Outreau fiasco judge says he acted in good faith

8th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 8, 2006 (AFP) - In testimony carried live on national television, the magistrate at the centre of one of France's biggest judicial fiascos appears before a parliamentary panel Wednesday to explain how innocent people came to be wrongfully imprisoned on child sex charges.

PARIS, Feb 8, 2006 (AFP) - In testimony carried live on national television, the magistrate at the centre of one of France's biggest judicial fiascos appears before a parliamentary panel Wednesday to explain how innocent people came to be wrongfully imprisoned on child sex charges.

Fabrice Burgaud, 34, is to be questioned about his investigation into the so-called Outreau affair by a cross-party committee of 30 deputies looking into ways of reforming the French justice system so that similar miscarriages of justice do not recur.

Attending the afternoon hearing will be several of the 13 victims of the scandal, who have accused Burgaud of being naively fixated on establishing guilt and failing to listen to arguments in their defence.

The committee's work has sparked intense media interest in France, with millions tuning in last month to watch the 13 men and women describe how their lives were ruined by the accusations against them.

Several spent long periods in jail before coming to trial. Marriages were broken, jobs lost, and children taken into custody. A 14th person committed suicide under the strain.

Burgaud, who was only 30 when he took charge of the case, is expected come under critical scrutiny from the panel for his handling of the investigation, but many politicians and jurists have said he should not be made a scapegoat for deeper problems inside the French judicial process.

The judge has himself refused to apologise, saying he never strayed from the letter of the law and that other magistrates rubber-stamped his decisions.

"I have a feeling of profound injustice. It is as if I am in the dock. It would of course be much easier if I said sorry, but it would only prevent discussion of the real responsibility," he said in a recent magazine interview.

The affair began in 2001 with the arrest of a couple accused of sexually abusing their son in the northern town of Outreau. Against a backdrop of the notorious Marc Dutroux scandal in neighbouring Belgium, neighbours and acquaintances were accused of taking part in an elaborate sex ring.

Of the 18 who went to trial, only four were found guilty. Seven were acquitted at the July 2004 trial and six in an appeal hearing in December 2005, after which President Jacques Chirac publicly apologised for what he described as an "unprecedented judicial disaster."

Among the issues under examination by the parliamentary committee are the reliability of evidence from alleged child victims in sex-abuse cases; the role of social workers and psychiatrists; and the use of so-called "confrontations" in which accusers and accused are brought face-to-face before the investigating judge.

Some senior jurists have said the Outreau scandal proves the need to replace examining magistrates with a British-style system in which defence and prosecution argue it out in court.

"The examining magistrate must be abolished. Because he wears two hats. He is both investigator and judge, and therefore caught in an intellectual contradiction. On one side he has to develop his investigation, and on the other he has to draw its conclusions," said top judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke.

Under the French system -- which also prevails in most European countries -- an examining judge directs the police investigation, weighs up the arguments and then recommends whether or not to prosecute.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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