Several people have argued recently that, according to the separation of powers, we shouldn't criticize judges on the rulings they make.
I feel that, if this were the case, we might as well abolish appeals. Judges can be wrong, as can any of us, and they are not above criticism. Interpreting the law is a matter of perspective, and I feel the perspective of this court was somewhat curved (if not completely bent).
Now I agree that politicians should have kept their mouth shut this week. Some moron made a comment that the law should be changed if the DA doesn't win the appeal. That person (I forgot who it was) should be thrown into a big bowl of low-fat yoghurt, and then made to run around Parliament. The Court of Appeals shouldn't feel pressured to convict Samir Azzouz. Now the Court knows the law is going to change if it doesn't do what most politicians want. Inexcusable, and against said doctrine of separation of powers.
I also concur with those who say that when the law is insufficient, a judge should not convict someone even if every fibre in her or his body tells her or him that the girl or guy (trying to be gender neutral here, will stop now) is guilty, that person should be set free if there's no law that permits a conviction. It's not up to a judge to make up rules where there aren't any.
But the fact that politicians shouldn't comment on judicial rulings doesn't mean the people shouldn't. The three powers all work for us, the people. That's partly why in some systems, there is still a jury of peers that decides whether you're guilty or not. Right now, that seems preferable to people who seem to be so submerged in their own ideals about what law should be that they didn't even convict Azzouz to serve three years on the weapon charges, but instead gave him a very lenient three month sentence for that.
I'm going to pretend we do have a jury system. In which case the judge would have ruled all the evidence to be admissible (for it was legally obtained). I, as a juror, would feel there was plenty of evidence supporting the DA's claim that Azzous had been preparing terrorist attacks. You don't gather fertilizer along with hydrochloric acid if you live in an appartment without a garden in sight. You don't supplement maps of high-profile targets with detailed notes on how to evade security you took pains to gather from your own observations if you are simply interested in the layout of a nuclear power plant. You don't buy an automatic weapon, a silencer and a bulletproof vest if you're just having a pubescent flirtation with an exciting ideology. I tried to get a bulletproof vest to travel to Iraq (to teach civil servants, not to join either the coalition forces or the global Jihad). It wasn't easy, and it wouldn't have been cheap, not even legally.
I feel that these judges have been afraid to judge too quickly and chose to use an extremely cautious interpretation of the law, one they would never have used if this had been a rape case. As the word interpretation implies, this was their choice, not some inevitable outcome. Worse, their ruling might very well have the exact opposite effect. The alternative is that we might get a law system in which judges will be allowed to convict criminals based on secret information provided by the AIVD.
I don't want that. I don't want more laws just because judges refuse to carry out the ones we already have. I don't want to live in a country which conducts shady trials based on secret information that the defense may not even be allowed to see. And I definitely don't want anything even resembling Guantanamo Bay, which is an affront to anything the Western world should stand for.
But not enforcing the rules we already have may just give credence to those within our society who want to constrict our liberties as much as the radicalism we are fighting. And the immediate result is that someone who has such a short fuse that he couldn't even walk to his car without hitting a photographer, now walks around freely in Amsterdam.