France’s Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira called for an official inquiry on Friday into how the failure of a mundane but apparently crucial cog in France's judicial system led to a murder defendant's release from jail this week.
The vital cog was a fax machine which, unfortunately for judicial authorities and much to the horror of the murder victim's family, had run out of ink.
The defendant, a 24-year-old known as Amadou F., had been held for 37 months on charges that he took part in a mob attack that left 31-year-old father of two Claudy Elisor dead.
Elisor was beaten by 10 or more suspects after he refused to let them enter the 2010 New Year’s Eve celebration in the Parisian suburb of Blanc-Mesnil, where he was the host and DJ.
After Amadou F.'s arrest a judge had ordered in June 2013 that he be kept behind bars until his trial. The defendant opposed the order and sent a written request to that effect to the prosecutors’ office in the Parisian suburb of Bobigny. But their fax machine was out of ink, so they never received the documents.
Because the fax never arrived, Amadou's request did not go before a judge within the required 20-day time limit. His lawyer then took up the issue, arguing his client was being held "arbitrarily". The court agreed and released him at 5 pm on Wednesday after discovering what the problem was: the inkless fax machine.
The Bobigny prosecutor’s office later explained the malfunction was due to being “out of stock of toner cartridges because of a lack of a maintenance agreement given the old age of the machine.”
The defendant’s lawyer said the judges had done justice by releasing his client.
“The judges enforced the law and there is nothing shocking about freeing a person who claims that he is innocent,” Gilles-Jean Portjoie told French daily Le Parisien.
News of the fax fiasco however left Elisor’s family reeling and wondering if justice would ever be done.
“My client and her two children have been expecting a trial for years. They are absolutely wounded by this,” The family’s lawyer Bernard Benaïem told the AFP. “They know now that one of the perpetrators may never be tried.”
The fiasco has also left France's Justice Minister red faced.