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European Court of Human Rights; France: Registration in French National Sex Offender Database Does Not Violate Rights

(Jan. 27, 2010) On December 17, 2009, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that registration in the French national sex offender database did not violate article 7, §1 (no criminal penalty without a law) and article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. (Bouchacourt v. France, application 5335/06, Gardel v. France, application 16428/05, and M.B. v. France, application 22115/06, [in French only], ECHR website (search by case), (last visited Jan. 21, 2010); European Convention on Human Rights, Council of Europe website,
(last visited Jan. 22, 2010)).

The applicants, Bouchardot, Gardel, and M.B., had been sentenced in 1996, 2003, and 2001, respectively, to terms of imprisonment for rapes of 15 year-old minors by a person in position of authority. A 2004 Law, which entered into force on June 30, 2005, had created a national judicial database of sex offenders. The applicants were notified in August 2005, November 2005, and February 2006, respectively, of their inclusion in this database based upon provisions of the 2004 Law that established its retroactive application. The applicants argued before the ECHR that this inclusion violated articles 7§1 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. (ECHR website, id.).

The Court found that inclusion in the database and its corresponding obligations (proof of one's address every year and notification of any change in address within two weeks for a maximum period of 30 years) did not constitute a “penalty” within the meaning of article 7, §1, but rather a preventive measure to which the principle of non-retroactivity did not apply. (Id.)

The Court further found that “registration in the FIJAIS [national sex offenders database], as applied to the applicants, strikes a fair balance between the competing private and public interests at stake” and that France did not violate article 8. The Court noted that the length of the data conservation – from 20 to 30 years, depending upon the gravity of the offenses – was not disproportionate to the aim pursued, the prevention of sexual offenses. In addition, the applicants had the possibility of submitting a request for the deletion of the data when such data were no longer needed for the aim pursued. Finally, consultation with the database was restricted to certain agencies that are subject to a stringent duty of confidentiality. (Id.)