NEWS

Judges’ anxiety mounts as terrorism investigation is transformed into a matter of public speculation

” I am hoping for correct proceedings that will not be drawn out,» Supreme Court President Constantine Kappos told Kathimerini regarding the terrorism investigation currently under way. His reply clearly reflects a general concern on the part of all judicial officials that the proceedings be over as soon as possible. A senior official for the prosecution commented that the problems are only just beginning, as the trial and the ensuing ruling have to be completed within 18 months of the date the accused were remanded. Therefore, initial rulings have to be issued by January 2004. The most likely date for the trial to start, barring complications, is spring of 2003, meaning that the three appeals court prosecutors will have to have submitted their brief to the Appeals Council for committals for trial by the end of this year, or at the very latest early next year. Conditions of detention Although the trial seems a long way off, and while, for the time being, the details have not been finalized, there have been strong protests regarding leaks of testimony and other details of the investigation, as well as the publicity surrounding the conditions in which the November 17 suspects are being detained, their rights, and whether they should be allowed into the exercise yard alone or in company. A number of voices have been raised in protest at the «dissolution of a state that worries about (the prisoners’) comforts, their visitors and their freedom to make telephone calls outside the prison,» among other things. These protests came to a head when Savvas Xeros used a prison pay phone to give a barrage of live interviews. Once again, the prison authorities proved themselves to be unprepared for such an eventuality. Why, for example, wasn’t the prison board in a position to set conditions for prisoners’ use of the pay phones? When Xeros had exhausted all possible outlets for his «public statements,» even threatening public prosecutor Ioannis Diotis, the justice minister finally intervened and spoke of an abuse of rights. The prison board met overnight and decided to restrict the prisoners’ telephone calls to contacts with their lawyers and family members. Outside the prison, the situation appears to have become out of control, as details of the brief have been spread far and wide. The investigation has moved from the Appeals Court to the television newsroom, where confessions, depositions, photographs, texts handwritten by the accused, and other findings are all proudly displayed before the cameras. «The investigators’ work is being cheapened,» cry judges and prosecutors. The Bar Association has called for the National Radio and Television Council to intervene as well as the public prosecutor, while the leaks keep coming. Bar Association President Dimitris Paxinos told Kathimerini that leaks from the brief «can make the judiciary’s task more difficult in the sense that, depending on their source, these leaks serve specific aims and expediencies.» «Details of the brief that are leaked become an object of commerce, leading to a television bidding war,» he said. «As a result, trials are virtually carried out before the legal proceedings themselves, the judges being the guests on television panel discussions, while viewers reach a verdict in the comfort of their own homes,» he said. Paxinos believes that the leaks that are of especial interest to the public are usually those that have to do with numerous illicit transactions. If pre-trial secrecy is not guaranteed in practice, it would be better to do away with it altogether. Therefore, he proposes a stronger legislative framework and greater severity on the part of the public prosecutor and the courts. Investigating secrecy violations On the other hand, prosecution officials believe that on the basis of the existing legislative framework, they are not able to intervene effectively to avert leaks and, most importantly, to find those responsible. Already the prosecution is carrying out an investigation of all those involved in violating professional secrecy. The suspects include the dozens of lawyers for the defense and as many more police officers. Finding the culprits is difficult, if not impossible. Even if some of them were committed for trial, it is thought certain they would be acquitted due to inconclusive evidence. Prosecutors say that even though the investigation is secret, there is no clear provision guaranteeing that secrecy, nor for imposing sanctions for violations. In similar cases, the law against violating official secrets has been used. Therefore, the prosecutors have proposed drafting a new provision to punish not only those who leak material from an investigation, but, above all, those who make that material public, that is, the media. These provisions exist in all European states where making such material public is punished severely. However, in those countries prosecutors give press conferences on cases pending trial. In Germany, in fact, prosecutors are required to do so.