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France’s top administrative court heard a landmark case brought by human rights advocates accusing the police of failing to address widespread racial profiling during identity checks, a case that many plaintiffs hope will instigate reform within the country’s police force, Radio France Internationale reported.
Friday’s hearing comes more than two years after six human rights groups filed France’s first class-action lawsuit against the police. The plaintiffs allege that authorities discriminate against young North Africans and Black men by targeting them for identity checks.
Their demands also include requiring police to record identity check data, imposing restrictions on checks involving children, and establishing an independent system for filing complaints against law enforcement.
The lawsuit is not seeking compensation, but rather petitioning France’s Council of State – the top administrative court – to force the government to make serious reforms.
An adviser to the court urged the council to reject the suit, saying judges did not have the power to impose legislative changes and that the government could not be held “at fault” if policy measures had not brought results.
A ruling is expected in the coming weeks. If successful, it could pave the way for similar legal challenges in France, where class action suits only became possible in 2014 and remain rare.
The hearing comes as French police tactics have come under renewed scrutiny this year after an officer shot and killed Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old of North African origin during a traffic stop in a Paris suburb in June.
Merzouk’s death sparked nationwide protests as many people lamented systemic failures in policing communities of Arab and African descent.
The government has denied accusations of systemic racism, countering that officers have been increasingly targeted by violence.
Still, protests continue. Last week, tens of thousands of people protested across France against police violence, often holding a photo of Merzouk, Agence France-Presse added. The demonstrations came days after the country’s inspectorate responsible for investigating police misconduct released its annual report on the use of force by officers.
The findings showed that in 2022, 38 people died as a result of police action, including 22 who were shot dead. Thirteen of those fatalities involved cases of someone refusing to comply with a police order.
Protesters called for an end to state violence and criticized a provision of the internal security code, which allows law enforcement to shoot in case of a suspect’s refusal to comply.
Demonstrators also clashed with the police, and there were reports of unrest and property damage. Three officers were slightly injured and a number of people were arrested in connection with the incidents.