Investigations into French handling of Covid-19 begin

An investigation into how well the French government handled the Covid-19 pandemic is underway in a Paris courthouse, with parliamentary investigations due to begin in coming weeks.

11 June 2020
By Joanna York

As the health crisis is now under control in France, investigations into how the crisis was handled are beginning.

These include criminal charges brought against government ministers, national bodies and elderly care homes, as well as multiple internal inquiries within the French government. 

Charges brought against government

A total of 13 procedures concerning complaints from trade unions will be brought together in one investigation, announced public prosecutor Rémy Heitz. A 14th procedure contains 33 complaints, mostly from individuals.

Heitz explained that legal investigation “is not there to define political or administrative responsibility, but to expose criminal infractions”.

He said: “For these types of infractions, the criminal code clearly states that responsibility should be taken, in relation to the resources and knowledge available when decisions are taken.”

The inquiry has four main charges: “involuntary homicide and injury”, “endangering the lives of others”, “voluntary failure to prevent harm”, and “non-assistance of a person in danger”.

Most of the complaints have been brought against “X”, meaning an unknown perpetrator. Some complaints have been filed against public servants such as French director-general of health, Jérôme Salomon, or national health bodies such as Santé Publique France.

However, individual government ministers can only be tried in a specific court the Cour de Justice de la République. The President is also not criminally responsible for acts undertaken as part of his duties.

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Local inquiries into elderly care homes

Grieving families are calling for justice over a lack of care for their loved ones in elderly care homes (known as Établissement d'Hébergement pour Personnes Agées Dependants, or Ehpads) in France.

At local level investigations have opened into elderly care homes in Grasse (Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur), Nanterre (Hauts-de-Seine, Ile-de-France) and the 9th and 12th arrondissements in Paris (Ile-de-France).

Charges have been brought against a total six establishments, which stand accused of “endangering the lives of others”. At least two of the care homes are part of the Korian group, a leading elderly care provider in France. 

 

Internal parliamentary inquiries 

The two chambers of the French parliament are also launching an investigation into how the pandemic was managed. 

On June 3, the Assemblée Nationale set up a six-month inquiry commission made up of around 30 members from across all political parties.

The first hearings will begin on June 16, starting with French director-general of health, Jérôme Salomon. Members of government, former ministers, scientists and high-ranking civil servants will also give testimony.

The Senate has also announced it will launch an inquiry commission in June.

While these inquiries are not legal proceedings, they aim to establish a clear picture of how the crisis was managed and which errors occurred. The inquiry led by the Assemblée Nationale will focus on “health prevention, the management of the health crisis, the adaptation of the healthcare system,” as well as “the deconfinement strategy” and “the economic and budgetary consequences of the crisis".

When the inquiry reaches its conclusion, the findings will be published in a report. This may lead to recommendations for the future and possibly changes in French law.

A Presidential inquiry into the government

The Elysée palace may also launch an “independent, collegiate” inquiry into how the government handled the Covid-19 crisis, it announced on June 5.

If the inquiry does go ahead, representatives have said that it would “complement”, rather than replace, parliamentary inquiries.

Complaints against government ministers 

Around 80 cases have been brought to the Cour de Justice de la République, the only courthouse in France authorised to try current government ministers.

Complaints over the handling of the Covid-19 crisis have come from individuals, trade unions and doctors.

Ministers are accused of “endangering the lives of others”, “involuntary homicide”, “non-assistance of a person in danger” and failing to take timely action to control the virus.

Most complaints have been against prime minister Edouard Philippe and two health ministers, former health minister Agnès Buzyn and current minister Olivier Véran. However, ministers of justice, work and interior affairs have also been targeted.

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