The highest administrative court in France rejected a class action case against the state on Wednesday for failing to eliminate police racial profiling, saying it was not the responsibility of judges to reinterpret public policy while acknowledging that prejudice was an issue but not “systemic.”
Six human rights organizations submitted the lawsuit before the Conseil d’Etat, claiming that police bias systematically, particularly against young Arab and Black men, when determining who to stop on routine patrols. They want substantial reforms.
Benedicte Jeannerod of Human Rights Watch, one of the organisations, described the decision as a “missed opportunity” but said the recognition by the Conseil d’Etat that police racial profiling was a problem and not just a few isolated cases is “important, symbolically.”
The government and police are under increased scrutiny after an officer shot dead a teenager of North African descent during a traffic stop in June, bringing long-simmering resentment among urban immigrant communities to the boil.
Beyond this case, this is the first ruling on a class action lawsuit against the state, a procedure possible since 2016, and could influence future judicial advocacy actions in France.
“The judges need time to understand the use of the class action. For them, it can be used timidly,” said Antoine Lyon-Caen, the lawyer for the six organisations, citing a similar class action in New York, which was successful.
For Gwenaele Calves, public law professor at University of Cergy-Pontoise, the ruling is “encouraging” for future class actions as the judges recognised the discrimination and the victims as a group.
“Their request was too general and too political – this isn’t an American judge, it is a French judge,” she said.
On Tuesday, the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution in which it expressed concern about types of police misconduct that “disproportionately affect” people with an immigrant background in France and called on authorities to put in place a system of recording identity checks.
The documentation of identity checks was one of the demands as part of the class action lawsuit.