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France’s constitutional court rejects proposed law limiting filming of police officers

France's top constitutional authority said on Thursday it had rejected a key article of a new security law that could see prosecutions of people who publish photos or film footage of police officers.

France's constitutional court rejects proposed law limiting filming of police officers
One of several demonstrations against the proposed law. Photo: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP

The Conseil constitutionnel (Constitutional Council) said that lawmakers who passed the controversial legislation had not set out clearly enough what would constitute a breach of the law in such situations.

The proposed ban, part of a wide-ranging new security bill, had caused fierce controversy and seen thousands of people take to the streets in protest.

Article 24 of the Loi relative à la sécurité globale (law on global security) criminalised “disseminating, by any means or medium whatsoever, with the aim of harming their physical or mental integrity, the image of the face or any other identifying element of an officer of the national police or member of the national gendarmerie when acting during a police operation.”

Offenders would risk one year in prison and a €45,000 fine.

EXPLAINED The French law that would restrict photos and videos of police

After condemnation from groups including international charities and press freedom organisations, the bill was amended to include a clarification that the intent to harm must be “manifest” and that the law should not interfere with press freedom.

It was passed by MPs, but now the Conseil constitutionnel, the body whose job it is to examine new laws and check they comply with France’s constitution, has rejected Article 24 (which is now article 52 in the revised bill).

The Council said the law failed to specify whether this related only to live operations or also to past ones, and what exactly constituted a police “operation”.

In response to the ruling, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said he would seek “to improve the provisions that were the subject of reservations by the Constitutional Council”.

Christophe Deloire, the head of press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), tweeted however: “This is very good news for the ability of journalists to cover protests.”

The law had been backed by Darmanin and police unions, who say it is necessary to clamp down on violent acts directed at the country’s police officers. 

Police unions say officers and their families have been threatened or attacked after photos or videos were shared online.

However, opponents of the Article say that being able to film or photograph police in a democracy is vital – and that many cases of police brutality or racist behaviour have been uncovered thanks to people filming.

Amateur footage, often shot on camera phones, has led to important discoveries regarding police violence such as when Ladj Ly, director of the Oscar-nominated film Les Misérablescaptured on camera the arrest of 20-year-old Abdoulaye Fofana in Montfermeil, an impoverished part of the Paris suburban département of Seine-Saint-Denis.

Police accused Fofana of having thrown cobblestones and shot fireworks at a police car together with others in the neighbourhood, but avoided including their own violent beatings of the young man during the arrest – including pointing a gun at him while handcuffed – which Ly’s video revealed. That was back in 2008, France’s first police violence case sparked by an amateur video, but one of many more to come.

Seven times videos revealed police violence in France

Several videos shot during the ‘yellow vest’ protests also showed violent behaviour from police, some of which has lead to criminal charges.

After the Council’s rejection, the government will now have to alter or scrap Article 24 before the security bill can be signed into law.

Member comments

  1. I fully accept the Police are there to protect us from thugs, and understand if sometimes they need to put on some pressure with unruly people.
    However, if they themselves behave in a thuggish manner, that’s unacceptable.
    If the Police do their job lawfully, they shouldn’t be worried of us civilians take films of them, that’s what I think.

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POLITICS

Macron restarts reform drive as opponents prepare for battle

French President Emmanuel Macron will get a taste of public resistance to his second-term reform agenda this week during the first nationwide strike called since his re-election in April.

Macron restarts reform drive as opponents prepare for battle

The 44-year-old head of state has pledged to push ahead with raising the retirement age having backed away from the explosive issue during his first five years in power.

But having lost his parliamentary majority in June, the pro-business centrist faces severe difficulties passing legislation, while galloping inflation is souring the national mood.

Despite warnings from allies about the risk of failure, Macron has tasked his government with hiking the retirement age to 64 or 65 from 62 currently, with changes to start taking effect next year.

“I’m not pre-empting what the government and the parliament will do, but I’m convinced it’s a necessity,” Macron told the BFM news channel last Thursday.

With deficits spiralling and public debt at historic highs, the former investment banker argues that raising the retirement age and getting more people into jobs are the only ways the state can raise revenue without
increasing taxes.

On Thursday, France’s far-left CGT union, backed by left-wing political parties, has organised a national day of strikes, the opening shot in what is expected to be a months-long tussle.

Though the protests were originally planned to demand wage increases, they are now intended to signal broad opposition to the government’s plans.

“We’re against the raising of the retirement age,” Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT, told the LCI broadcaster last week. “The government’s arguments don’t stack up.”   

Unpopular

Public opinion towards pension reform and the strikes is likely to be decisive in determining whether Macron succeeds with a reform he called off in 2020 in the face of protests and Covid-19.

An opinion poll last week from the Odoxa group found that 55 percent of respondents did not want the reform and 67 percent said they were ready to support protests against it.

But a separate survey from the Elabe group gave a more nuanced picture. It also found that only a minority, 21 percent, wanted the retirement age increased, but a total of 56 percent thought the current system no longer worked and 60 percent thought it was financially unsustainable.

“I don’t know anyone who wants to work for longer, but I don’t know anyone who thinks they are not going to work for longer,” a minister close to Macron told AFP last week on condition of anonymity.

“Maybe I’m mistaken but I’m not sure that the turnout will be as large as the unions and LFI are hoping for,” he said, referring to the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) political party that has backed the strikes.

The second decisive factor will be how the government introduces the reform in parliament where Macron’s allies are around 40 seats short of a majority.

Some favour slipping it into a social security budget bill that will be voted on in October — a stealthy move that will be denounced as under-handed by critics.

Others think more time should be taken for consultations with trade unions and opposition parties, even though they have all ruled out working with the government.

Macron prefers the quicker option, one senior MP told AFP on condition of anonymity.

In both scenarios, observers expect the government to resort to a controversial constitutional mechanism called “article 49.3” that allows the executive to ram legislation through the national assembly without a vote.

If opposition parties unite against the measure or call a no-confidence motion in the government, they could trigger new elections.

The reform was “ballsy but dangerous,” one ally told French media last week.

Macron II

Success with the pension reform and separate changes to the unemployment benefits system will help the president re-launch his image as a reformer, experts say.

Since winning a historic second term in April, he has been caught up in the Ukraine war crisis amid reports the parliamentary election setback in June left him disoriented and even depressed.

“We’ve slightly lost the narrative of Macronism,” political scientist Bruno Cautres, a researcher at Sciences Po university in Paris, told AFP recently.

The challenge was giving the second term a “direction” and showing “how it builds on the results of the first”, he said.

“The essence of Macronism, which does not have a long history, is the leader and the programme,” added Benjamin Morel from Paris II university.

Since being elected as France’s youngest-ever president in 2017, Macron has made overhauling social security and workplace regulation part of his political DNA.

“Emmanuel Macron can’t easily back away from a reform because burying a reform, it’s like disavowing himself,” Morel said.

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