Ahead of the trial of the far-right Greek party, Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos discusses the potential legal and political ramifications for both Greece and Europe
The trial of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party opened on 20 April. It is now just over ten years since the trials of the terrorist organization November 17 shook Greek society to the bone, and yet the trial of Golden Dawn is an entirely new– judicial– beast. The organization of the trial will present the Greek Ministry of Justice with immense practical challenges, yet much more disconcerting are the possible repercussions at the socio-political level, not just in Greece but also in Europe, at a time when the threat from extreme right-wing parties seems increasingly menacing.
Sixty-nine defendants will sit in the dock of the Court of Appeal (three member division), which has special jurisdiction to act as a court of first instance with regards to offense of membership in a criminal organization. More than 100 lawyers are expected to act for the defense, while several dozen others are likely to be appointed as civil parties to represent the interests of the victims in the process (as is standard practice in Greece).
The number of witnesses who will be called by the prosecution alone is estimated to be around 130. The trial is expected to last around 18 months, and its location – a specially modified room within the largest prison in Greece, the Korydallos prison in Piraeus – has already generated substantial controversy, with many MPs, local representatives, and residents expressing strong opposition, as they fear that the trial will bring life in the local community to a standstill.
Complex legal questions
The trial process itself will present the participants with highly complex questions relating to the application of some obscure criminal law concepts, the handling of evidence, and, possibly, the legality of some of the investigatory methods used (questions have already arisen at the pre-trial stage as to, for example, the legality of some of the arrests, the questioning of the suspects, and the interception of the defendants’ telephone communications).
Significant concerns have been expressed as to the legal basis for the main charge, which is ‘membership in, or leadership of, the criminal organization’ of Golden Dawn (punishable under article 187 of the Greek Criminal Code by a maximum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment for membership in the organization and a sentence of at least ten years’ imprisonment for leadership of the organization).
Committing for trial 69 members of the Golden Dawn party, including all its MPs who sat in the previous parliament, the judicial council decided that the charge should stand, but only with a 2-1 majority ruling.
The dissenting member of the council opined that the investigation should have revealed a financial gain as an objective of the activity undertaken by the criminal organization, and that such financial gain had not been established. Article 187 of the Greek Criminal Code does not specify such a requirement, but the dissenting opinion drew upon an international convention ratified by Greece.
Besides the technical and strictly legal challenges faced by the court, the stakes for the country could hardly be higher. Golden Dawn is now the third-largest political party in Greece. Thirteen of its current 17 MPs were re-elected in the January, even though they were running their campaigns from inside the Korydallos prison.
Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos is a senior lecturer in criminal law and comparative criminal law at Brunel University London. The story is republished from Solicitors Journal with permission.