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NEWS

Suspects in France face excessive detention before trial

editor - December 16, 2013

French Flag crop

A new communique shows how the significant issues that exist within the French legal system leaving suspects vulnerable to excessive and unjustified pre-trial detention.

The communique follows a meeting of legal experts organised by Fair Trials in which practitioners raised concerns about the detention of suspects in complex cases. It shows how lengthy investigations, increasingly reliant on forensic evidence, now lead to detention periods of 25 months on average in these cases. Extensions to the detention of suspects are seemingly granted systematically, with little effective judicial oversight.

The legal experts also highlighted the continued influence of the Investigating Judge on the initial pre-trial detention decision. Despite welcome reform to give authority to an independent Judge of Freedoms and Detentions, participants feared that the recommendations made by Investigating Judges continued to determine whether suspects were detained or released. The continued existence of a vaguely defined ‘public order’ criterion for detention is also criticised for allowing suspects to be detained too eagerly in criminal cases.

Finally, in cases where the criteria for detention cannot be met, the lawyers agreed that judicial supervision continues to be ordered ‘too readily’ by judges. Judges are criticised for taking insufficient account of the burden which judicial supervision places upon a suspect; such measures are described as being ‘often significantly restrictive of freedom’. With no time limit on the use of judicial supervision, suspects in some cases can be unfairly burdened by conditions which negatively affect their professional and personal lives for years.

In terms of prospects for reform, the lawyers went as far as suggesting that a ‘change of mindset’ was required to reduce the frequency of recourse to pre-trial detention. It was also suggested that time limits be applied to pre-trial restrictions to prevent unnecessarily harsh treatment of suspects.

The problems highlighted in the communiqué stress provide further evidence that unjustified pre-trial detention is used in all EU countries – including those countries which are perceived as having stronger protections for fundamental rights.  Previously, our reports on Spain, Poland, Lithuania and Greece have emphasised that serious reforms need to be implemented to ensure that pre-trial rights are safe-guarded for suspects throughout the continent. A number of our clients discuss their experiences of pre-trial detention – and its consequences for their fair trial rights – in this video.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on 020 7822 2370 or 07950 849 851.

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If you are a journalist interested in this story, please call the media team on +44 (0) 7749 785 932 or email [email protected]

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