New Security Law in France Targets Travellers
20 November 2007
According to ERRC research, the new law "Relating to the prevention of delinquency" in France (Law 2007-297 of 5 March 2007) will have a disproportionate negative impact on French Travellers. Under Articles 27 and 28 of the new law, the power is conferred to prefects to order the eviction of Travellers from plots of land where they are squatting, following a request to that effect by the local mayor and without securing a previous judicial decision ordering the eviction. The new security law comes in the wake of a previous 2003 law concerning interior security that provided for very heavy sanctions of Travellers who installed their caravans on public or private land, outside the confines of officially-established halting sites. Sanctions included a six months prison sentence, a fine of 3,750 EUR, suspension of a person's driving license for a period of up to three years as well as the impoundment of vehicles used to tow caravans. In addition to the above, a mayor whose municipality complied with a number of conditions could, under Article 9 of the 2000 Law concerning the Welcome and Housing of Travellers, have recourse to an expedited judicial procedure and secure an injunction ordering the eviction of Travellers.
Invoking increased legal costs and time delays however, representatives of local authorities in France were calling as early as 1997 for an even more expedited eviction procedure. Identical procedures had been advanced during the drafting of the 2000 Besson Law but had been considered as unconstitutional by the relevant committee of the French National Assembly. The new law of 5 March 2007 finally gives local authorities the possibility of avoiding having to petition courts in order to secure an eviction decision. Under the new procedure, mayors can secure the eviction of Travellers by merely addressing a letter to the local prefect. Should the prefect ascertain that the installation of Travellers is a threat to public health, peace or security, he/she can proceed to serve the Travellers with a formal notice to vacate the plot of land they are squatting within a minimum of 24 hours. Should the Travellers fail to do so, then the prefect can proceed with their eviction by force. The only recourse available to Travellers is to challenge the notice before an administrative court. In doing so, the execution of the prefect's decision is suspended. The court is required to issue a decision within 72 hours: its judgment is immediately executable, without even the need to serve the notarised copy of the judgment to the Travellers in question. It should be noted that the new law provides that even municipalities which have not yet established a halting site can, under certain conditions, benefit from the new procedure.
The new eviction procedure has provoked the reactions from a spectrum of Travellers' Associations and NGOs such as FNASAT - National Federation of Associations of Action Solidarity with the Gypsies and Travellers - and League of Human Rights.
The new law effectively denies Travellers the right to due legal process and transfers upon them the obligation to prove that their trespassing might be due to the non-existence of halting sites nearby, without however providing them with appropriate legal aid. Furthermore, the ERRC is concerned that the law is permeated by a notion of "collective guilt": The new law provides for the evictions of entire communities, not just individuals, on rather tenuous grounds. Thus, according to a 3 July 2007 press release by the Prefecture of the French town Lotet- Garonne, at 6:00 AM on the same day, regular police together with riot police proceeded to evict a community of Travellers that, according to the press release, "was at the origin of numerous criminal acts committed notably in the industrial area of Boe." Another reason advanced for the eviction was the need to free the plot of land in question in order to build a halting site for Travellers.