Following an appeal by several organisations, the Conseil d'État today instructed the Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territories to take all necessary measures, within 12 months, to ensure that individual identification numbers are being worn by police officers and gendarmes. The Conseil d'État also issued an order to make the numbers larger so that they are readable, particularly when law enforcement agencies are policing crowds or large gatherings.
To build trust between internal security forces and the general public, and to ensure officers can be identified (in the interests of all concerned), current regulations require police officers and gendarmes to wear a personal identification number, visible on their uniform, except in special cases justified by the nature of their duties. Four organisations (the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme [human rights league], Action des Chrétiens pour l'Abolition de la Torture [action by Christians for the abolition of torture], the Syndicat de la Magistrature [magistrates' trade union] and the Syndicat des Avocats de France [French lawyers' union]), who believe this requirement is often not observed in practice, brought the case before the Conseil d'État after the Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territories implicitly refused to agree to their requests to make the identification numbers more readable and more widely worn.
The Conseil d'État today ruled on this appeal, in its most solemn session, the Assemblée du Contentieux, comprising 17 judges.
All necessary measures to be taken to ensure that personal identification numbers are worn
Firstly, the Conseil d'État ruled that it was the responsibility of the Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territories to take all necessary measures, within 12 months, to ensure that police officers and gendarmes comply with the obligation to wear their personal identification number visibly, including when the usual location of the identification number is covered by personal protective equipment (such as bullet-proof vests).
Although the Minister regularly issues general reminders of the rules, the testimonies, photographs and videos provided by the petitioning organisations, several reports and notices by the Défenseur des Droits [national ombudsman] and the Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l'Homme [French consultative commission on human rights], and observations made by police and national gendarmerie inspectorates, all allow the same conclusions to be drawn, against which there is no evidence to the contrary: there is widespread failure by police officers and gendarmes to wear their identity numbers visibly. These findings are not limited to one-off failures or individual behaviour. It may be due to the fact that officers are not wearing the detachable band on which the number appears, or that it is covered by protective equipment. The Minister must take all necessary measures to remedy the situation.
Technical elements to be reviewed to ensure readability in all operational settings
The Conseil d'État also instructed the Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territories to take all necessary measures, again within 12 months, to ensure that ID numbers are large enough to be readable.
The Conseil d'Etat took the view that the current size of identification numbers was inadequate, particularly when law enforcement officers were policing crowds or large gatherings. The number is made up of seven digits less than 1 cm high, affixed to a detachable band that is worn on the officer’s shoulder or chest. The band itself measures only 5 cm x 1.2 cm for police officers, and 4.5 cm x 1.2 cm for gendarmes. These dimensions are not large enough to ensure that the numbers are readable in all operational situations where they are required to be worn.
In making its decision, the Conseil d'Etat clarified the role of the administrative judge when faced with the administration's refusal to cease the disregard of a legal obligation. If the disregard is proven, the administrative judge can instruct the administration to take all necessary measures to remedy the situation. However, it is not the role of the judge to take the place of public authorities in determining public policy, nor to instruct them to do so.
Read the decision (in French)