Judges accuse Sarkozy of undermining judiciary

21st September 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 21, 2006 (AFP) - France's interior minister and presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy stood accused by top judges Thursday of undermining the work of the judiciary after he lashed out at the courts of a riot-hit Paris suburb for being soft on crime.

PARIS, Sept 21, 2006 (AFP) - France's interior minister and presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy stood accused by top judges Thursday of undermining the work of the judiciary after he lashed out at the courts of a riot-hit Paris suburb for being soft on crime.

In an extraordinary move, the head of the Cour de Cassation, France's top court of appeal, urged President Jacques Chirac, guarantor of the judiciary's independence, to bring his tough-talking interior minister back into line.

Chirac was to receive Judge Guy Canivet on Friday, who said he had requested the audience in order to "expose the seriousness of these repeated attacks on the separation of powers laid out under the Constitution."

The judge received immediate backing from the head of the Paris court of appeal, Renaud Chazal de Mauriac, who accused Sarkozy of "stigmatising the judiciary" with "reductive, shock arguments".

The centre-right interior minister sparked the uproar Wednesday by accusing the main court in Seine-Saint-Denis — a crime flashpoint north of Paris where last year's riots erupted — of failing to jail enough young offenders.

"I would like to know how we are supposed to prevent a criminal from offending again if we do not have the courage to put them in prison," he asked.

The High Council of the Magistrature (CSM), which oversees the functioning of the judiciary, joined the counter-attack, saying it had written to Chirac in protest over earlier, similar remarks by the interior minister.

France's troubled suburbs were thrown back under the spotlight on Tuesday when two riot police officers were ambushed and seriously injured by a mob of youths on a flashpoint housing project south of Paris.

The attack — the most serious such incident since last November's riots — coincided with the leak of a letter sent to Sarkozy by the governor of Seine-Seint-Denis, warning of an alarming rise in violent crime.

Sarkozy, who visited one of the wounded officers in hospital on Thursday, was unrepentant over his comments.

"The French people know I am telling the truth, and I have received countless messages since yesterday saying, 'At last, someone who dares to speak out'," he told reporters.

Forced onto the defensive, however, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin summoned an emergency meeting with Sarkozy and other top ministers, afterwards reaffirming his confidence in the work of the courts.

"Everyone knows the commitment of local elected officials, prefects, magistrates, law enforcement officials and crime prevention workers across the country," Villepin said in a statement.

Justice Minister Pascal Clement gave Sarkozy his qualified support — though he rejected the criticism of the Bobigny court, pointing out that the number of convictions had risen in line with the national average since 2002.

"I do not think the independence of the judiciary is threatened when the French, or their representatives, question the work of a court — but it must be done, I insist, with measure and impartiality," Clement told AFP.

Meanwhile the left-wing opposition rounded on Sarkozy, with a spokesman for the Socialist presidential frontrunner Segolene Royal describing him as a "dangerous anti-republican" who "blames the judges for his own failures".

Sarkozy has built his image around a tough line on immigration and crime — a leading issue in the 2002 presidential campaign and one again set to top the agenda in next year's contest to succeed Chirac.

But the Seine-Saint-Denis prefect's letter published this week has sparked heated debate about his anti-crime policies, which have seen thousands of riot police deployed to troubled areas.

Critics say his actions have failed to drive down crime while fuelling some of the tensions that boiled over with last year's riots.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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