On January 11, the Stockholm District Court decided that the trial should begin in September this year. Two days later the court rejected the prosecutor’s petition to hold more pre-trial hearings. Meanwhile the defence filed several complaints arguing that the indictment is too vague.
The Stockholm District Court decided on 11 January that the trial against Ian H. Lundin and Alex Schneiter will begin on the 5th of September, 2023. The court hearings will take place weekly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 09.15 till 4:30 p.m. and may take two years until judgment.
The day after the District Court’s decision on the court date, the defence filed several complaints. They are once again arguing that the indictment is too vague. In four separate documents, containing 40 pages in total, the defence lawyers argue that the information provided is not enough for them to prepare their defence or even sufficient to constitute a violation of international law for anyone. “The lawsuit is so imprecise that it is unserviceable”, they state.
The same argument was previously made in July 2021 by Alex Schneiter and was then rejected by the District Court. The argument was made again in October 2022 at which time the District Court agreed with the defence and asked that the prosecutor, Henrik Attorps provide more details – which he promptly did.
As has been discussed in our previous articles, in war crimes cases it suffices to show a general pattern of crimes instead of a precise description of the date, place, perpetrator, etc. of each crime. By requesting that the prosecutor sets out the time and place for each criminal act, it is clear that the defence does not acknowledge the distinct nature of international crimes. According to Miriam Ingesson, doctoral candidate in international criminal law at Uppsala University, ”When it comes to international criminal law, the framework and the definition of the crime itself provide the reasons to zoom even further out on the required level of detail in defining the criminal conduct in the charges. The point of international crimes is precisely to conceptualise criminal conduct on a macro level. A high level of specified detail regarding each and every one of thousands or potentially millions of victims is not possible and also not required in order to define the elements of the crime in the charges as such. Obviously, the Prosecutor still needs to substantiate the macro level elements using the totality of evidence presented in the proceedings that follow.”
District Court rejects prosecutors’ request to hold pre-trial hearings
In another development, the District Court has rejected the prosecutors’ request to hear two witnesses and two plaintiffs at preliminary trial-hearings.
The prosecutor has on three occasions during 2022 urged that the witnesses and plaintiffs be heard before the trial starts as “they may be considered to have reached such an old age that it is feared that their state of health may rapidly deteriorate, whereby they will not be able to attend a main hearing.”
The defence opposed each request. The District Court has sided with them, this time simply stating: “what the prosecutor has now stated does not lead to a different assessment”. Considering that the Prosecutor believes that there is a serious risk that the testimony of these four people is in jeopardy and that this would damage the integrity of the trial, the Court’s reasons to dismiss the request are surprisingly absent.
Defence request updated trial schedule
The defence have also complained about the time that the prosecutor needs for questioning certain victims and witnesses on the preliminary trial schedule, and requested that the prosecutor presents a new schedule. For instance, they complain that the prosecutor has reserved two trial days for interviewing plaintiff Matthew Mattiang Deang. In reality, two days is not an unusual amount of time to put aside to question an important plaintiff and, in addition, the prosecutor has scheduled extra time for interpretation.
In addition, the defence requested that expert witnesses provide written expert opinions before the trial starts. This is despite the fact that the defence already has access to the extensive police interviews with these witnesses and will have the opportunity to cross-examine each of them in court.
The prosecutor is supplementing the preliminary investigation
Finally, the prosecutor noted that he is supplementing the preliminary investigation, but did not provide any specifics.
To conclude, January has been a busy month. The defence’s attempts to delay or derail the trial are increasingly desperate and their current card, complaints about the vagueness of the indictment, is not particularly strong. We can only hope that no further delays will take place. Having a trial-date is of huge importance to the victims of war crimes who have been waiting for over 20 years to see justice done. It has been a long journey to get to this stage and it will be exciting to see what the year will bring.