Lawyer’s double role could threaten entire euthanasia trial

Lawyer’s double role could threaten entire euthanasia trial
Lawyers Fernand Keuleneer (left) and his replacement Joris Van Cauter © Belga

The double role played by lawyer Fernand Keuleneer in the case surrounding the euthanasia of Tine Nys threatens to send the whole case to the Cassation court to be overturned, according to a leading judge.

Speaking to the VRT, judge Hans Rieder pointed out that Keuleneer’s double role in the case – he was representing some of the family of Nys in a case in which three doctors were accused of carrying out an improper process of euthanasia, while at the same time he had sat on the committee that ruled the euthanasia procedure correct – could lead to any judgement in the case before the high court in Ghent being overturned by the Cassation court.

Keuleneer’s role on the committee on evaluation of euthanasia cases – in which he was a temporary member with no voting rights – was revealed only days into the trial of the three doctors. They are accused of poisoning Tine Nys, who underwent a procedure of euthanasia in 2010 after suffering years of “unbearable psychological suffering,” because the procedure laid down by the 2002 law on euthanasia was allegedly not carried out properly.

Keuleneer was representing the parents of Tine Nys; since he was obliged to stand down, his place was taken by Joris Van Cauter, who is representing the brother and sisters of Tine, and is therefore familiar with the facts of the case.

Judge Hans Rieder told the VRT: “There is a principle that lawyers should be independent. That independence comes under threat when one has two responsibilities. Keuleneer had one responsibility in that he took part in the deliberation of the case of Tine Nys in the euthanasia commission. The fact that it involved an anonymous case and that he had no vote is not germane to the matter.”

His previous involvement, Rieder claims, means he is excluded from taking on any other responsibility in the case, which is closely connected with the outcome of that committee’s deliberations – which concluded that the proper procedure had been followed.

By taking part in the deliberations of the euthanasia commission, he has made himself a party to the case,” Rieder said.

To make matters worse, the fact that Keuleneer’s representation of a family in the case in which he is himself a party was only revealed once the trial was under way, whereas Keuleneer himself has known about his involvement since 2010. And it was revealed by a witness in the trial of the three doctors, and not by Keuleneer himself.

If the accused are found guilty, then it is not impossible that this might be an argument for them to appeal to the higher court to contest the verdict, and to have the whole case judged anew,” Rieder said. “Even the referral of the case could be contested before the Cassation Court, because of the fact that the parties were unaware of the circumstances.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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