Why Court Watch ?

, par  Jeanne Sulzer

“Court Watch” is a trial monitoring and online law and jurisprudence database project to promote a civilian oversight of countering-terrorism legislations and practice in France, providing up to date information to promote and assist human rights advocacy on counter terrorism judicial practice.

The purpose of this project is to provide accessible and reliable information about counter-terrorism criminal and administrative law and practice that could be used by human rights actors for advocacy and strategic litigation, by legal practitioners and researchers in France and abroad.


In order to deal with the evolving forms of terror threats, French legislators have introduced a series of criminal and administrative legal reforms in recent years. These legislative measures have been focusing both on repression and prevention : it enlarges the definition of terrorism and introduces new crimes, including the criminalization of preparation phases, before having moved to the acting ; it modifies the rules of procedures ; and it attributes more and more authority to executive agencies, the police, and intelligence services. Today, terrorism related legal rules became blurred, complex and uneasy to grasp.

The scope of counter terrorism legislations impacts a large spectrum of fundamental rights and freedom including in fields that are initially unrelated to the prevention and fight against terrorism. Those laws, including secondary legislation, give rise to legal and constitutional challenge by those targeted by the measures but also by human rights groups and legal practitioners.


In Court, defense lawyers representing alleged terrorism perpetrators have been struggling to provide a fair and effective legal representation given the “zero-tolerance” prosecutorial policy, the difficulty to challenge secret evidence and the linkage between the administrative and judicial fields. Practitioners have voiced concerns about the difficulty to keep abreast of the implementation of new legislations and jurisprudence of French courts. Additionally, given that in France there is no public transcript of courts hearings, nor access to the final decisions, it is very difficult to follow up on how these laws - that leaves an important discretionary authority in their interpretation in the hands of the prosecutors and judges - are applied. The decisions of criminal courts are not published, are extremely hard to access, and lawyers, researcher, human rights avdcoactes can not have access to these decisions. There is therefore a lack of information regarding the implementation of terrorism related cases.