Share article:
Share article:

Lawyer found guilty of libel in euthanasia case

Walter Van Steenbrugge. © Belga

Lawyer Walter Van Steenbrugge has been found guilty by a court in Ghent of libel of the head of the religious charity the Brothers of Charity during the trial of three doctors involved in a case of euthanasia.

Tine Nys, then aged 38, had her request for euthanasia approved and carried out in 2010, on the grounds of psychological suffering. Her sisters contested the decision, arguing that the proper procedures laid down by the law had not been properly carried out.

A court in Dendermonde first refused to press charges against the doctors concerned, one of whom had actually carried out the procedure, but that verdict was overturned in 2018 by a court in Ghent, which sent the three doctors for trial at the assizes court.

Van Steenbrugge, one of the country’s most prominent trial lawyers, was representing the doctor who carried out the procedure. He petitioned the court for René Stockman, head of the strictly Catholic Brothers of Charity, to be called as a witness.

The reason: his client had heard from a doctor friend that Stockman had made approaches to the Ghent prosecution service intended to convince them to prosecute. Van Steenbrugge took the unusual step of writing a letter to the federal parliament asking them to investigate a possibly improper attempt to influence the law.

He also aired his misgivings on VTM News, leading Stockman to sue for libel.

Now a court in Ghent has upheld the complaint, which carries a possible penalty of one year in prison.

Van Steenbrugge’s own lawyer protested.

It is not possible that a lawyer should have to appear in court because he has done his work in and out of court,” said Nico Meijering.

My client had information from three sources that [Stockman] had intervened, but he never presented that as fact.”

And he accused the prosecutor’s office of seeking revenge for losing the landmark case.

For my client, the damage to his reputation is great. How many clients are no longer going to engage him now that Mr. Stockman has branded him a slanderer? An attempt has been made to silence my client. I am asking for a signal that this is not permissible. Convicting a lawyer for assisting his client will affect any criminal defence deeply.”

In the original trial, two of the doctors involved were found clearly not guilty of manslaughter by the jury. In the case of the third, who had carried out the procedure and was represented by Van Steenbrugge, the jury expressed some doubt as to whether the correct procedure had been followed.

As the law requires, the bench considered that reasonable doubt acts in the favour of the accused, and he too was acquitted.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

Latest news

Experts call for more widespread use of masks as figures rise
As coronavirus figures continue to rise, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has suggested that people return to wearing masks when indoors with ...
Belgium wants to recover €420 million in wrongfully paid out coronavirus aid
The Belgian State intends to recover €420 million of unduly paid Covid-19 aid, La Libre Belgique reported on Thursday. The electronic Council of ...
Why the fight for transgender rights is polarising Europe 
Year after year, Samuel De Schepper would ask Santa Claus to bring him a penis for Christmas. Born female and attending an all girl’s Catholic ...
New offshore wind farm officially opened
Despite being operational since the end of 2020, the SeaMade offshore wind farm was officially inaugurated on Wednesday by Prime Minister Alexander ...
Contact tracers have no time for calls, only texts, amid rising cases
Contract tracers will no longer make phone calls to the high-risk contacts of people who test positive for the coronavirus beginning from Wednesday, ...
Belgium holds on to top spot in FIFA rankings despite recent losses
Once again, Belgium's Red Devils have held onto their position at the top of the world football rankings, according to an update released by the ...
Proximus pushes for high-speed internet in Brussels and Wallonia
Fifteen municipalities in Wallonia should soon have access to high-speed internet through the rollout of fibre optics in the region, telecoms giant ...
Why Belgium is regulating sex work
After decades of confusing rules and hypocritical policy, Belgium is finally regulating sex work by removing prostitution from the criminal law. ...
World’s largest chocolate warehouse opens in Flanders
On Thursday, Barry Callebaut – the largest global chocolate processor and manufacturer – opened the world's largest chocolate warehouse in Lokeren, ...
Belgium in Brief: Equal Opportunity To Dance
There's a phrase where I'm from, more often said in jest nowadays, but it came to my mind this morning: "Ye dancin'?" (Are you dancing?), one ...
Farmer discovers cocaine in banana boxes bought in Brussels
A Flemish farmer who purchased boxes of bananas at the market in Brussels on Tuesday came home to discover large amounts of cocaine packed among the ...
Changes to speed cameras increase likelihood of a ticket
Changes to the way speed cameras work in Flanders and Wallonia will increase the likelihood of receiving a ticket when cars pass them above the ...