March 27, 2013 7:02 pm

France votes to scrap lèse-majesté law

France is set to scrap its 19th century crime of lèse-majesté after the European Court of Human Rights condemed the conviction of a protester who held up a banner calling former president Nicolas Sarkozy “a little jerk”.

The law committee of the National Assembly unanimously voted to suppress the law on Wednesday, saying it was no longer justified in a modern democracy. The decision is likely to be confirmed by the full assembly and the senate next month.

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The continued existence of the 1881 law outlawing offending the head of state was highlighted in 2008 when Hervé Eon, a socialist politician, was charged after waving a placard at Mr Sarkozy bearing the words: “Get lost you little jerk”.

Those were the exact words Mr Sarkozy, then president, had famously hurled earlier the same year at a member of the public who refused to shake his hand.

Mr Eon was arrested and convicted. Although he was only given a suspended fined of €30, he took the case to the European court as a matter of principle.

The court earlier this month judged the conviction to be disproportionate and likely to deter “satire which could contribute to debate on matters of general interest”.

The possible fine under the law of up to €45,000 was said by the parliamentary law committee to be “far from the means of gaining the respect of the citizens” for the president. It was used six times under the presidency of General de Gaulle, but subsequently lay dormant until revived under Mr Sarkozy.

The president could, like all citizens, make use if necessary of a general law against public insult, which carries a maximum fine of €12,000, the committee said.

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