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POLICE

EXPLAINED: What are your legal rights as a foreigner in France?

The French Constitution offers broad legal protection to anyone in France from the right to trial to the right to legal advice, but there are some scenarios specific to foreigners in France.

What are my rights if I am arrested or imprisoned?

If you are arrested you have the same rights as a French citizen to legal advice, phone calls, bail and a full trial – full details HERE.

There are some extra things to be aware of however;

Once arrested you have the right to an interpreter during police interviews.

You have the right to call your Embassy, although the help the Embassy can offer you is much more limited than many people think.

If you are released while awaiting a court hearing you will usually have to hand over your passport and undertake not to leave the country. If you are not a French resident, the judge can assign you a residency address in France.

If you are found guilty and imprisoned in France you maintain several rights, such as the right to vote (if you have French citizenship). France’s interior ministry has a handout detailing these rights, HERE

Can I appeal against my sentence?

Yes, you have the right to appeal a court’s decision.

Keep in mind that this can be a lengthy process with very specific deadlines – and it can go either way, so you risk a sentence being increased.

If you are acquitted in court,  French law also allows for the prosecution to appeal against your acquittal.

I am the victim of a crime, what are my rights?

In France, the role of the state and the prosecutor is to protect the peace, this means that if someone commits a crime against you, it is up to the state to decide whether to move forward with criminal proceedings.

It’s not up to the victim to decide whether or not to press charges.

Conversely, if the state chooses not to go ahead with criminal proceedings, but you (the victim) want them to press charges, you have the right to appeal against their decision to drop the case.

Can I be expelled from France for committing a crime?

Yes, although this is generally reserved for people who have committed serious crimes such as violent crime, drug-trafficking or terror offences.

If you have been jailed for a serious crime in France you can be served with an ‘interdiction du territoire français‘ – a ban from French soil – on your release. These are reserved for the most serious offences and simply being incarcerated does not necessarily lead to expulsion.

If you are a full-time resident in France but not a French citizen, then being convicted of a crime can mean that your visa or residency card will not be renewed. This is again usually reserved for people who have committed very serious crimes, but in certain circumstances residency can be withdrawn for less serious offences such as driving offences or begging. 

READ ALSO What offences can lose you the right to live in France?

If you have French citizenship it’s virtually impossible for your to be expelled from France although in some rare cases – usually connected to terrorism – citizenship of dual nationals can be revoked.

What are the rules for minors?

Minors in the French legal system have some specific rights. The EU has laid out the specific rights of minors, which apply in France as well, and apply from the time of arrest.

  • Right to be be quickly informed of legal rights, and to be assisted by your parents (or other appropriate persons)
  • Right to be assisted by a lawyer
  • No prison sentence should be imposed on a minor if they have not been assisted by a lawyer during the court hearings. All measures should be exhausted to avoid a child being imprisoned.
  • Right to be detained separately from adults if sent to prison.
  • Children should not be required “to reimburse the costs of certain procedural measures, for example, for individual assessment, medical examination, or audio-visual recording of interviews.”
  • A child’s privacy should be respected and “questioning will be audio-visually recorded or recorded in another appropriate manner.”
  • Repeatedly questioning children should be avoided.

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For members

SCHOOLS

Are packed lunches really banned in French schools?

School children in France are entitled to a lunchtime meal of three, or even four courses – but what if you prefer to provide meals yourself? 

Are packed lunches really banned in French schools?

French school meals are, famously, pretty good – children get a three or even four-course meal of properly prepared dishes and the menu (including cheese course) is usually published in the local town newsletter so everyone can see the types of meals being served.

The concept of a proper meal at lunchtime is an important one. “The diet of a school-age child is essential for their growth, mental development and learning abilities,” the French Education Ministry says in a preamble about school meals on its website. “It must be balanced, varied and distributed throughout the day: for example 20 percent of total energy in the morning, 40 percent at midday, 10 percent at four o’clock and 30 percent in the evening.”

And it’s not all about nutrition, the social aspect of sitting together and eating a meal is also important – the ministry continues: “Mealtime is an opportunity for students to relax and communicate. It should also be a time for discovery and enjoyment.”

All schools provide meals in a canteen and most pupils take up the opportunity – however it’s also possible for pupils to go home at lunchtime so that they can eat lunch with their parents.

The idea of taking in a packed lunch (panier-repas) is much less common in France – but is it actually banned?

The rules on lunch

At écoles (up to age 11), the local authority or établissement public de coopération intercommunale (EPCI) is responsible for providing quality school meals. This generally involves meals being provided via a central kitchen, and then delivered to the school’s kitchen, where it can be kept warm, or reheated as necessary.

The system is slightly different in collèges and lycées (attended by children aged 11 and up). In those establishments, catering falls into the purview of the wider département or region – and is routinely managed directly by individual establishments, which will have catering staff on site to prepare meals. Often, meal services are outsourced to private businesses, which operate the kitchens.

There are various rules and regulations in place regarding what food is offered, and how long a child has to eat – which is, in part, why the school lunch period is so long. Children must be allowed a 30-minute period to eat their meal, from the moment they sit down with it at the table. 

Then, they’re given time to play and relax before afternoon classes start.

READ ALSO What you need to know if your child is starting school in France

At a minimum lunch must include a main course with a side dish, a dairy-based product, as well as a starter and/or a dessert. Meals must also, the government says, be composed of 50 percent sustainable quality products (including 20 percent organic).

Some local authorities go further and serve only or mostly food that is organic, locally sourced or both.

Water and bread must be freely available, but salt and condiments can only be added in preparation – no sauce bottles or salt and pepper on the tables. 

Daily menus are generally available to view on school websites and many town newspapers or newsletters also publish them.

Parents pay a fee for the school lunch, which is calculated according to income and can be free in the case of low-income families.

Packed lunch

But what if your child doesn’t like the school lunches and you don’t have time to pick them up, cook a full lunch and take them back in the afternoon everyday? The obvious solution would seem to be to send them in with a packed lunch, as is common in the UK and USA.

In theory this is possible, but only in certain circumstances and with very strict rules and caveats. 

The Ministry, in a written response to a Senator’s question in 2019, said: “The use of packed lunches [home-supplied meals] by primary school students can provide an alternative to school meals. This method of catering is authorised in particular for children with a medically established food allergy or intolerance, requiring an adapted diet.”

READ ALSO How to enrol a non-French speaking child in school in France

It added: “the preparation and use of packed lunches in schools must follow certain rules. First of all, it is important to respect the cold chain”.

The cold chain is a term applied to food handling and distribution – it’s usually used by food-preparation businesses, but in the context of a packed lunch it means that food prepared at home must be kept in appropriately cool conditions until it is ready to eat. It would be the responsibility of parents to ensure that the food is delivered to school in containers appropriate for the job (ie an insulated cool bag).

Once at the school, it is up to whoever manages the kitchen to ensure that food is properly reheated. This becomes the sticking point at which many parents’ requests to send their children to school with a packed lunch, rather than go to the canteen, or eat back at home, are refused.

The reheating concern suggests that schools are also expecting parents to prepare a proper meal – rather than just throwing some sandwiches and a cereal bar into a bag.

Unless there’s a genuine and proven health reason for your child to eat a home-prepared meal, most parents will probably find the school won’t budge on this – even in cases of a strike by kitchen staff or lunch monitors.

READ ALSO Just how much do private schools in France cost?

The Ministry’s written response explains: “[A]s this is an optional public service, the municipality can justify its refusal to admit the children concerned by objective material and financial constraints, such as the need to equip itself with additional refrigerators, or for additional supervisory staff to supervise them during lunch.”

As well as the practicalities, for some schools this is an equality issue – because of the varied fee structure for school lunches what happens in effect is that richer parents are subsidising a good quality lunchtime meal for poorer students in the class; if everyone brought in a packed lunch and therefore stopped paying the fee, the lower-income kids would miss out. 

What about allergies or other health issues?

Children with allergies or other health issues that require a particular diet must be accommodated. An individual meal plan – known as a projet d’accueil individualisé (PAI) can be set up. More details (in French) are available here, on the government’s website.

It also becomes easier for parents to provide home-produced meals in such instances. As ever, it is up to the parents to ensure any meals are appropriately packaged and transported to school.

Not all schools

Some individual schools in France do permit pupils to bring in meals from home. They must be taken to school in an appropriate cold-storage container, and they will be stored in the kitchen area until they are needed, when meals will – if necessary – be reheated.

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