The Geert Wilders trial will proceed with its original judges. A special panel has ruled that the judges trying Mr Wilders did not give the appearance of bias, and thus do not need to be replaced.
Geert Wilders is standing trial on charges of inciting hatred, discriminating against Muslims and insulting Muslims. His trial got underway in earnest on Monday, following initial sessions in January. The special panel was called in just two hours after Monday's session had begun. Geert Wilders' lawyer Bram Moszkowicz objected to a comment the head judge made about Wilders' decision not to answer questions in court.
Right of silence
A suspect in the Dutch legal system has the right to remain silent in court. Making use of that right has no impact on the eventual ruling in his or her trial. On the other hand, a judge must also make sure the defendant fully understands the right not to speak. And judges are allowed to ask a suspect pointed questions to make sure he or she fully understands what they are doing.
In the Wilders case, Mr Moszkowicz thought the judge went too far. Judge Jan Moors said, "The court has of course read the file, but the court also reads newspapers and watches television. People say that you're good at putting forward your opinion, but then avoiding debate about it. And it looks like you're doing that again here." Mr Moszkowicz argued that this question gave the appearance that Judge Moors was biased against Mr Wilders, who broke his silence to react to Judge Moors' statement during the short hearing to decide the question of bias.
Speaking to the special panel of judges, Mr Wilders said "It is offensive, improper, I would even say scandalous, that the chair of the court interprets my making use of my right to silence, and comments about it. I don't have the feeling I'm in a courtroom; I feel like I'm back in parliament, facing off against a colleague from the Democrat 66 party [a centre-left opposition party- ed.]."
Wilders made clear he no longer trusts the three-judge panel to grant him a fair trial. He has said all along that the trial is a politically motivated attempt to silence him. But until now, he had not commented on the judges actually trying him. Now he has made a personal accusation of political bias against the chief judge. The tension between the two of them is likely to grow. And Mr Wilders no longer has any confidence in getting a fair trial.
At the same time, Wilders is poised to assume his role as kingmaker for a new cabinet. The formation of a minority government with support from Mr Wilders' Freedom Party is nearly complete. Mr Wilders would like to focus all his attention on getting the new cabinet approved by parliament.
The cabinet, made up of the Liberal VVD party and the Christian Democrats, will not have a majority of seats in parliament. The support of the Freedom Party in parliament gives the cabinet a one-seat majority (76 seats in a 150-seat parliament). Some hearings in Mr Wilders trial will take place on days the Dutch parliament meets. He will want to be in two places at the same time. If he appears in court, he could miss a crucial vote in parliament. And with a one-seat majority, every vote counts.
The verdict is scheduled to be announced on 4 November. On the same day, parliament may be debating the new cabinet's plans. Geert Wilders faces a devil's dilemma: defend himself, or defend the policies he helped write for the new cabinet.
The trial is scheduled to hold hearings on the following days: October 6, 8, 12, 15, 19, and 21st. A verdict is planned for 4 November.
© Radio Netherlands Worldwide