FECL 04 (March 1992):


The French Parliament is expected to vote a bill on the reform of the penal procedure. The reform provides for notable improvements of the rights of the suspects and their defence councels but it falls short of more wide-reaching reform plans of the former Minister of Justice, Robert Badinter, in 1985.

Among other things the bill provides for a more restricted use of the ill-famed French form of police custody, the "garde à vue". The use of the "garde à vue" will be limited to persons, against which clear elements of suspicion exist.

Witnesses will no longer be pressed to cooperate through this form of detention, except by decision of the public prosecutor. Furthermore, persons in police custody will be entitled to inform their families and to demand a medical examination. The lack of these fundamental rights has led to a significant number of abuse and even deaths under police custody in the past.

Lawyers however deplore that the intended reform further excludes defence counsel from the preliminary investigation led by the police. However, defence counsel can in the future claim access to expertise and the records of witness interrogations, as soon as the examining magistrate (juge d'instruction) opens an investigation. The former formal pronouncement of charge (mise en accusation) is to be dropped in order to guarantee a better respect of the principle of presumed innocence. Furthermore, detention on remand shall be imposed only by decision of three judges instead of the examining magistrate alone. This provision aims at reducing abusive and prolonged detention on remand.

In the past France has repeatedly been criticized by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for such arbitrary detention and not long ago, half of France's prison population were prisoners on remand.


Source: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 28.2.92