Legal Info for actions and demonstration in France

For all legal problems during the NATO summit there will be support from the Legal Team. No matter if in Baden-Baden or in Strasbourg: From 1 April you can contact the Legal Team in any case of arrests or police brutality.


Legal Team Strasbourg: +33 (0)68 46 02 62

German "EA" (Freiburg): +49 (0)761 409 725 1

Info from Legal Team Strasbourg:


  • Before, during and after the protest : stay in groups, never alone !
  • Do not forget to always have with you : your identity card/ visa/ telephone card/ paper and pen/ glasses (rather than contact lenses)/ your medication (if necessary).
  • Leave someone your name, surname, birthdate, and shout it to someone if you are arrested.
  • Write the Legal Team’s phone number on yourself.
  • Do not bring a camera or video camera with you: there are teams there to cover the protest.
  • Avoid taking your personal telephone filled with your contacts and pictures: your friends will thank you!
  • All products that alter your behaviour (alcohol, drugs, etc.), knives or weapons of any kind are of course factors that aggravate the situation in the case of an arrest.
  • Bring a scarf or something to hide your face throughout the protest or when close to specific clashes: this is not illegal in France.
  • Start educating yourself to recognise different types of police (whether in uniform or not). You can often tell those in civil attire because they stay in groups, and observe the situation at the beginning of the protest. The mobile regiments of the Gendarmerie have the number of their unit on their back, such as 1A, 3B (etc.).
  • Know that a special service of the police (not the General Information) was recently created to infiltrate groups in a friendly manner.
  • Never forget that there are MANY police in civil attire: Never speak freely in the streets about your protesting and avoid using any names.
  • Do not hand out stickers or flyers from your organisation to just anybody. The police are not allowed to ask you to take off a sticker stuck on yourself; the same goes for flags or banners.
  • In the case of widespread, violent repression or other: Always keep cool, be sure to observe the situation, react quickly.
  • If the police try to target an activist, stop and together create a human chain, keep a united front and remain in solidarity: in this way, a lot of violent repression can be avoided and injured individuals evacuated.
  • Protect the injured and try to call the Medical Team.
  • If you are stopped by the police : Stay calm and polite, the police are quick to accuse you of offence(s) “rebellion, insult”.


During this counter-summit, most of the lawyers assigned by the court will be lawyers from the Legal Team, and will be in permanent contact with the Legal Team, so:

If you are stopped and put into police custody, you will not be able to contact the Legal Team. You must ask for “a lawyer assigned by the court”.

If you are presented before a judge after being taken into custody, ask the State-appointed lawyer if s/he is part of the Legal Team : If not, tell her/him that you want a lawyer from the Legal Team.

If you have witnessed an arrest, notify the Legal Team as soon as possible with the following information : Name of the person/ Place/ Number of people put into custody/ Which police service/ Number of police. Describe as best you can what happened and do not hesitate to put it down on paper. Your testimony is important and will only be seen by the Legal Team – in any other case, keep it safe!

If you have been released, notify the Legal Time as soon as possible and produce as detailed a testimony as you can.


If the police do an ID check, you have the right to communicate with the people around you and to ask them to be your witness, or to telephone to notify those close to you of your “hold up”.

A “pat-down” may be done: This is an external feel of your clothes (not a physical search).

The police have the right to search a vehicle (unless it is a dwelling). The vehicle may be immobilised for up to 30 minutes.

Questioning (PV in France): If you were mistreated make it known on the Report. Do not sign anything you do not agree with. If you do not agree, add what is missing and put a line through the remaining blanks so that there is no clean space to add anything else. If you are not ok with what is written: do not sign! And in all cases, ask for a copy!

If the police are not “satisfied” by the papers presented, they can bring you in to the station for an “identity check”. 


It cannot go on longer than 4 hours starting from the beginning of the control (when the police first stopped you).

From the beginning of the check, the police have to propose that you contact one person of your choice, and inform you of your rights to notify the State prosecutor (Procureur de la République).

Do not say anything other than your name. You do not have to respond to any other questions. Simply state “I have nothing to say”.

Police Questioning : The same advice as for the ID check. Always add any police violence that occurred during the control/ the transport/ your time at the police station.

If you give a false identity or if you refuse to give your identity: the police can take your finger prints and picture. If you refuse, this can cost you up to 3 months in prison and €3750.

After 4 hours either you are let go or you are kept in police custody                                        2


You are placed into police custody if there exists “one or more plausible reasons to suspect that you have committed or have attempted to commit an offence”.

This provides the police with the right to interrogate you, to curtail/impede your communication with others, to further investigate the evidence they have against you.

Length of time: Starting from the moment you were stopped or from the beginning of the identity check, police custody can last up to 24 hours and is renewable. It can last up to 96 hours for “association to a gang” and up to 144 hours for “terrorism”.

From the outset, demand an interpreter where necessary, and be sure to have your rights read to you: the accused offence, the right to notify a member of your family, contact a lawyer and see a doctor. Ask to notify someone close to you; this can only be refused by the State prosecutor.

You are immediately entitled to see a doctor and a lawyer. You may them a second time if your detention is renewed, after the 24th hour of detention.  Askthe police officer present.

Right to Speak to a Lawyer

After giving your civil status (name, surname, date, place of birth), you have the right to remain silent or state “I have nothing to declare”. Anything you say can and will be used against you, and the people you mention. We suggest you remain silent until you speak with your lawyer.

A full body search when in police custody implies being stripped by an officer of the same sex. Only a doctor has the right to practice several full body searches.

DNA sample (buccal swab using a long cotton bud to scrape the interior of your cheek or spitting onto blotting paper): this cannot be done without your permission. If you are arrested for “insult and rebellion” the police do not have the right to take a DNA sample.

Refusing is possible (and advisable!) but it is an offence. The police can take a DNA sample from exterior bodily elements (cigarette buds, hair…) and the results can be used against you in a court of law. Be aware that refusing the buccal swab for your DNA is a militant action against DNA databases.

Throughout the detention, try to stay cool despite physical and psychological pressure from the police: Brutality, threats, intimidation, humiliation, cronyism, etc.


If you are let go: for the police questioning at the end of your detention, the same advice holds as for the identity check. The police validate the conditions of the detention. It is inadvisable to sign the document in the case of your prosecution. A signed Report can cause problems for your lawyer during your defense.

The State prosecutor decides on whether to prosecute or not. If there is a prosecution, s/he can decide either :

  • to pursue the investigation: you will be presented to an examining magistrate ;
  • to judge you at another moment: you will receive a convocation, either given to you by a police officer when you are let out of custody, either later at your address ;
  • to hold a hearing right away: you will be brought directly to the court.

IMPORTANT : if you are presented to a judge at the end of your detention (either examining magistrate or directly to the court), accept legal aid from a lawyer: you can choose a lawyer or ask to see a state appointed lawyer; in the latter case, verify with the lawyer that s/he is in fact a lawyer working with the Legal Team.

You can refuse an immediate hearing: preparing your defense with your lawyer is always preferable, even if this means preventive jail time. Talk about it with your lawyer.

If you have a limited income, you are eligible for free Legal Aid.                                          3


You may be subject to “a warrant or notice of expulsion” and an administrative detention for up to 48 hours.

You can challenge both decisions although during this time you remain under police custody.

You have the right to demand medical assistance, a lawyer, and interpreter and to be put in contact with your consulate/embassy and one person of your choice: ask that this person call the Legal Team, or call yourself.

Administrative detention can be extended by a judge for up to 15 days, and may be renewed once. You have the right to appeal the extended detention.

Request to see the person from CIMADE as soon as possible (a French NGO working with uprooted people, especially undocumented immigrants in France): this NGO can help you specifically with regards to contesting the decision of expulsion and administrative detention.

As during police custody, you must be well treated during administrative detention: do not stand for any violence, neither physical nor moral/verbal.


Remember to take pictures of your bruises, cuts, etc.

Keep all stained (with blood) or torn clothes, if the case arises;

With a doctor: (If it is at the Emergency, do not say anything about the facts!)

  • Be sure to have a detailed medical certificate registered: verify that it contains a description of all your injuries and your complaints.
  • Always ask for Temporary Work Disability – even if you are unemployed!

When you see a doctor during police custody, make sure s/he is witness to your injuries and records them! If you have no injuries at the time of your medical examination, do not hesitate to ask the doctor to note the absence of injuries on the medical certificate. This can eventually be used as proof that you suffered violence by the police after/during your police detention.

You can press charges (and it is suggested to do so!)

Contact an anti-repression group that works against police violence, police profiling and database collection, etc.







(slightly changed from


A blockade is likely to constitute an "unlawful assembly" according to CP 431-3 (CP = Code Pénal or French Penal Code). The possible punishment for "Wilful participation in an unlawful assembly" is - according to CP 431-4, a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to 15,000€.

While this might sound shocking, people should bear in mind that these are maximum sentences. French police practice often is not aimed at arresting everyone, but rather at dispersing a crowd, and arresting randomly a few people (more on French police tactics below). The French experience with punishment is that usually people receive a fine of about 500€ or in rare cases a suspended sentence of one month imprisonment. However, we have to point out that there is no guarantee.

An additional possibility is a charge under CP 431-9, "the organisation of a demonstration on the public highway without filing a prior notice pursuant to the conditions laid down by law". This carries a potential punishment of six months in prison and a fine of 7,500€.

This is a potential charge for anyone viewed to be an "organiser" of the blockade. In practice, French activists are not aware of anyone having been charged or sentenced under this article. Put the police might use it to put pressure on people, or to scare people.

Also the traffic law provides charges which can possibly be applied to our action. CR 412-1 (CR = Code de la Route or Highway Code) about [the placement of objects on a public road which form an obstace to cars or] using whatever means to obstruct traffic allows for a punishment of up to 2 years imprisonment and a fine of 4500€.

While a crowd of people cannot be seen as placing an object on a road, it can be seen as a means to obstruct traffic. However, as far as French activists are aware, this article has so far not been used against blockades. The more likely charge is CP 431-4

Possibly relevant are other charges which carry a lower punishment, but which provide an easier legal procedure. This would make it more convenient for these to be used. These charges can be:

  • Code Penal CP R644-2: leaving objects which obstruct traffic on the public road, which can be punished with a fine
  • Code de la Route CR R412-51: placing an object or dispositive on the public road which obstructs traffic and refusing to obey the order of the police to remove this object or dispositive. This can lead to a fine.

In both cases it is a contravention of the 4th class, which means a maximum fine of 750€ is possible.

According to French activists, human beings cannot be seen as objects or 'dispositives', while lock-ons can. However, while these charges might allow for a simpler procedure, we are not aware of them having been used in the past. They are included here just as a possibility.


A good explanation of French criminal procedure you find in french on

More extensive legal guides in other languages are in production. Here we just give a basic overview of the procedures.

In France the police always has the right, even if you are not doing anything wrong, to hold you for up to 4 hours for what is normally an ID check. All what you have to answer is what is on your ID or passport. The advice is to not say more than what's on it (Code of Criminal Procedure CPP 78-3). The French for '”No comment” is “Je n'ai rien à déclarer”. If after these 4 hours you are not notified if being detained (garde à vue), you may just leave.

The police has then the possibility keep you under arrest for 24 hours for the investigation (called garde-à-vue) – however, the first 4 hours are included in this 24 hours (CPP 78-4). This period can be prolonged by another 24 hours.

In this period you can see a lawyer 'commis d'office', that means lawyers which are standby and are provided by the judicial authorities. Several of these lawyers are part of the legal team. You can also ask for an interpreter or a doctor.

Following this garde-à-vue, apart from being released without further prosecution several possibilities of prosecution exist:

  • you are released with a summons to a court case on a later date. Such a summons can be sent to you as well later.
  •  you are brought before the district prosecutor (procureur). S/he can decide to bring you before the court. In this case you have a court case in 10 days until up to 2 months. In this case pre-trial detention is not possible (CPP 394), but bail conditions might be imposed.

The prosecutor can also decide to bring you before court through the fast procedure (comparution immédiate). In this case you can have a trial on the same day (CPP 395) and until up to 3 working days later. In the latter case, pre-trial detention has to be approved by a judge. For an action on Saturday 4 April that means the latest Wednesday 8 April). You can only be tried immediately with your stated consent (given when a lawyer is present). If you do not consent to be tried immediately, the trial takes place within 2 months. The big risk in this procedure is that you can be put in pre-trial detention and that penalties are usally harsher than after a well defended case with the time to prepare it.

  •  the prosecutor can also decide that further investigation is necessary and send you to a judge of investigation. In this case no fast procedure is possible anymore. This case is rather unprobable for the envisaged action.

A prosecution is also possible for the 'contraventions' or the minor category of crimes. In this case a simplified procedure is possible which excludes the contradictory debate. The 'juge de proximité' or 'juge de tribunal de police' decides to give you a fine based on the police reports and without hearing you first. You will receive an announcement of this decision and an order to pay. You then have 30 days to file opposition to the decision, in which case you will have to appear later for a trial.

As this is a much lighter procedure, it has a higher probability to be applied. But this does not exclude the possibility for heavier prosecutions.

In the worst-case scenario (comparution immédiate) you will have to give guarantees that you will appear in order to avoid pre-trial detention. This means proving that you are a reliable person who has a stable position in society  For this it is important to be able to prove you have a fixed address and a stable occupation (job contract, student card, ...). Although this is the worst-case scenario and not very probable to happen, it is good to be prepared and have such proofs at hand for the lawyer.


Penal Code CP 122-7 states: “A person is not criminally liable if confronted with a present or imminent danger to himself, another person or property, he performs an act necessary to ensure the safety of the person or property, except where the means used are disproportionate to the seriousness of the threat.

It can be argued that the imminent danger is the preparation of war crimes and breaches of international law at the NATO summit, which we aimed to prevent through our blockades. However, it is unlikely that a court will follow our argument.


If you are sentenced to a prison sentence, which is not a suspended sentence, than such a sentence is usually served in your own county (your country of residence). This is based on a treaty of the transfer of prisoners to serve their sentence in their home country.

The limitation period (until when you can be charged or a sentence can be enforced) depends on the article you have been sentenced under:

  • Petty Offence (contravention) (CR R412-51, CP R644-2): 3 years according to CP 133-4
  • Misdemeanor (délit) (CP 431-4 / CP 431-9 / CR  L412-1): 5 years according to CP 133-3

Generally, as a non-French citizen, an interdiction to the territory is only possible when participation in an unlawful assembly is armed, so not in our case (CP 431-7, 431-8, 431-11, 431-12).

There also exists the possibility to deport people for public order reasons (this in an exception to the EU law on freedom of movement for workers/services/...). This is a purely administrative act not connected with criminal law. In itself it does not prevent you from later entering France again.

We don't know if these measures have been used in France. See the text of the legal team for more information.


The French police might act differently from what you are used to from your own country. French police is known to often use tear gas to disperse crowds, and to easily use violence against demonstrations. This is something we need to take into account when planning our tactics.