Search for clues by all means, just not in the courtroom

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April 9, 2017 by AK

The Guardian reported on the latest twist in the bizarre trial in Germany known as the NSU-Prozess:

Nearly five years into the trial of a German neo-Nazi gang who went on a killing spree against immigrants, relatives of the victims have become so frustrated with the police’s inability to untangle the case they have turned to a an unlikely profession in search of clues: architects.

If the police are unable to untangle a case, they shouldn’t bring it to trial. If the prosecution takes almost five years to make its case, the defendants should be acquitted. This seems an example of the inquisitorial approach at its modern worst, although, as I have read, Germany has adopted some of the best Anglo-Saxon principles and practices.

Now relatives of the victims want the judge to investigate the possible role of Germany’s intelligence service in the murders. So far, he has declined:

In March [2016], Judge Götzl took an hour to explain to the courtroom that the task of the NSU trial is simply to judge the accused, not to investigate what German intelligence agents knew or did.

That’s only appropriate but does not explain why the judge has allowed this trial to drag on for so long, despite his admirable focus on the central issue of these proceedings. Had the defense insisted on such an investigation, it might have been necessary since the secret services’ involvement might have diminished the defendants’ responsibility, even to zero. When the victims’ relatives request the same, they are essentially asking the court to give an exhaustive answer to the simple question, “What really happened?” But the court cannot be expected to divert its limited resources to this quest beyond what is directly relevant to the question of the defendants’ guilt. Once courts start digging for the whole truth, no one can expect a fair and speedy trial (and a dragged-out trial can’t be fair to the accused).


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