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France anti-recidivism bill violates international law: HRW

[JURIST] A French bill aimed at reducing violent crimes committed by repeat offenders violates international fair trial standards [press release], Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Monday. The proposed law, sponsored by the administration of French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official profile; BBC profile], would allow three judges to decide whether a convicted violent offender is still dangerous. After a multi-disciplinary panel, including a psychologist, assesses the convict's risk, the judges may grant an additional one-year sentence in a "socio-medico-legal detention center." Such sentences are renewable indefinitely and have limited appeal options. HRW said that "locking people up on speculation that they might commit some future crime undermines hundreds of years of criminal justice in France," and that the law violates the European Convention on Human Rights [text] Article 6 fair trial guarantees. The bill was approved [DPA report] earlier this month by the French National Assembly [official website, in French] and now goes to the French Senate [official website, in French] for debate Wednesday.

Sarkozy, who campaigned on a tough anti-crime platform, last year began to push draft legislation instituting minimum sentences for repeat offenders [JURIST report]. French Justice Minister Rachida Dati [official profile, in French] later appeared before the National Assembly [JURIST report] in support of the bill, which also allows minors as young as 16 to be treated as adults when charges are serious. Critics argue that the already-overcrowded French prisons, which house approximately 61,000 inmates but were designed for only 50,000, cannot withstand the additional pressure.

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