The Cassation Court has upheld an appeal against a sentence for murder imposed on former Flemish MP Christian Van Eyken and his wife Sylvia Boigelot.
The couple were found guilty in February of the murder of Boigelot’s husband Marc Dellea in 2014, so that they could be together. They were each sentenced to 23 years in prison.
Van Eyken was notable as being the only French-speaking representative in the Flemish parliament, elected for FDF/DeFI in Flemish Brabant, where he had been mayor of Linkebeek. Boigelot, meanwhile, was his parliamentary assistant. The court heard how she was engaged in divorce proceedings when Dellea was found shot dead with a bullet to the head in his home in Laeken in Brussels.
The case went to appeal, and that appeal was turned down. At the same time, the judge increased the sentence from 23 to 27 years. And that was the basis of the appeal to the Cassation Court.
Yesterday, that court, which deals only with matters of procedure and not the facts of the case, found that the appeal court had gone wrong in increasing the sentence, and its decision was insufficiently argued in the judgement.
Unusually, it was not the defence but the advocate-general who called for the case to come before Cassation. Damien Vandermeersch has misgivings about the comment by the appeal court that a hope expressed by the original trial judge that the couple might find a way to better their lives “appears unlikely”.
The court agreed that such reasoning was not adequate justification for increasing a prison sentence. Nor was the fact that the two never at any point expressed guilt, or that they decided to appeal the verdict.
Those, Cassation said, are fundamental rights, and cannot be used as grounds for punishment.
“The judges have denounced the invocation of the right not to incriminate oneself and to appeal a verdict. The right of a suspect to organise their defence as they wish is ignored here, and so it is a violation of the rights of the defence,” said the prosecutor.
The court followed the advocate-general on the sentence, but not the conviction, as the defence had requested. The appeal court, argued defence layer Laurent Kennes, did now hold a separate discussion on conviction and sentence, as would be the cases in a jury trial. But the court did not accept that argument.
Van Eyken and Boigelot, meanwhile, remain at liberty while the case moves its its next stage. The case will now move to the appeal court in Mons, where the matter of the sentence will be reconsidered.