France highest administrative court rejects police racial profiling class action News
Roman Bonnefoy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
France highest administrative court rejects police racial profiling class action

The highest administrative court in France, the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State), dismissed on Wednesday a class action against the French government for alleged racial profiling practices amongst French police in identity checks against people of African origins and Arabs.

In dismissing the class action lawsuit, the Council of State reasoned that the administrative court has no competence in restructuring existing frameworks and redefining public policies for the repression of delinquency and the prevention of public order disturbances. That power rests in the legislature as the court ruled.

The claimants sought to assert that the French government has a positive duty to take certain normative and organizational measures to tackle systematic racial discrimination. Although the court abstained from ruling whether the identity checks have a “systemic” or “general” nature, the court recognized the collective testimonies and reports presented by the claimants are sufficient to establish that identity check practices are motivated by physical characteristics associated with a real or presumed origin. This constitutes a violation of the French code based on a former decision made by the Constitutional Council that the power must be exercised without discrimination and in strict compliance with constitutional principles.

The claimants also sought to limit the French police’s power to conduct identity checks under Art 78-1 of the Code of Criminal Procedures. The code provides that police officers may conduct identity checks on various grounds. The claimants contended that it is necessary to remove the power of conducting identity checks by police officers based on administrative grounds and to delegate this power to an independent administrative authority. In addition, the code must also provide for more objective guidelines and a tailor-made regime for minors to limit the police’s power to conduct identity checks.

Apart from a confinement of the police power, the claimants also sought to implement additional monitoring measures to reinforce accountability. These measures include but not limiting to the issuance of a receipt for an identity check and a report specifying details of the identity check including the location and time, the responsible police officer and the specific reasons for the identity check.

Relatedly, the Council of States ordered on Wednesday the Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territory guarantee that police officers wear their individual identification numbers during operations in intervening rallies or gatherings. The identification numbers must also be enlarged so that it is sufficiently legible.