The decision by the Munich Higher Regional Court to postpone the biggest neo-Nazi trial since World War II due to a bitter controversy over the lack of seats allocated to foreign media has met with mixed reactions -- lawyers for the families of the 10 victims of the National Socialist Undergrouound (NSU) , whose sole surviving member Beate Zschäpe is facing trial, are angry at the cost and inconvenience the delay entails for relatives. Tickets and hotel reservations will have to be cancelled and vacation time changed. Some now won't be able to make it to the trial, due to start on May 6 after the original start date on April 17 was cancelled.
The Federal Constitutional Court, responding to a legal complaint from a Turkish newspaper, ruled on Friday that the Munich court must allow better access for foreign journalists, after no Turkish newspapers secured seats in the courtroom under the first-come, first-served application procedure that even German media representatives said was flawed from the start. The Munich court's initial refusal to amend the procedure led to an outcry because most of the victims of the NSU terror trio were of Turkish descent.
The Constitutional Court ruling gave the Munich court leeway to make three extra seats available to Turkish reporters in a minor adjustment that would have allowed the trial to start on time. But starting the accreditation procedure afresh means that the trial will be less vulnerable to an appeal, say some German media commentators. They all agree that the Munich court has shown intransigence and insensitivity and hasn't grasped the dimensions of the trial -- and that it would be well advised to rethink its aproach before the new start date.
Conservative Die Welt writes:
"It will entail an additional burden for the relatives of the victims. They had emotionally prepared themselves for the trial and now face organizational challenges: They will have to cancel their travel arrangements, reschedule their requested leave from work. The relatives are paying the price -- in literal terms as well -- for the lack of sensitivity displayed by the court, which has failed to recognize that this case has broader dimensions than the search for truth and guilt. But a complete relaunch is the right thing to do in legal terms. The application process was flawed in more ways than the lack of seats for foreign media."
"Some media outlets were quite evidently given more notice than others, which is a breach of the constitutional ban on unequal treatment. So its better to start from scratch, this time with transparent rules and a result that can't subsequently be criticized."
"It's unquestionably embarrassing and hard to take for the relatives, but it would be unreasonable to portray this as a total failure of the German justice system and to tar the court with the same brush as the amateurish investigation by security authorities into the NSU murders."
Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The most appalling series of far-right terrorist murders the German Federal Republic has ever seen was to have come to court on Wednesday -- a crime that brought accusations that the state wasn't able to protect citizens with foreign roots and was unwilling to investigate their deaths. Following the suicide of the alleged murderers who were directly involved, there was justified hope that a public and fair trial would clarify individual responsibility for the monstrous crime.
"But the NSU trial itself is starting to look tragic. Of course it was proper to accredit media in accordance with the sequence in which they had filed their applications. But every process has to offer equal chances, and on closer inspection, that equality wasn't provided. Then there was sufficient time to correct the admitted mistakes in the accreditation process -- also with a view to a possible appeal."
"The court could have allocated a few extra seats to foreign media in time for the trial to open on Wednesday as originally scheduled, the newspaper said."
"Now there's a risk that there will be a new battle for seats, and with more people affected. That will ratchet up the already high pressure on the trial, expectations of which are already exaggerated."
Left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:
"The failure of the authorities in investigating the NSU murders has shaken the faith of many immigrants in the German justice system, and the run-up to the trial has hardly made matters better. On the contrary, the leading judge Manfred Götzl doesn't appear so far to have come even close to grasping the significance and dimensions of the trial."
Left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:
"The court's decision was understandable and right. True, the Constitutional Court's ruling on Friday gave the court leeway to allocate three additional seats to Turkish media. But the judges in Karlsruhe also mentioned the possibility of repeating the entire accreditation process. And after all the irregularities that placed not only Turkish media at a disadvantage, it makes sense to opt for a legally watertight accreditation process. No side should be able to threaten an appeal due to supposed inadequate public access to the trial."
"A large contingent of seats must be allocated to the international media. Three seats out of 50 would have been an emergency solution, 20 seats would be appropriate."
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The postponement is a salvation as well as a fiasco, because it lays bare the failure of the court and because it entails further stress, especially for the relatives of the victims. But on the other hand it's a salvation because hectic adjustments would have led to the risk of new mistakes being made. The court is taking a break -- hopefully to engage in some reflection. Reflection on what? On the fact that a criminal trial isn't something one 'gets over with' -- which is rumored to be the special talent of the presiding judge in this case. This isn't about rigidity but about human and legal sensitivity. The trial is meant to get as close as possible to the truth -- in a way that protects the rights of the relatives, takes into account the suffering of the victims and adheres to the rule of law."