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France: Off-site hearings raise human rights concerns

[Strasbourg, 17/10/2013] – In a letter sent to the Minister of Justice, Ms Christiane Taubira, on 2 October 2013 and published today, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, expresses concern about respect for the human rights of the migrants required to appear at hearings of the Courts of Meaux and Bobigny held off site in the administrative detention centre of Le Mesnil-Amelot and to be held shortly in the migrants' holding facility of Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport.

"I understand the French authorities' desire, in relocating these hearings, to avoid costly transfers which are sometimes conducted in conditions which do not respect the dignity of the persons concerned. However, holding off-site hearings raises several questions with regard to the human rights of the persons to be presented to the judge deciding on the legality of the deprivation of liberty at these proceedings", writes the Commissioner.

"Under the European Convention on Human Rights, all persons deprived of their liberty are entitled to bring proceedings before a court, which must not only be, but also be seen to be, independent and impartial. Yet, these off-site proceedings entail holding hearings in the immediate proximity of a place of deprivation of liberty in which the applicants are being held or detained. This situation, combined with the fact that this place is under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior, which is also a party to the proceedings, could undermine the independence and impartiality of the court concerned, at least in the eyes of the applicants."

The Commissioner also points out that the location of these hearing rooms and the problems of accessing them, particularly by public transport, could make it difficult to safeguard the rights of the defence and undermine the right to public proceedings.

Lastly, the Commissioner believes that holding these hearings outside the courts in which justice is usually delivered could give credence to the idea that foreigners are not litigants like any other.

The Commissioner shares the concerns expressed by many legal professionals on this subject and asks the Minister of Justice to inform him of the measures she intends to take to ensure that the human rights of the persons involved in these hearings are respected.

Read the letter