The Constitutional Council [official website], France's highest constitutional authority, ruled Friday that French police may no longer hold suspects for 48 hours without telling them their rights or bringing charges. Since President Nicolas Sarkozy's [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] came to power in 2007 the number of people in France taken into custody and questioned without charge has exploded [Washington Post report]. In 2001 there were 336,718; in 2009, there were about 790,000. The ruling comes four months after the constitutionality of police custody under article 63-4 [text] of French criminal procedure code was initially challenged.
French defense lawyers have been arguing for years that the practice of detaining suspects without reading them rights or bringing charges is an unethical method of forcing people to confess. The campaign for custody reform [advocacy website, in French] has gained momentum over the past few months as a result of recent decisions by the European Court of Human Rights [official website] in Salduz v. Turkey, Mooren v. Germany and Koslenik v. Ukraine [judgment], which called a lack of safeguards during police custody a violation of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF]. 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.