Sarkozy plans to scrap key magistrate post: report

7th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

The French president’s judicial reform will see state prosecutors instead of investigating magistrate take over inquiries in criminal cases, says a French newspaper.

PARIS – President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to scrap the powerful post of investigating magistrate and bring France's justice system closer to the model of the English-speaking world, Le Monde reported Tuesday.

The change would see state prosecutors, who answer to the justice minister, take over all investigations in criminal cases, the newspaper said.

Described by Balzac as "the most powerful man in France," the investigating magistrate works with police and prosecutors to probe the most complex criminal cases, acting as an independent judge overseeing the process.

Under the French system - which also prevails in many other European countries - the magistrate directs the investigation, weighs the evidence and then decides whether or not to send a case to trial.

Sarkozy's move to scrap the post would see France move closer to the legal system used by most of the English-speaking world, where prosecutors and police take the lead in investigations.

Investigating magistrates handle about five percent of all cases, according to Le Monde.

Their role and powers were spotlighted in 2006 by a parliamentary committee looking into the so-called Outreau paedophile affair, one of France's biggest judicial fiascos.

That case saw 13 people wrongly put on trial for child sexual abuse, several spending long periods in jail before they were finally acquitted. A 14th person committed suicide.

Singling out the youth and inexperience of the magistrate heading up the case, who was 30 at the time, the committee called for a series of reforms to break the isolation of magistrates.

But a committee on penal reform, asked by Sarkozy to examine the question, is expected to recommend scrapping the role entirely in a report next month.

According to Le Monde, Sarkozy will announce the planned change Wednesday in an address to the Cour de Cassation, France's highest appeals court.

Neither the president's office nor the justice ministry would comment on the report.

Le Monde said the office at the Elysee palace had dismissed calls to reinforce the independence of state prosecutors - seen by many experts as essential to avoid weakening France's judicial system.

Unions representing magistrates reacted angrily, accusing Sarkozy of trying to take revenge against independent judges who have led far-reaching probes into the affairs of corrupt politicians and businessmen.

[AFP / Expatica]

0 Comments To This Article