Can lawyers still properly defend their clients?
Advocaat.be finds it worrying that the Court of Cassation, in a judgment of 14 March 2023, went down the road of a very drastic restriction on the lawyer's pleading time. Specifically, the Court ruled, in a case on whether or not to extend pre-trial detention, that the Indictment Chamber was allowed to summon the detainee's lawyer to complete his plea after only 10 minutes.
In a rule of law, the rights of defence are central. And justice must show a human face. That is certainly the case when it comes to a person's freedom. Taking someone into custody is among the most drastic things that can happen in a human life. Reeling off such a case, or even giving that impression, is not the image justice should present of itself.
Advocaat.be realises that each case must be judged on its own merits and needs: not every case is complex or requires extensive pleading. And that there must be a proper balance between the necessities of service within the courts and the allotted pleading time that must be sufficient to put forward a serious and complete defence.
In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister, said Goethe. It is an art to be concise and not get too lost in details. Advocaat.be recognises that lawyers need to train themselves in this. But that does not alter the fact that a pleading time of 10 minutes seems alarmingly short to debate a person's freedom, especially if the lawyer had much more to say to defend his client: the detainee should expect to be listened to as well as his or her lawyer.
Advocaat.be understands that the incident occurred not before a so-called sentencing court, where the judge makes a final ruling on the merits, but before an 'investigating court'. But even then, extreme caution is appropriate. Moreover, one can hope that the Supreme Court will not extend this new case-law to the sentencing courts.
In my view, this is a particularly unfavourable evolution, alarming even. The path the judiciary has embarked on here is not the path we as a legal profession wish for our clients.