Faced with the silence of the French state, six NGOs seized, Thursday, July 22, justice through a group action to put an end to the “discriminatory identity checks” by the police.
This procedure, carried out by six associations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, was launched in January. The NGOs had initially put the government on notice to initiate “structural reforms” and “take concrete measures” in order to put an end to these controls. The authorities had four months to respond. The deadline having come to an end, the associations pass Thursday to the second stage, by filing their request before the Council of State.
“The organizations ask the Council of State to note the serious failure of the State to allow the systemic practice of facies checks to continue, and to urge the authorities to take the necessary measures to remedy it” Amnesty International said in a statement on Thursday.
The highest administrative court “then has several ways to proceed”, explains Antoine Lyon-Caen, lawyer who carries the file with Mes Slim Ben Achour and Alexandra Denis. “It can ask the State what it intends to do, then check whether the proposed answers are satisfactory”, explains Me Lyon-Caen, adding that the Council of State “can also be more interventionist and draw lines by saying: things must evolve on such and such a point”.
Their procedure is inspired by an American precedent: in 2013, after a “class action” the American justice had “decided to transform the police practice of identity checks in the State of New York, that led to a decrease draconian controls “, explains Me Lyon Caen.
“It is a subject that has progressed: we talk about it more than before but in terms of solutions we are at zero point”, believes Issa Coulibaly, president of Pazapas Belleville, another association involved in the procedure. “This is why we have decided to go, collectively, through the law, which can perhaps force the State to put in place the measures that many have been proposing for years and which exist in other countries “, he adds.
“Explicitly prohibit discrimination in identity checks” in the law
In their request, the associations demand in particular the modification of the code of criminal procedure to “explicitly prohibit discrimination in identity checks” because French law cultivates vagueness in the matter.
The NGOs call for an in-depth reform of identity checks in order to strictly supervise the power of the police during judicial checks with, among other things, the creation of “specific instructions for checks targeting minors” and the establishment of an “independent and effective” complaint mechanism.
The associations also ask to make available “to any person checked a proof of control”, on the model of the receipt.
The “receipt”, a proposal buried in 2012
In June 2012, after the election of François Hollande, the government promised to set up a system of “receipts” sent to persons checked to prevent the same individual from being checked several times in the same week. A measure very quickly abandoned by the executive, which considered it too complicated to implement.
This measure is inspired by systems existing abroad, in particular in the United Kingdom, where anyone can request a document on which appears the agent’s registration number, the reason, the date or even the time of the check. The police keep a copy of each copy.
A measure which, since 2011, has drastically reduced identity checks in Great Britain, from 1.2 million in 2011 to 280,000 in 2018, according to a report from HMICFRS, a UK government agency responsible for police inspection.
Twenty times more controlled than the others
But the receipt does not completely solve the problem. Facies control continues across the Channel, where again according to this same study, people from ethnic minorities were in 2020 4 times more likely to be arrested and searched than whites and up to nearly 9 times more for black people.
Figures still lower than in France where a report by the Defender of Rights had concluded, in January 2017, that “young man perceived as black or Arab (…) has a 20 times higher probability “ to be controlled than the rest of the population.
In France, where ethnic statistics are prohibited, it is impossible to rely on official figures. The action of the NGO collective is therefore based on testimonies, studies or French procedures documenting this discrimination.
The most recent dates back to June with the condemnation of the State for the identity check deemed “discriminatory” by the Paris Court of Appeal of three high school students from Seine-Saint-Denis by police at Gare du Nord in 2017 .
Already in 2016, the Court of Cassation had for the first time definitively condemned the State for “facial” identity checks.
“This is something that comes up very often in the stories of young men especially”, explains Issa Coulibaly. This type of control has “a strong impact on their feeling of exclusion, with the impression of not being full-fledged French people because they are treated differently”, he explains.
During an interview with Brut in December 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron admitted the existence of facial checks and announced the creation of a platform to denounce discrimination suffered during police checks.
The head of state’s remarks triggered an outcry from police unions, who rejected accusations of racism within the police.
The site Antidiscriminations.fr was subsequently launched on February 12, 2021 to support people facing “situations of discrimination” but the site remains vague, nothing mentions police checks deemed discriminatory.