France’s interior minister under fire for supporting comment that ‘police have no place in prison’

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has been criticised for “undermining republican values” after supporting comments that officers under investigation should be treated differently when brought before the courts.

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In a weekend newspaper interview last weekend, the national police chief Frederic Veaux said “a police officer does not belong in prison, even if he did wrong or committed serious errors at work.”

On Thursday, before heading into a meeting with police union representatives, Darmanin commented, “I want to say that I can understand this fatigue, sadness and emotion.” He added, however, that police agents mustn’t forget their “sense of mission”.

His televised remarks, delivered against the backdrop of a Paris police station on Thursday, came as the French government struggles to allay discontent within the police force over what many see as tough working conditions, deepened by the recent incarceration of an officer in Marseille many officers found unfair.

The Marseille-based officer held in detention is accused of “voluntary violence” during the wave of rioting that swept through France earlier this month that left a 22-year-old badly hurt.

His arrest sparked anger among colleagues across the country and lead to a ‘go slow’ through concerted sick leave in some places.

France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin (2nd L), Paris Police Prefect Laurent Nunez (3rd L) and National Police Director general Frederic Veaux (4th L) attend a meeting with French police unions at Hotel Beauvau in Paris on July 27, 2023. © Bertrand GUAY / POOL / AFP


Veaux’s remarks were widely perceived as a challenge to the independence of the judiciary and caused outrage among France’s political left who accused the official of disrespecting the separation of power.

On Thursday, Darmanin defended Veaux, saying he was an “excellent” police chief that he was “proud to count among my co-workers.”

Call for Darmanin’s resignation

This comes as Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure called for Darmanin’s resignation, who he has accused of “defying the Republic” by supporting the head of the national police force despite the “risk of sedition”.

The MP for Seine-et-Marne also called for President Emmanuel Macron, “guarantor of the independence of the judiciary … to put his own house in order … because there cannot be a state within the state”.

A tweet from Faure, claimed there is “a triumvirate made up of the Minister of the Interior, the Director General of the National Police and the Paris Police Prefect  all three of whom are defying republican rules … the independence of the judiciary … and the equality of citizens before the law.”

The Socialist leader also denounced the fact that “the Minister of the Interior is no longer anything more than a collaborator of his own administration … [defying] both the President of the Republic and the Republic.”

Recalling that in 1983, former president François Mitterrand had “immediately sanctioned” a police rebellion that defied political authority, Faure added that “we expect the head of state to have the same courage”.

Meanwhile, the hard-left France Unbowed party have backed calls for Darmanin’s resignation, with MEP Manon Aubry tweeting: “The only thing Gérald Darmanin should now honour himself with is his resignation.”

Magistrates voice concern

Senior judges have also voiced their concern over Darmanin’s remarks about the “presumption of guilt” of police officers in court, calling it a “new attack” on the independence of the judiciary.

In a statement, the national conference of heads of appeal courts said this Friday, “Once again, the Minister of the Interior’s questioning of the application of criminal law by magistrates, citing a failure to respect the presumption of innocence and therefore the principle of impartiality with regard to police officers, constitutes direct criticism of judicial decisions.”

Magistrates and prosecutors have pointed out that the remand in custody of a police officer in the Paris suburb of Nanterre – as part of the investigation into the death of teenager Nahel  and of another in Marseille on suspicion of beating up a young man, are “reasoned” decisions that have “been appealed”. France’s interior minister under fire for supporting comment that ‘police have no place in prison’

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