Justice: tense debates in the Senate on the professional secrecy of lawyers

It was announced as one of the points to watch during the debates in the Senate. Article 3 of the bill for confidence in the judiciary effectively gave rise to long and passionate legal debates on the night of September 28 to 29. And it is finally the choice of the commission of the laws which was retained. The rapporteurs Agnès Canayer (LR) and Philippe Bonnecarrère (Centrist Union) returned to the drafting of the National Assembly on the extension of the professional secrecy of the lawyer, in criminal matters, to their consulting activity. They brought him a limit: this secrecy extended to the activities of council will not be opposable “in matters of tax evasion, corruption and influence peddling, as well as laundering of these offenses”.

The position adopted in committee made several members of the senatorial majority on the right and center jump, who relayed the serious concerns of the lawyers. Jean-Baptiste Blanc (LR), supported by around twenty of his colleagues, protested against a “totally unacceptable text” which undermined “the indivisibility” of professional secrecy. “There are 70,000 lawyers who are up in arms this evening. You have to hear this anger. We are touching here on professional secrecy, which is the heart of this profession, ”he warned. “I propose to you through this amendment, if we want to restore confidence in justice, to restore it towards its lawyers. “Do not take the lawyers for accomplices in embezzlement,” added his colleague LR Gérard Longuet. According to the result of the public ballot requested by the Centrist Union group, 161 senators rejected Jean-Baptiste Blanc’s amendment, against 59 who supported it.

Professional secrecy of lawyers: a senator denounces the “unacceptable text” of the commission

The rapporteur reminds his critics that the debates are also followed by magistrates and NGOs

“The text from the law commission is not a text that reduces the professional secrecy of lawyers, it is a text that extends it, of course, not in an unlimited way”, wanted to temper the rapporteur Philippe Bonnecarrère. And to warn: “If you give an unlimited extension, you do not allow our society to fight properly against corruption or tax evasion”. This senator, himself a lawyer, recalled that the subject did not interest only this profession. “In our society, there are investigators, examining magistrates, associations, which have an action against poverty, in the fight against corruption. Our work is also viewed from that side. »

The president of the law commission, François-Noël Buffet, had to speak, faced with the questioning of the work of his commission. “I read in the press that the president of the Conseil national des barreaux thought that the senators had stabbed him in the back. I wish he’d picked up his phone and called me. He did, but after his statement came. »

Éric Dupond-Moretti had, for his part, asked for an opinion of wisdom on the amendment to restore the version of the National Assembly. A neutral position, between the unfavorable opinion and the favorable opinion. Above all, he expressed the wish that “as part of the shuttle [parlementaire]we can find the best compromise.

Senators want to give investigators more time for ‘the hard core of financial crime’

Earlier, senators passed clause 2 of the bill. The latter limits to two years (which can be extended to three) the duration of preliminary investigations, which did not have so far. Following the same logic as Article 3, the Law Commission has aligned cases of tax evasion, corruption and money laundering with the same regime as organized crime or terrorism: a maximum of three years of preliminary investigation, with the possibility of extending for two more years. For the rapporteur Philippe Bonnecarrère, this is the “hard core of financial crime”.

The Keeper of the Seals opposed these derogations, except for cases of international corruption. “If you make a succession of exceptions, then the rule is obsolete. We must limit the exceptions, ”he called. At the end of the deadline set for the preliminary investigation, “it is not impunity”, explained the minister. This is the beginning of an investigation phase with the opening of a judicial investigation.

Philippe Bonnecarrère objected that the cases were “complex”. Impossible to carry out the investigations in two years, on a financial and economic matter which requires acts abroad, and specialized investigators which France lacks. However, the risk is, according to him, to end up with classifications without follow-up, to submit files “neither done nor to be done” before the instruction, already overwhelmed.

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