18 May 2020
Presentation of Ordinance relative to the adaptation of the rules of criminal procedure to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak
Version updated on 18 May 2020
An ordinance on the adaptation of the rules of criminal procedure was published on 26 March 2020, on the basis of the emergency law no. 2020-290 of 23 March 2020 to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic (Ordinance relative to criminal procedure).
The text was later completed by an Ordinance of 27 March 2020 on the adaptation of the rules applicable to corporate and agricultural insolvency to the sanitary emergency and amending certain rules of criminal procedure, by law no. 2020-546 of 11 May 2020 extending the state of health emergency and supplementing its provisions, and by Ordinance no. 2020-557 of 13 May 2020 amending Ordinance no. 2020-303 of 25 March 2020 adapting the rules of criminal procedure on the basis of law no. 2020-290 of 23 March 2020 as an emergency measure to deal with the covid-19 epidemic.
Its initial purpose was “to ensure the continuity of the penal courts’ activity” during lockdown by adopting a number of exceptional measures. In the post-lockdown period, these measures are maintained in order to accompany the gradual resumption of the normal activity of the criminal courts.
The provisions of the amended Ordinance on Criminal Procedure are applicable up to expiry of a one-month time limit with effect from the end of the state of health emergency, which was extended until 10 July 2020 inclusive by the law of 11 May 2020. However, the amended Ordinance on Criminal Procedure allows a decision to be taken by decree to terminate this exceptional regime early if the circumstances justify it.
Article 3 of the Ordinance relative to criminal procedure provides that the statutes of limitations for criminal actions and the time limitations for sentences are suspended as of 12 March 2020 and up to expiry of a one-month time limit from the date the state of health emergency is declared over.
Article 4 of this Ordinance, supplemented by the law of 11 May 2020, provides for an amendment of the use of certain requests and available legal remedies, as follows:
Article 5 of the Ordinance relative to criminal procedure makes it possible to use means of audiovisual telecommunication before all penal courts, with the exception of criminal courts in charge of trying the most serious offenses, and this, without it being necessary to obtain the parties’ consent. Under certain conditions, the judge can alternatively decide to use any other means of electronic communication, including telephone.
Article 7 of the Ordinance relative to criminal procedure makes it possible to derogate from the principle of the publicity of hearings and of the announcement of judgments before the assize courts and the correctional courts, by holding hearings with a limited public, and even behind closed doors when ensuring the safety of those present at the hearing proves impossible. Journalists may however be authorized to attend hearings, even when held behind closed doors.
Subject to publication of a decree confirming a lasting health crisis liable to compromise the proper running of the courts despite the implementation of other provisions of the Ordinance relative to criminal procedure, Article 8 of the Ordinance authorizes certain courts, such as the investigating chamber ruling on correctional matters, the correctional court or even the court of criminal appeals to have a single judge rule on the matter.
Article 13 of the Ordinance relative to criminal procedure enables a lawyer and a person in police custody or in customs retention to meet through a means of electronic communication, including by telephone. A lawyer can also use this means to assist his/her client during the interviews.
Articles 15 to 20 of the Ordinance relative to criminal procedure, completed by Article 4 of the ordinance of 27 March 2020 and by article 1 of the law of 11 May 2020, relax the pre-trial detention conditions, notably with an extension of the maximum time limits of pre-trial detention, whether it be for detention pending investigation or detention concerning individuals remanded in custody following investigation. The time limits applicable to rule on release applications and detention-related applications are also extended.
Articles 24 to 29 of the Ordinance contain various provisions aimed at simplifying the sentence adjustment procedure and at adjusting or reducing the length of certain prison sentences.
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