France must act on its pre-trial detention problem

Article by Fair Trials

The French Senate has been debating the new bill on confidence in the judicial institution. However, the government cannot restore faith in its justice system if it continues to ignore its high pre-trial detention rates. Action must be taken to ensure that pre-trial detention remains a measure of last resort.

According to data from the French Ministry of Justice, in July this year, 28% of France s prison population were legally innocent and awaiting trial. The overuse of pre-trial detention has contributed to severe overcrowding in detention centres, the deterioration of prison conditions and the violation of fundamental rights. The recent trial of Valérie Bacot has also demonstrated the urgent need for structural reform regarding France’s use of pre-trial detention.

The original bill on confidence in the judicial institution proposed by the National Assembly included a wholly inadequate reference to pre-trial detention, focusing on its extension and on electronic monitoring. This weak proposal was rightly removed by the Senate Committee, as it would not reduce the number of pre-trial detainees. However, this has meant that now there is no reference at all to pre-trial detention in the bill.

France has a legal obligation to address its overuse of pre-trial detention. This was recently highlighted by the Council of Europe, which called on France to reduce overcrowding in its prisons by prioritising measures that do not deprive people of liberty. The French government has missed a significant opportunity to overhaul its justice system and protect the rights to liberty, to human dignity and to the presumption of innocence.

Fair Trials research has shown that the pre-trial detention crisis is not only in France but across Europe. This raises serious questions about France s capacity to ensure the rule of law when it takes up the EU presidency in January. If France cannot resolve the abuse of pre-trial detention on its own soil, how will it address the crisis across the whole of the EU? The French government must take strong action now to limit the use of pre-trial detention.