Brussels terror trials: Selecting 36 citizen jurors

Brussels terror trials: Selecting 36 citizen jurors
Salah Abdeslam at the Paris trial. Credit: Belga

The trial of the ten suspects of the 2016 terrorist attack in Brussels resumes on Wednesday after a two-month delay caused by late changes to the glass boxes in which the defendants will stand in the trial. Before hearings begin on Monday 5 December, the jury will be assembled on Wednesday.

Unlike the trial of the 13 November attacks in Paris, the biggest trial in Belgian history will have a public jury rather than professional magistrates (despite the concerns of some MPs and the federal prosecutor).

36 citizens will be selected for jury service in the Brussels Assize Court – Belgium's highest court and the only one that can issue life sentences.

Choosing the jury

1,000 citizens have been pre-selected as jury candidates. To be considered, candidates must be between 28 and 65 years old and have a clean criminal record. They must be French-speaking as the trial will be held in French.

To gain an exemption, those shortlisted must show that they have a chronic illness, that they are pregnant, or have a connection with one of the parties at the trial.

Some 600 people will attend the hearing on 30 November after which the jurors' names are drawn. The chairperson will draw the names containing of 12 jurors and 24 alternatives. Of the twelve jurors, no more than eight can be the same gender.

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Owing to the length of the trial (which is expected to last six months), the number of substitutes has doubled. The twelve jurors judging the defendants have to attend the entire process and any juror absent will need to be replaced at short notice with a substitute. 36 men and women will therefore be present at the trial.

Jurors are required to remain silent throughout the whole trial about whether they believe the accused are guilty or innocent until the case has been presented in full and the time comes for deliberations. The trial itself may be a challenging experience as the jury must review images of the attack including the wrecked metro, the airport and the bodies of victims.

The Chairperson of the Court is expected to advise the jurors on how to proceed at the start of hearings on Monday 5 December, given the gravity of the trial.

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