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Better legal right for crime suspects

People held in police custody will be able to have a lawyer present throughout any periods of questioning

PEOPLE being held in police custody will have the right to have a lawyer present for any periods of questioning in a proposed penal reform law.

The law being presented by Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie comes after the French system, which only allows a brief lawyer’s visit at the start of the custody period, was judged unconstitutional by the Conseil Constitutionnel.

The law also bans suspects being subjected to total body searches, which involve having to remove all your clothes.

The latest figures show 800,000 people were placed in police custody in France last year, according to national radio station France Info. There are fears that the new measures could place pressure on legal aid budgets, but the government is banking on reducing the amount of use that is made of police custody, which could be restricted to people who could face a prison sentence. People suspected of crimes that would lead to a sentence of less than a year in prison should not be held for more than 24 hours, it is proposed.

However the law allows for police to request that the lawyer’s presence be held off for 12 hours in certain cases in certain sensitive cases, such as suspected terrorism.

Barristers, including the former head of the Paris bar Christian Charrière-Bournazel, have welcomed the change. Last year Mr Charrière-Bournazel criticized the current system, saying it went against human rights rules.

Nonetheless the law does not follow all the guidelines mentioned by the Conseil Constitutionnel; for example, defence lawyers would still have very limited access to the police files on the suspect when they visited during the custody period.

Related stories:

”Police custody against the law”

Custody figures are “shocking”

Photo: Jonas Roux

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