The first phase of a trial of 18 members of the student association Reuzegom started and ended this week after questions were raised about the objectivity of one of the judges.
The members of the club are being accused of their part in the death of Sanda Dia, who died in December 2018 after taking part in an initiation ritual to join the student club Reuzegom. He had been forced to consume a large quantity of alcohol as well as fish sauce, and had been forced to sit in a pool of freezing water for hours as part of the ritual.
When he became unconscious the members of the club failed to call emergency services, and instead transported him to a nearby hospital which has no emergency department. They then moved on to one that did, by which time the young man was in a deep state of poisoning and hypothermia.
The club has since been disbanded by order of the university, and such onerous rituals banned, but those present on the night in question still have to face justice for their actions. But because the club was so highly regarded among aspiring students, it was made up of students from wealthy families, who are now able to defend their offspring with expensive lawyers and extensive delaying tactics.
The latest, produced this week, was to raise the question of whether one of the judges at the Leuven court had any connection with the Leuven university. The question may appear vexatious, but it has not been answered, and now needs to be investigated, and the sitting was suspended.
“It’s about an appearance of partiality and you have to avoid that completely in lawsuits,” said Sven Mary, representing Sanda’s family.
“I’m a little sad that there hasn’t been an answer.”
The sittings will continue on 12 October with expert testimony. If the judge in question has been replaced in the meantime, the trial can proceed. If not, the defence is likely to file for recusal. In either case, the trial proper will resume in April next year.