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What Did French Minister of Justice Do to End Up in Court?

France’s Minister of Justice Eric Dupond-Moretti’s long-awaited misconduct trial–which addresses accusations that he used his position to settle personal scores resulting in an inevitable conflict of interest– started on Monday. It presents an exceptional and unprecedented case which has sparked questions about the checks and balances in French democracy.

Dupond-Moretti, a former high-profile lawyer, is accused of misusing his position as justice minister by ordering investigations of magistrates who questioned him, his friends, and his clients. If convicted of illegal conflict of interest, he faces up to five years in prison and a fine of half a million euros.

He is being tried in a special court, the Court of Justice of the Republic, for alleged misconduct by the administration. He will be judged by three professional magistrates and 12 members of parliament, six from the lower house and six from the Senate. In order for conviction and sentencing to occur, a majority of eight votes is necessary.

Soon after his ministerial appointment, he launched administrative inquiries against three magistrates from the national financial prosecutor’s office and a former investigating judge in Monaco who held jurisdiction over procedures which directly involved Dupond-Moretti.

Dupond-Moretti’s refusal to resign–or at the very least recuse himself from his current position overseeing France’s legal system as the trial plays out–has sparked outrage. At the onset of the anticipated two-week trial, he denied guilt and labeled the charges against him as “illegitimate.”

“The presumption of innocence has been trampled. I’ve been confronted with insults and lies,” he told the court.

According to legal historians, this is the first occasion in contemporary French history that a government minister has been tried while still in office. Until now, it was assumed that members of the government should retire if they were under investigation.

President Emmanuel Macron selected Dupond-Moretti as Justice Minister in 2020, and he has stated that he will continue in office until the trial concludes on November 17. On the eve of the trial, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne reaffirmed her support for Dupond-Moretti.