France's Dati puts justice bill before Assembly



Agence France-Presse
July 17, 2007

French Justice Minister Rachida Dati appeared before the National Assembly Tuesday to urge support for a new law-and-order bill that opposition Socialists say ignores the real reasons for crime and will only increase prison over-crowding.

The bill — which has already been adopted by the Senate — establishes minimum sentences for repeat offenders, and allows courts to treat 16 to 18 year-olds accused of serious offices as adults.

Left-wing politicians and campaigning groups say the measures, part of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s election manifesto in May, are harshly repressive and remove the powers of discretion from court judges.

But according to Dati, the law is needed as a "sign of firmness directed at hardened delinquents" and she disputes the "caricature" made of its provisions by the left.

"One can be firm and at the same time just and humane. Indeed one can be juster and more humane if one is also capable of being firm. The most important tool in the prevention of crime is the certainty of punishment," Dati told deputies.

Her appearance before the Assembly came at a testing time for Dati, 41, whose appointment by Sarkozy has made her an emblematic figure for France ‘s large immigrant Muslim community.

Also on Tuesday an appeals court in the northeastern city of Nancy was hearing the case against her brother Jamal Dati, 34, who in February was given a six month suspended prison term for drugs trafficking.

A second brother — Omar — was reported last week to be under court supervision after being caught dealing in cannabis.

Dati said Tuesday morning that she had no comment to make on the cases. "In all families there are difficult moments, difficult stories, difficult episodes," she told RTL radio.

The second of 12 children born to a Moroccan labourer, Dati was brought up in a poor neighbourhood of Chalons-sur-Saone and worked as an accountant and a magistrate before being talent-spotted by Sarkozy.

Though her nomination as France ‘s first Muslim in a top cabinet post was widely welcomed, she faces allegations of having a domineering manner in office which has alienated many of her staff.

In the last 10 days four senior civil servants including her cabinet director have resigned, offically for personal reasons but unofficially because they found her difficult to work with.

Anti-racist groups have condemned what they say is a whispering campaign against Dati, who — according to SOS-Racisme — "is paying the tough price for being the first person of north African descent to reach such a high position of responsibility".

Despite her difficulties, the minister continues to enjoy high ratings in opinion polls — in the latest 66 percent said they were satisfied with her performance — and last week Sarkozy repeated that she has his "total confidence".

Copyright © 2007 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AFP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Agence France-Presse.



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