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Can supermarkets search our bags?

Do staff have a right to check our bags, without first proving there was a valid reason to do so?

WE have lived in the Lot valley for six years and our nearest big town is Cahors, where we shop at the major supermarkets every fortnight for basic provisions.

I recently did a large shop at Carrefour. I unloaded my shopping from the trolley on to the conveyor belt and I walked though carrying four or five folded-up empty shopping bags, as the shop no longer provides its own bags. Then the checkout assistant asked to search the bags.

I protested that she had no right to search the bags, as they were my property.

I asked for the manager, who duly came and was even less helpful than the assistant and insisted on looking in all the bags.

This has happened before and I have walked out of the shop and left all the groceries on the counter. Unfortunately, I had no choice but to comply this time, as I didn’t have time to shop elsewhere.

I recently went into Lidl and again was told that my shopping bag had to be searched. I had become resigned to this and I complied. Then, to my astonishment, the assistant asked to search my small handbag as well.

I said no very strongly and said if they wanted to search it they could call the gendarmes. The assistant backed down and I left the shop.

I hate comparing life in France with life in the UK, but on this occasion I am going to say I can’t imagine any major chain demanding to search my shopping bags, let alone my handbag, without first proving there was a valid reason to do so, such as being observed stealing.

Barbara TAYLOR
By email

The Code de Procédure Pénale does not give supermarket staff any legal powers to stop and search, and you are under no legal obligation to let them check your bags.
However, if staff have good reason to suspect you have stolen an item (présomption de vol flagrant) or you are caught in the act (en flagrant délit), they have the right to apprehend you, but they cannot search you themselves. Instead, they should call the police.

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