[JURIST] The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment; press release] Monday that France had not violated the rights of detainees to be brought promptly before a judicial officer. In a case brought by crewmembers of a Cambodian ship intercepted by French authorities under suspicion of carrying significant quantities of narcotics, the ECHR found that while the French government had violated the crewmembers' right to liberty under Article 5.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF] by confining them to their quarters under guard for 13 days while still at sea, there was no violation of their Article 5.3 right to "be brought promptly before a judge." The crewmembers were brought before investigating judges the same day they were brought on shore. The decision was much anticipated [AP report, in French] in French political and judiciary circles, since it is seen as having implications for the French government's current project to reform French criminal procedure [JURIST op-ed]. Opponents of the reform plan to substitute public prosecutors for traditional investigating judges had relied on ECHR case law to argue that such a move would compromise the right of the suspect to a fair and impartial investigation. French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie [official profile, in French] has interpreted the decision as favorable [press release, in French] to the proposed reform.
The campaign for criminal procedure reform [advocacy website, in French] has gained momentum over the past few months as a result of other recent decisions by the ECHR in Salduz v. Turkey, Mooren v. Germany, Koslenik v. Ukraine [judgments], which called a lack of safeguards during police custody a violation of article 6 of the Convention. French lawyers and human rights groups have demanded that all suspects in police custody be given the right to see a lawyer immediately and access to a lawyer during interrogation, as well as be informed of their right to remain silent.