120403Clement1April 4, 2012

“An appeals court Thursday overturned the conviction of six people accused of participating in a pedophilia ring in northern France five years ago, unraveling one of the most mismanaged cases in French judicial history and leaving the nation asking how the court system could have gone so awry.

“ ‘I apologize to the acquitted and their families,’ Justice Minister Pascal Clement said at a news conference after the verdict was announced in Paris.

“He ordered a triple investigation of the police, judiciary and social services involved in the case…. ‘I want the French people to know that I will get to the bottom of this,’ he said.

“Paris’s chief prosecutor, Yves Bot, had personally asked the appeal court to acquit the six, calling the case a ‘true catastrophe’ and demanding an investigation into who was responsible for such a gross miscarriage of justice. ‘We must do what is necessary to make sure this doesn’t happen again,’ Bot said.

“But others were heartened by the appeal, saying that it showed that the courts were capable of self-criticism and self-correction.

“ ‘That’s indispensable in a democracy,’ said Dominique Wolton, a sociologist at France’s National Council for Scientific Research.

“The case began in 2000 in the town of Outreau after a number of children told a teacher that they had been abused.

“It was marred by deep doubts from the beginning, said Yves Jannier, France’s attorney general.

“He noted that the investigative report by the police in July 2002 found ‘more doubts than certainties’ in the accusations, but said, ‘No one had enough critical sense to stop the machine.’ ”

– From the International Herald Tribune, Dec. 2, 2005

Thanks to lawyer-neighbor Lou Lesesne for steering me to this account of the Outreau Affair.
Although the case differs in numerous significant ways from such U.S. ritual-abuse prosecutions as Little Rascals and McMartin, I was most struck by the readiness of French officials to acknowledge and apologize for a justice system gone crazy.

Soon after, president Jacques Chirac wrote letters to 13 acquitted defendants and to the widow of a defendant who committed suicide in prison awaiting trial: “Justice is the soul of the republic. We have the imperative duty to draw all the lessons from the immense sufferings endured by all the accused whose innocence has now been established.”

How to explain the French state’s humane response to its costly misdeeds, while our own prosecutors, attorneys general, governors, et al., keep silent?

Why aren’t they too “capable of self-criticism and self-correction”?

Why don’t they too recognize “the immense sufferings endured by all the accused”?