In defence of France's examining magistrates

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Last Friday a French court acquitted former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of aggravated pimping charges, relating to his regular participation in group sex orgies with prostitutes. It followed on the acquittal in May, in an unrelated case, of former conservative minister Éric Woerth of charges that he manipulated senile L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt to obtain cash sums, and of influence peddling to obtain a job for his wife in exchange for awarding Bettencourt’s wealth investment manager with the Légion d’honneur. The unsuccessful prosecutions prompted some conservatives, and their allies, to call – and not for the first time - for an end to the French system of examining magistrates, the independent judges who lead major crime investigations carried out in the field by police, and who alone have the ultimate decision on whether to press charges. But in this op-ed article, Mediapart’s legal affairs correspondent Michel Deléan argues that such calls are a recurrent knee-jerk reaction on the part of those whose distaste for investigating judges is rooted in the latter’s independence in face of the rich and powerful, as demonstrated over several decades of French judicial history.   

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It was a predictable move. Immediately after the recent acquittal of former conservative minister Éric Woerth of charges of influence peddling and taking advantage of the senile condition of billionaire Liliane Bettencourt in two separate trials arising from the so-called ‘Bettencourt affair’, and that last Friday of former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of pimping charges in ‘the Carlton affair’, a number of influential figures jubilantly struck out against France’s examining magistrates.