The third block of hearings in the criminal case opened today. As is customary at the start of each hearing block, the presiding judge gave a brief overview of what was covered in the previous hearing block, of developments since the last hearing, and of what his intentions were for the current hearing.
Developments since the last hearing
In its Decision of 3 July 2020, the court granted a number of applications and requests made by the prosecution and the defence, including requests that a number of witnesses be interviewed. The court reported that the investigating judge has initiated the related investigative work. If you would like to learn more about the role of the investigating judge in criminal cases, I suggest that you view the video available on our website: courtmh17.com.
Requests made by the defence that documents be added to the case file
Today, the defence requested that various sets of documents be added to the case file. This concerned requests for legal assistance issued by the investigating judge and documents or parts of documents that are currently in the investigating judge’s hands. In the case of the requests for legal assistance, the court ruled that the defence had not sufficient substantiated its request that the investigating judge be ordered to provide those requests to the defence. Furthermore, the court adopted the prosecution’s suggestion that the prosecution provide its response to the requests regarding provision of documents by 7 September. It further invited the investigating judge to give her views on the requests by 21 September at the latest. The court will issue any relevant decisions during block of hearings starting on 28 September.
Counsel for the relatives: jurisdiction and applicable law as regards claims for damages
In its decision of 23 March 2020, the court put a number of questions to counsel for the relatives concerning the relatives’ intentions and concerning the possible filing of claims for damages by relatives, for example, whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the claims for damages and what body of law should be applied in adjudicating the claims. Those questions were on the agenda for today’s hearing.
Before giving its views on those matters, counsel for the relatives underlined how important it was that the relatives not be seen as just one group, but rather as individuals each having suffered a terrible loss. Each relative had their own story, as well as their own desires, wishes and hopes. Counsel pointed out that, for the relatives, the purpose of the trial is to obtain some form of redress, and that damages was one means of recognising their loss.
Counsel for the relatives had commissioned expert advice to help answer the court’s questions regarding whether it had jurisdiction to hear possible claims for damages filed by relatives and regarding the applicable law. In court today, they reported on the experts’ advice. The prosecution responded in turn, and the defence stated that it would in any case accept the decisions that the court later took on these matters.
As no claims for damages have yet been filed, the court cannot yet take any decisions on these matters. That said, the court did briefly state today that, like the counsel for relatives and the prosecution, its current assumption is that the court has jurisdiction to adjudicate such claims and that that jurisdiction follows from its jurisdiction to hear the criminal cases against the accused. In addition, it currently considers that it should apply Ukrainian law in adjudicating such claims because the occupants of flight MH17 died in the territory of that country.
The relatives’ right to address the court and filing and discussing claims for damages: how and when
To date, 76 relatives have stated that they wish to exercise their right to address the court, either in person in the courtroom or from another location, for example via a live video connection from overseas or by submitting a pre-recorded video message. Both counsel for the relatives and the prosecution gave their views on how and when that could or should happen, and how much time will be needed. The court stated that it largely agreed with their views. As a result, it is likely that ten relatives will have the opportunity to address the court per day. Further practical details will be agreed at a later date.
316 relatives are currently considering filing a claim for damages. Today, the court set a deadline of 1 February 2021 for filing such claims.
The defence’s visit to its client
Counsel representing one of the accused announced that they have been able to book a flight and will shortly travel to the Russian Federation to confer with their client.
What is next and when?
Court proceedings will resume on 28 September 2020. One of the topics that will be discussed then is the progress made by the defence.
Hearing dates currently scheduled: on 3 July 2020, the court scheduled the hearing dates for 2021. Some changes have since been made. The latest schedule can be found on our website www.courtmh17.com. Please note that the exact days on which hearings are held always depends on how the proceedings unfold.