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France high court rules terror suspects have right to lawyer

The French Court of Cassation [official website, in French] ruled [judgment text, in French; press release, in French] Tuesday that all persons in custody of French law enforcement, including terrorism suspects, are entitled to consult with lawyers from the outset of criminal proceedings. Sitting en banc, the court ruled that France's current rules regarding custody contravene the Article 6 right to a fair trial of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF]. Law enforcement officials must now comport with three new principles when dealing with people in custody: the right to a lawyer from the outset of criminal proceeding except for a compelling reason, the obligation to inform the person in custody of their right to remain silent and the right to assistance of counsel in interrogations. This decision expands on a July 30 decision [text, in French] issued by France's Constitutional Court [official website, in French] according to which all persons in custody are entitled to a lawyer from the outset except for people suspected of engaging in terrorism, drug trafficking or organized crime. In the past, French police were interrogating terrorism suspects [WP report] for as long as 72 hours without a lawyer and threatening them to elicit information and gain their cooperation. France's Minister of Justice Michele Alliot-Marie [official profile, in French] reacted [statement, in French] to the court's decision, saying "the government will of course take into account these decisions and the complete text of the bill by amendment."

In addition to France, several other countries have been altering their policies regarding custodial interrogations. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] ruled [judgment text] that Canadians do not have the right to have counsel [JURIST report] present during custodial interrogations. In May, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] announced that the Obama administration plans to ask Congress to enact legislation allowing interrogators [JURIST report] to question terror suspects for a longer period of time than currently allowed before informing them of their constitutional rights to remain silent and be represented by an attorney. Earlier that month, a group of US lawmakers introduced a bill that would strip US citizenship rights [JURIST report], including the right to a lawyer, from those suspected of engaging in terrorism. US lawmakers also introduced a bill in March that would require the military interrogation and trial [JURIST report] of those taken into US custody who are suspected of links to terrorism. The Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010 was introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) [official websites] and would require that all people detained by US authorities, both domestically and internationally, who are suspected of engaging in hostilities against the US or its coalition partners or of providing material support for those who do, would be placed in military custody for interrogation and a final status determination made by the president, attorney general and defense secretary.

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