© 2012 Human Rights Watch

(Paris) – The French defender of rights, the national ombudsman, acknowledged in a report the need for reform to tackle abusive and discriminatory identity checks in France and restore trust between police and the population, but failed to take a clear position on key recommendations, a group of French and international organisations said today.

The groups are: GISTI, Grains of France (Graines de France), Human Rights Watch, Human Rights League (France) (Ligue des Droits de l’Homme), House for Equitable Development (Maison pour un Développement Solidaire), Open Society Justice Initiative, Lawyers Union of France (Syndicat des Avocats de France) and the Magistrates Union (Syndicat de la Magistrature).

The defender of rights, Dominique Baudis, should have illustrated better the success of reforms in other countries and acknowledged clearly the discriminatory aspects of identity checks as evidenced by numerous scientific studies over the years, the organizations said.

The report contains a number of positive recommendations, including legal reform to regulate the use of pat-downs, which has too often been the cause of interference with privacy rights. It also says that officers should identify themselves when conducting identity checks and that there should be a dialogue between the police and the French people about the subject.

The defender rightly underlines the importance of conducting pilot programs, and these programs should be regulated in law as provided for by the Constitution to ensure legitimacy and allow for serious and independent evaluation, the organizations said. Support from the police and the gendarmerie, training, and the local police-population dialogue will be essential to success.

It is deeply regrettable that, despite an in-depth analysis of French law, the defender failed to call for a reform of article 78-2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure regulating identity checks. The article should be modified to limit identity checks to situations in which they are strictly necessary to fight crime, the organizations said, calling on the government and parliament to act.

The defender concludes, on the basis of an analysis of practices in other countries, that the use of stop forms – a written record of the stop – leads to “a quantitative decrease in identity checks … [and] these fewer stops are much more effective.” This conclusion alone should encourage the government to pursue a reform of identity check procedure in France following a genuine and inclusive consultation process, the groups said

President François Hollande and his administration should not backtrack any further, the organizations said. The defender has called for, and a large part of the population awaits, reform.