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The Court of Cassation faced with the consequences of excessive delays in certain criminal proceedings


It is an understatement to say that the decision of the Court of Cassation on the violation of the right to be tried within a reasonable time is awaited. Beyond the so-called Defense boiler room corruption case, examined Thursday, September 22 by the criminal chamber, the fate of several procedures for organized crime, corruption or tax evasion that courts have refused to judge depends on it. .

It all started with a judgment from the Nanterre court. In January 2021, called to judge this case of alleged corruption around the awarding of the heating and air conditioning contract for the business district at the gates of Paris, he canceled the entire procedure. The Versailles Court of Appeal, in a more nuanced decision, confirms, in September 2021, that it was not necessary to rule on these facts that are more than twenty years old. The main defendant died in 2019, at the age of 94, leaving in this case a 99-year-old man (in 2021), with reduced cognitive abilities, another 83, with advanced Parkinson’s disease, and second knives. The adversarial debate, a condition of a fair trial, could no longer be held without infringing the rights of the defense, considered the court of appeal. At least five other jurisdictions have since taken similar decisions, finding an unreasonable delay in the proceedings.

Read also: Defense boiler room: when magistrates detail a judicial fiasco

According to the case law of the Supreme Court of the Judiciary, the penalty for a violation of the right to be tried within a reasonable time is compensation for the damage suffered by the parties. The Council of State applies the same reasoning to the procedures of administrative justice, while the Constitutional Council has never enshrined the right to be tried within a reasonable time.

“Conservative Stance”

For the Advocate General, Alexia Bellone, who is asking to overturn the judgment of the Court of Appeal, the courts have the necessary tools to take into account the consequences of the unreasonable delay of a procedure without having to cancel it. or referral to them. “If the condition of one or more of the defendants prevents a confrontation, which is nevertheless necessary, from being carried out during the hearing, the consequence will only consist in the impossibility of taking into account certain pieces of evidence, coming thus lessen the burden of evidence”, she observed. Above all, the absence of a trial decided in the name of exceeding the reasonable time limit would deprive the person prosecuted of a possibly more favorable decision (release or acquittal) and the civil party of a criminal trial.

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