The presiding judge opened the hearing at 10 a.m. sharp. He emphasised the terrible nature of the disaster which had taken place. In doing so, he turned his attention to the relatives. He said that he was mindful of how difficult the trial was going to be for the relatives, considering the matters that would be discussed and the positions that would be adopted. He made it clear that the relatives were free to leave the courtroom whenever they needed and that that would not disrupt the conduct of proceedings.
The presiding judge explained the ways in which the court had made it possible for as many people as possible to follow the proceedings.
He went on to introduce the judges. Three judges would hear the merits of the case. They would put questions and take decisions. In light of the expected length of the trial, two alternate judges were also present in court. In the event that one of the sitting judges were to fall ill or be unable to continue hearing the case, he or she would be replaced by one of the alternates. The trial would, therefore, not have to be brought to a halt.
The presiding judge announced that hearings would be heard in the following periods: 8 June through 3 July 2020, 31 August through 13 November and 1 February through 26 March 2021.
The first day in court focussed on taking stock of the case as it now stands. The judges established who had appeared in court and whether the accused had been correctly summoned. They also took stock of whether the case file was complete, whether more was to be added to it and whether the defence had requests in this regard.
The presiding judge outlined the position of the relatives, i.e. whether they intended to exercise their right to address the court, submit a written statement or lodge a claim for compensation.
Today, it was established that:
49 relatives intend to exercise their right to address the court
82 relatives intend to summit a written statement
84 wish to lodge a claim for compensation.
The judges considered the steps taken to summon the accused to court. One of the accused had retained two counsel. Three of the accused, who had not appeared, had indeed been properly summoned. The correct steps had been taken to that end. The court has no doubt that the accused are aware of the trial. They will, thus, be tried in absentia and, so, the trial will proceed in their absence.
The public prosecutor then read out the charges: murder of the 298 occupants of the aeroplane and causing it to crash.
The prosecutor read the names of all the victims aloud. There was absolute silence in the courtroom as she did so.
A considerable number of relatives’ counsel were also in court. These counsel assist the relatives with composing their victim’s impact statement, with lodging a claim for compensation and by monitoring developments in the proceedings.