The French have the reputation to demonstrate often, but around corona they express their dissatisfaction quite differently. Namely, through the court. Since the beginning of the epidemic, massive charges have been filed against hospitals, government agencies and also ministers.
The prosecutor‘s office has received a total of 328 charges. “We have so far taken 253 of them into consideration. Which are being examined”, let the prosecutor’s office know. “These include allegations of manslaughter and endangering human lives.”
These complaints come from individuals, policemen and caregivers. For example, they accuse hospitals or their superiors of not providing good help against corona. In many cases, it concerns the shortage of mouthcaps during the first corona wave.
Clara Bouaziz is one of the French who filed charges. Her father died last year after being infected with corona. She thinks the hospital deliberately didn‘t treat him:
Another series of charges is directed against the French government. They must be submitted to the special Court of Justice, which alone may investigate whether ministers have committed criminal offences. “We have received 153 complaints, 14 of which we are investigating,” says a spokesman of the Court against Nieuwsuur.
The charges are directed at Edouard Philippe, who was Prime Minister during the first corona wave, and at the then and current Health Ministers, Agnes Buzyn and Olivier Véran. A search has also been carried out in several ministries as part of this investigation. At Véran, there was also a search at home.
“Frenchmen see care as a matter of security.”
The fact that the French choose the judicial route is not new, says sociologist Henri Bergeron. He specializes in public health policy and has also published about the coronacrisis. “There have been health scandals in France before, and victims always choose to go to court.”
According to him, it has a political-cultural cause. “In France, the national government traditionally raises itself as the only one that deals with the protection of public health of the French. It’s called ‘sécurité sanitaire’: it‘s about people’s safety.”
“ That creates a lot of expectations and can lead to many disappointments, especially in a crisis like this. A virus is elusive, you never know how it develops, a mistake is quickly made. And victims then point to the government as the culprit, for it keeps saying, “We are responsible for your health.”
Lawyer Fabrice di Vizio thinks there‘s another reason to go on. People would be afraid of going out to the streets and therefore, above all, take the legal path. “Many people feel that it has become dangerous to demonstrate. The French police have been acting hard since the Yellow Vets. Even Amnesty International has criticized French repression.”
Di Vizio specialises in health matters. He represents around corona a victim association with general practitioners, caregivers and restaurateurs. “In the hospitality industry they do not understand why everything is closed or what use the curfew is. When the government is asked to prove that the virus is a great risk in restaurants, we hear nothing.”
“ In total, these are more than 2,000 clients who have gone to justice through their organisations or just as a private individual. I certainly expect it to come to convictions. Times have changed. Politicians are no longer held over their heads.”
However, the number of French ministers convicted by the Court of Justice is extremely limited. In 2019, a former Minister of Justice was sentenced to a suspended imprisonment for fraud. In 2016, Christine Lagarde, the current President of the ECB, was found guilty of “carelessness” in a case without being punished for it.
Sociologist Bergeron is therefore partly awaiting the hundreds of charges. “It is still very questionable whether ministers can really be blamed for criminal matters around corona.”
event, the various judicial investigations will not lead directly to litigation. Both the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Court of Justice state that conclusions will not be drawn until next year: dismiss or prosecute.