France high court rules terror suspects have right to lawyer

[JURIST] The French Court of Cassation [official website, in French] ruled [judgment text, in French; press release, in French] Tuesday that all persons in custody of French law enforcement, including terrorism suspects, are entitled to consult with lawyers from the outset of criminal proceedings. Sitting en banc, the court ruled that France’s current rules regarding custody contravene the Article 6 right to a fair trial of the European Convention on Human Rights  [text, PDF]. Law enforcement officials must now comport with three new principles when dealing with people in custody: the right to a lawyer from the outset of criminal proceeding except for a compelling reason, the obligation to inform the person in custody of their right to remain silent and the right to assistance of counsel in interrogations. This decision expands on a July 30 decision [text, in French] issued by France’s Constitutional Court  [official website, in French] according to which all persons in custody are entitled to a lawyer from the outset except for people suspected of engaging in terrorism, drug trafficking or organized crime. In the past, French police were interrogating terrorism suspects  [WP report] for as long as 72 hours without a lawyer and threatening them to elicit information and gain their cooperation. France’s Minister of Justice Michele Alliot-Marie [official profile, in French] reacted  [statement, in French] to the court’s decision, saying “the government will of course take into account these decisions and the complete text of the bill by amendment.”

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