial.

The accused are Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, as well as a Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.

Whether they will appear in court or only their lawyers will be present or they would be tried in absentia will only be known on the day.

According to Wijnnobel, two lawyers will represent one of the suspects.

However, she said she could not disclose the names of the lawyers and the accused.

“This is a Dutch criminal case before a Dutch court and only Dutch lawyers can represent the accused here,” she said.

The trial will be held at the District Court of The Hague, high-security facility at the JCS, next to Schiphol International Airport.

The proceedings will be live-streamed on the website in English and Dutch on all hearing dates.

The court has fixed 25 weeks for the trial. The dates are March 9-13, March 23-27, June 8 to July 3, and Aug 31 to Nov 13.

For 2021, the trial has been set from Feb 1 to March 26.

A media centre has been built outside the stark concrete building to accommodate more than 400 journalists from around the world.

Three judges will preside over the proceedings with two other judges acting in a reserve capacity.

Wijnnobel said the start of the trial could be largely procedural at first.

“The presiding judge will first introduce the bench of the judges, to see who has appeared in court whether a counsel will represent the suspects, whether suspects themselves appear in court, whether relatives are present and find out what their intentions are.

“The judge will also look into what degree the case file is complete. He will enquire if further investigation activity is underway, he will also turn to the defence counsel and ask them if they had an opportunity to read the case file because it’s a big set of documents.

“And he will further ask the defence if they have further wishes or requests. So it will be procedural at first,” she said.

“If no counsel appear for the other three suspects, then the court will focus on whether the suspects were correctly summoned to the proceedings and if it’s also reasonable to believe those suspects knew the trial was going to start on Monday.

“If the court decides that, yes the suspects should have known that it was the beginning of the trial, then the court will proceed ... proceed in their absence, and in this case, it will be a trial in absentia,” she said.

On witnesses to be called during the trial, Wijnnobel explained that judges would only come to this when they actually study the case file and hear the merit of the case.

She also said family members would be allowed to speak and claim compensation during the trial and added that they could address the court orally or submit a written impact assessment.

“Family members are welcomed to attend the proceedings but if they are not present, they can (still) be involved. They can lodge a claim for compensation and state the harm they have suffered, and the quantum of damages sought.

“The court will take the time to review their statements,” she said, adding that under the Dutch legal system, family members would usually be allowed to address the court only after the court had heard the merits of the case.

“However, as this is not mandatory, a judge can, at his discretion, decide to do one thing before another thing or to allow something to be done in an earlier part of the case,” she said.

Meanwhile, international justice expert Stephanie van den Berg said the District Court of The Hague was one of Netherlands’ 11 district courts, similar with lower courts in Malaysia with an avenue for appeal to the higher court. — Bernama

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