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Three legal stories from France

A hot week for legal news from France. First, if you remember the controversy over the annulment of the marriage of a couple from Lille – on the grounds that the wife had lied about being a virgin – then you’ll be interested that on Monday the Cour d’Appel in Douai reversed the ruling, saying firstly that virginity is not an “essential quality” of a spouse, and secondly that the husband’s annulment application was not in the public interest. The couple are still married after all, then; they now need either to go through divorce proceedings, or else to try an appeal on a point of law to the Cour de Cassation (generally in France you have a full merits appeal first to the regional Cour d’Appel, then appeals on points of law go to the Cour de Cassation in Paris). You may remember that the justice minister Rachida Dati at first defended the initial ruling before backtracking, and ordering ministry of justice officials to bring this successful appeal.

The second story is also about Dati, because hundreds of judges have signed a petition against her, complaining essentially of bullying, or “putting unacceptable personalised pressure” on them, as they put it. This all follows the suicide of a sixteen year old in prison in Metz, after which Dati ordered inspectors in, who proceeded to interrogate the local chief prosecutor and his deputy until one in the morning. The judges – actually this will be a mixture of judges and prosecutors, the system being different in France – say Dati’s policies are also confused, since she wants tougher, minimum penalties. Dati defends herself in an interview for Le Figaro today. Note the prominent photos of Dati in these stories: Dati fascinates and attracts men (even Englishmen), media and unfortunately, trouble.

The third story is that it looks as though the former prime minister Dominique de Villepin will face charges of conspiracy to make false accusations (complicité de dénonciation calomnieuse) in connection with the byzantine “Clearstream” affair. It’s almost two years since he was first quesioned, and over a year since his office was searched.

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