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Traoré affair, secularism, released prisoners...the controversial record of Nicole Belloubet in Justice

The only (small) surprise in a ministerial reshuffle without panache, the arrival of Nicole Belloubet on rue de Grenelle focused the attention of right-wing oppositions, for lack of another political “heavyweight” on whom to fall with short arms.

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Traoré affair, secularism, released prisoners...the controversial record of Nicole Belloubet in Justice

The only (small) surprise in a ministerial reshuffle without panache, the arrival of Nicole Belloubet on rue de Grenelle focused the attention of right-wing oppositions, for lack of another political “heavyweight” on whom to fall with short arms. “One of the most lax Ministers of Justice of the Fifth Republic,” criticized Bruno Retailleau, leader of the LR senators, on X (ex Twitter). “Stand left with Belloubet,” added party president Éric Ciotti. “Abandonment of Mila threatened by the Islamist pack, laxity, culture of excuses” inventories the president of the RN Jordan Bardella, regretting “a disastrous signal”.

It must be said that the successor to Amélie Oudéa-Castéra in the portfolio of National Education, supposed to put an end to the concert of pans triggered by her colleague now only in charge of sports and the Olympic games, denotes with the promise of authority formulated by the President of the Republic and his Prime Minister.

The one who inherits the objective of “civic rearmament” desired by Emmanuel Macron during his vows notably, in a column in 2016 entitled… “Should we abolish the Ministry of National Education?” (you can’t make this up), blasted the “tribes” about “the restoration of authority or the wearing of a blouse”. Eight years later, it is she who will supervise the experimentation of wearing uniforms at school, before its possible generalization at the start of the school year in September.

But it is also the government past of Nicole Belloubet which arouses controversy. Minister of Justice from June 2017 to July 2020 (she was urgently appointed to replace François Bayrou during his indictment in the affair of the Modem parliamentary assistants, a case for which he was acquitted at first instance pending judgment on appeal), Nicole Belloubet did not have three quiet years at Place Vendôme - far from it.

From January 2018, a few months after her appointment, Nicole Belloubet suffered the most significant prison crisis in recent decades. A baptism of fire. The staff of the prison system went on strike after an increase in attacks within the prisons, and the mobilization of prison guards and officers was such that it was the forces responsible for maintaining order who had to be mobilized in seven penitentiary establishments.

Also read: Why prison overcrowding is exploding

The end of the crisis was negotiated with the unions, in particular thanks to the promise of an increase in compensation and the hiring of additional staff. But the heart of the security tension within prisons lay first and foremost in prison overcrowding, a phenomenon known to candidate Emmanuel Macron who had promised the creation of 15,000 additional prison places. When Nicole Belloubet was minister, this promise quickly deflated: in the end, only 7,000 additional places were decided.

After the outbreak of the Benalla affair in the summer of 2018, a committee of inquiry in the Senate led by Philippe Bas sought to shed light on possible political mistakes that may have been committed. Provoking the anger of Nicole Belloubet, who affirmed in a column in Le Monde that in the name of the separation of powers, a parliamentary commission of inquiry cannot target what affects the President of the Republic nor concern an ongoing judicial investigation .

A media intervention which has been denied by several professors of public law, such as Paul Cassia, who believes on the contrary that this separation of powers precisely allows the Senate to investigate as long as the subject of its investigation does not concern the facts which gave rise to at the opening of a judicial investigation.

The day after a series of demonstrations against “racism and police violence” at the call of several groups in support of Adama Traoré, a young black man killed by the police while trying to flee a check (a dismissal of the case against police officers was returned in 2023), we learned that the President of the Republic had asked the Minister of Justice Nicole Belloubet to look into the case of Adama Traoré.

If the minister's entourage affirmed that she was only told to ensure the "proper functioning of justice", there were numerous criticisms. Starting with that of the lawyer for Adama Traoré's family: “I ask you to respect the separation of powers. The law prohibits the Minister of Justice from intervening in individual cases,” condemned Yassine Bouzrou on Twitter, forcing the government to backpedal.

Not content with calling into question the principle of separation of powers while an investigation is underway, the minister was also ridiculed by the party she intended to please. The sequence was criticized by the right, who saw it, in Bruno Retailleau's comments, as proof of the government's “cowardice” in the face of “a family which openly despises the hand so imprudently extended”.

Funny return to politics for Nicole Belloubet in January 2020. In the space of a few weeks, this is the second time that the Minister of Justice has interfered in a current legal case. After taking a position, in January, in the Halimi affair in which she invoked the rule of law to justify the criminal irresponsibility of Sarah Halimi's murderer, she then got her feet wet again, this time about Mila, a young girl who received death threats for having heavily criticized Islam. “The insult to religion is obviously an attack on freedom of conscience, it’s serious, but it has nothing to do with the threat,” she declared on Europe 1.

Enough to provoke a reaction from the cascading politicians who, on the right and on the left, have accused her of attacks on “the rights and values ​​of the Republic”, and accused her of favoring “the reestablishment of the crime of blasphemy”.

Also read: Henri Peña-Ruiz: “The Mila affair should not shake our attachment to secularism”

Richard Malka, Mila's lawyer, has since asked the Minister of Justice, although a law professor, in the media to revise her fundamentals: "since 1789, and even more so since the press law of 1881, the Freedom of expression gives the right to criticize religions, if not its followers. We are not in Pakistan where blasphemy is condemned by article 95-C of the Penal Code.

In March 2020, Nicole Belloubet took several measures to reduce the prison population at the start of the health crisis triggered by the Covid-19 epidemic. She thus announced that she had... encouraged the release of “several thousand” of prisoners, particularly those at the end of their sentences, and asked to postpone the execution of short sentences.

“Regulating the occupancy of remand centers constitutes (…) a priority during this period. These measures are already being implemented. In recent days, we have recorded around thirty daily entries into prison compared to more than 200 usually,” she noted in a press release.

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