Justice for minors in France: Summary Report, 2000

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France: Summary File, 2000

Age of criminal responsibility – This is the same age as the age when defendants can be tried as adults, i.e. 18, but can be lowered to 13 in certain cases.
Minors under 13 have complete immunity from criminal proceedings
–          Article 122.8 of the Penal Code – Young offenders under 13 can only be subjected to “protection, assistance, monitoring or education measures”.
Criminal responsibility for minors over 13
–          Article 2 of the child delinquency law specifies that the children’s court and youth courts ” will however, be able to try the minor as an adult, if they are over 13 and if the circumstances and the defendant’s personality merit it “.

Trials
The concept of complete specialisation
–          For major crimes: the youth court (for minors over 16) and children’s court (for minors under 16)
–          For minor crimes: the youth court of youth magistrate
–          For petty offences: the magistrate of police tribunal
Prosecution
–          The police only bring cases to court, it is the Prosecutor for minors – the deputy Crown Prosecutor– who is in charge of prosecution.  At this stage, not prosecuting or conditional release is possible. 
–          In cases dealing with serious crimes, the Examining Magistrate takes charge.  In other cases, it is the Children’s Judge who takes charge.  They take temporary measures while the necessary investigations are underway (return the minors to their parents, hold the minors temporarily, take them into legal custody).  When the investigations have ended, the court may decide to dismiss the case. 
–          The Court Education Service (SEAT) intervenes throughout the trial and meets the minor.  He advises the judge on the measures that can be taken based on the studies carried out on the minor (social study, medical examination, medical-social examination).
Temporary detention can be arranged for:
– minors between 13 and 16 that are suspected of committing a crime (up to 12 months)
– minors between 16 and 18 that are suspected of a minor crime (up to 8 months) or a major crime (up to 2 years).

Measures that can be applied to young offenders
Educational measures
The youth judge can impose the following measures, as described by Article 8 of the 1945 Act:
– no punishment, if the minor shows signs of regret, has repaired the damage caused and if trouble resulting from the offence has ended.
– admonition
– returning the child to the care of the parents, a tutor, their guardian or to another responsible person
– placing the minor under legal care for up to five years
– placing the minor in a public or private, educational or vocational institution or school, or in a medical or medical-educational institution, in an appropriate borstal (detention school), or for children under 13, being taken into care by the child assistance service
– releasing the minor, but monitoring him/her up until they are 18.
Mediation/repair work
–          The minor helps repair the damage that they caused by carrying out a help or repair activity in aid of the victim or in the interest of the community.  This measure can only take place if the victim agrees, and can be accompanied with a personal apology to the victim.
Community Service
–          Minors between 16 and 18 can be made to carry out community service, which “helps them gain experience and promotes integration into society”.
Legal control
–          The minor is set free but on certain conditions and with certain restrictions, which if he/she does not respect, may lead to them being sent to prison.
Imprisonment
–          The duration of prison sentences for minors over thirteen cannot be more than half of the sentence for an adult who has committed the same crime.  However minors between 16 and 18 can receive the same sentence as an adult who has committed the same crime in extreme cases.
–          Sentences are carried out in special youth institutions or to a special section in a remand home.

Points of reference 
Law 45-174 from 2nd February 1945 (basis for Article 67 of the Penal Code).