Maëlys case, July 14 attack: Me Fabien Rajon, criminal lawyer at the Lyon bar, will have intervened in civil proceedings in two of the most media-focused trials of the year.
Since September 5, before the Special Court of Assizes of Paris, he represents 35 victims of the Nice attack (out of 1950 constituted), as well as the association Promenade des Anges with Me Virginie Le Roy. He mentions these extraordinary cases in his book Alongside the victims (1). Victims called to testify during the third week of the trial, which opens on Tuesday.
As a lawyer for the civil party, what similarities exist between the Maëlys case and the July 14 trial?
In these two cases, my role as a lawyer naturally consists in defending and advising my clients, but also in supporting and accompanying them during this long and difficult legal meeting.
In your book, you describe a “exciting fight” for the victims of the attack. Why must we fight to obtain justice for innocent civilians?
Because the victims must be accompanied with pugnacity in all their steps. Their compensation procedures, on the one hand, long and sometimes difficult – in particular the expertise. But also before the Assize Court. Reparation for the victims’ prejudice is not the main subject of this trial. Most of the civil parties that I represent pursue a double objective: to understand what happened on July 14, and to see the judicial institution pass with the greatest firmness. The individuals in the box may have played a minor role in the commission of this attack, but they contributed to facts of absolute gravity!
During your interviews with the victims, you said you were impressed by their absence of tears and their lucidity on human nature…
I am always amazed, and in a way admiring, of their great dignity. They have lived through the worst, they have been confronted with a very dark face of our humanity. However, they are not complaining.
You mention their resentment towards the organizers of this evening, Christian Estrosi in the first place. However, do they distinguish between possible “complicity” and possible negligence?
The civil parties that I represent make a distinction between the responsibility of the author of this attack and the possible flaws in the organization and security of July 14th. They want to see this issue fully investigated, with due process. At this stage, no natural or legal person is indicted. There are therefore good reasons to fear that no trial will be held on these organizational issues… But we consider it imperative.
Why did you have to intervene so that Christian Estrosi and Philippe Pradal were heard in this second investigation?
When I asked for their hearing several years ago, neither the mayor nor his first deputy had been heard by a judge. It seemed important to me that they were.
According to you, this search for responsibilities should not obscure the essential: “terrorist threat”?
The civil parties must lead their fight for the truth to the end. We will take steps in the coming weeks to request the holding of a trial, with a view to a contradictory, public and transparent debate. On the other hand, it is clear that Nice was the victim of an act of war, and that the primary and obvious responsibility must be sought from the terrorist who committed this despicable act and from the people in the box.
The previous “V13” – the trial of the November 13 attacks in Paris – does not seem to have convinced you?
I had some reluctance about how to organize this long-term trial, with particularly cumbersome logistics. As the trial of the Nice attack progressed, I reviewed my judgment a little. Its organization is modeled on that of “V13”. I have the feeling of a well-oiled mechanism. Faced with such despicable acts of war, the response of our Justice is commensurate with the crimes committed. And in a state of law, the judicial response is the only one worthwhile!
Five weeks devoted to the hearings of the civil parties, over three and a half months of hearing: is it too much? Or is it necessary?
This is necessary, because each testimony will contribute to the understanding of the facts and their repercussions. It will put those sent back to the Court of Assizes in front of their responsibilities. On the other hand, for the civil parties, the fact of coming to testify at the bar will perhaps have an effect on their reconstruction and their life after.
What advice do you have for them to approach this moment well?
I advise them not to limit or slow themselves down in their testimonies. I tell them that they will not be evaluated, not graded, since they do not pass an exam. The objective is above all that they are in agreement with themselves once their testimony has been delivered.
Are you afraid of being disappointed at the outcome of the verdict?
It’s a real question. In my book, I explain that the civil parties have good reasons to be pessimistic about the interest of this trial: the absence of the author of the attack, the fact that it takes place in Paris, and that the defendants played a manifestly subordinate role. Still, if they played a role, they were assisting in an act of war! This is why this trial had to be held.
Can he help the victims of July 14, like the family of Maëlys, to “repair” a little?
If we stick to the penal code, the objective of the trial is not strictly speaking to allow victims to turn the page. Nevertheless, it is legitimate that they expect criminal justice to be able to find prospects for the future. As for the family of little Maëlys, we went through this ordeal together. I think a page has been turned, but their lives will, alas, be forever scarred by the murder and disappearance of their daughter.
(1) “Alongside the victims”, by Fabien Rajon, published by Archipelago. 256 pages, 20€.