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France's Covid-19 lockdown rules challenged in court

Judges in France’s highest appeal court are to rule on the legality of the government’s lockdown rules as lawyers nationwide challenge them on behalf of clients.

The first Cour de Cassation hearing is on May 12, the day after the second lockdown phase is due to end.

It is a case from Paris, where a man faces jail for a fourth offence of breaking the lockdown. A similar case from Poitiers has been joined to it.

The Paris case was due to be heard on April 10 but, as the defendant faced a prison sentence, his lawyers applied for the Cour de Cassation ruling.

They argue on the impossibility of contesting punishments imposed for not respecting the lockdown, especially when there are criminal sanctions including prison sentences.

They also cite the lack of definition in the laws, giving the example of someone who was stopped for going 500m from his flat to buy food, instead of shopping at a store 200m away.

The Paris and Poitiers cases leapfrogged a similar appeal from Toulouse lawyers Séb­astien Delorge and Justine Rucel, who are defending an Uber driver charged with four counts of being out without a valid attestation. Mr Delorge told Connexion the court had three arguments to decide in their case:

  • Whether the decrees ordering the lockdown, and which made breaking them a criminal offence, were legal, as decrees do not usually change criminal law involving prison sentences;
  • Whether the decrees were imprecise: “How can someone judge if they buy something whether it is an item of ‘first necessity’ or whether they have a valid ‘urgent family reason’?” Mr Delorge asked.
    “We argue that you cannot have laws with serious penalties based on imprecise definitions.”
    Ms Rucel added that the decree just said people going out had to have “a document” but it did not say it had to be in the form of an attestation, or that it had to be written in indelible ink;
  • Finally, whether there was confusion over the fines and the time-frames for contesting them, especially with changes to the lockdown time period.

Other cases, including those of three men in Angoulême accused of ignoring the lockdown, have been suspended pending the judgment.

Courts in the north of France and Brittany are also involved, although overall the lockdown period has been well respected.

Interior Minister Chris­tophe Castaner said there had been around 800,000 cases across the country.

Fines for breaching the confinement rules start at €135 for a first offence, €200 for a second breach within 15 days, and then €450 if a fine is not paid on time. Four breaches in a 30-day period can mean a fine of €3,750 and six months’ jail.

Fines can be contested – as in the case of a new mother charged after buying nappies. The police officer told her to use dish-towels.

Do not pay the fine on the spot, as there have been scams with fake policemen, but wait until you receive a fine notice in the post.

If you want to appeal, do not pay. You have 90 days to appeal from the date of the offence – raised from 45 days.

The simplest way is online at antai.gouv.fr, with details such as receipts for essential items and, if needed, doctors’ notes.

The fine will increase if it is not paid but you then have 60 days to object from this point, up from 30.

If your appeal is rejected, you may face a fine of €350 or €750, so be sure you have a good case.

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