“I hope that France will find harmony again”

“I hope that France will find harmony again”

At the top of the judicial hierarchy until 2023, François Molins confides in Le Pèlerin about his forty-six years of service “on behalf of the French people”, on the occasion of the publication of his memoirs.

You are the figure who reassured the French during the attacks of 2015 and 2016 (Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan, Nice, etc.). What imperative did you respond to?
The trauma was such that there was a legitimate need for our fellow citizens to be informed. As the Paris public prosecutor1, in charge of terrorist cases, and as the law gives me the right to do so, I spoke up. With the three principles that all magistrates must respect: the presumption of innocence, the dignity of victims and the secrecy of investigations.

What memories do you have from that time?
Emotion, suffering, intensity. We felt like we were stuck in a downward spiral. For each attack, we were from 8 to 37 magistrates gathered in a crisis unit operating seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with camp beds, computers, television… With intense stress as long as the terrorists were not under the locks. During this period, France suffered an attack or attempted attack every four to five weeks.

Olympic Games in Paris this summer, war in Gaza… Today, where is the terrorist risk in France?
The threat is real. Samuel Paty and Dominique Bernard were assassinated; Al-Qaeda has recently threatened France and Sweden. Since 2015, the law has constantly evolved: France has equipped itself with the most advanced arsenal of legislative measures in the world, but this can only prevent individuals polluted by the deadly ideology of Daesh and/or unbalanced people act out. No risk does not exist.

Is the monitoring of S files linked to radical Islamism effective?
S files correspond to attention files: if the police checks them, they note the date, location, etc. But the DGSI 2 does not have the means to monitor 24 hours a day the 5,100 people listed as S for radical Islamism. And we must respect the rule of law: we cannot detain someone before they have committed an offense. Intelligence therefore focuses on the most dangerous. On the other hand, we are more efficient than ten years ago. A permanent staff brings together all the information: judicial monitoring of those leaving prison, individual administrative control and surveillance measures, etc. The attacks of 2015 and 2016 have strengthened links between services.

We see a gap between delinquency in the suburbs and terrorism. How to act?
We need to do in-depth work in the neighborhoods. When I was a deputy prosecutor at the Lyon public prosecutor’s office in 1996, we followed up those suspected of organized crime. And we had set up local delinquency treatment groups (GLTD) with the municipal police, National Education, etc. with the idea of ​​zero tolerance: any offense must receive a response. We worked in several neighborhoods, followed individuals, and arrested some. Delinquency has fallen by 70% in three years. Ten years later, in Bobigny (Seine-Saint-Denis), the largest court in France, with a prosecutor’s office of 40 magistrates, we permanently had 5 or 6 GLTDs who operated for six months, a year. This work depends on the means and the will of the prosecutors.

From the start of your career, you were confronted with the anger of winegrowers. Clashes around “megabasins”, revolts of yellow vests, suburbs, farmers… Is France a violent country?
Forty years ago already in Carcassonne (Aude), winegrowers set fires… Today, the same region has caught fire. It is sad to see violence being established as a means of protest. To me, this means that anger is not being dealt with.

The Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, spoke of “ecoterrorism”: what do you think?
I don’t know this term. Terrorism is the disturbance of public order through intimidation or terror. These are major acts. And ecological terrorism, defined by the Penal Code, covers something completely different: for example, dumping toxic products into water or air networks… If we have very effective texts to fight against terrorism, the danger remains to the fact that they are not used correctly.

Throughout your career, you have been under the tutelage of the Ministry of Justice on the prosecution. Is there a real separation of powers in France?
Yes! The supervision of politics is limited to the application of penal policy via general directives: thus, the public prosecutor’s offices are hierarchically subordinate to the Minister of Justice. And since July 2013, the latter can no longer give instructions to the prosecutor in individual cases. On the other hand, the problem remains unresolved concerning the appointment of public prosecutors: it remains the responsibility of the Minister of Justice, the Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSM) only giving an advisory opinion. I am in favor of making a compliant opinion mandatory – we have been asking for it for twenty years. I will go even further: I am in favor of the CSM choosing the prosecutors and attorneys general. They would of course remain subject to the Minister of Justice for criminal policy and would be sanctioned if they did not apply it.

Have you noticed an increase in violence in forty-six years of service?
Yes. We are experiencing an increase in violence against a backdrop of psychiatric disorders, linked to drug trafficking and offenses committed under their influence. The networks have expanded. The Anti-Narcotics Office is doing its job, but the work is immense. Money laundering still needs to be monitored more closely. Justice has also taken over another area, violence against women, which has long remained unpunished.

Speech is freed. But do justice and the police follow?
The judicialization of this violence marks the end of impunity. At the Bobigny public prosecutor’s office, we created the “high danger telephone”, which allows women to alert the police. Victims can now stay at home while violent spouses are away. Specialized centers exist in each court, and the training of professionals continues.

The police often criticize the justice system for its laxity…
I’ve always heard that! But justice has never been so severe. The average sentences handed down has increased.

The President of the Republic speaks of “decivilization”, “wilding”. What is your point of view?
I don’t dwell on semantics. But there is a real issue in certain neighborhoods: there is a lack of respect for the Republic and the right to success. A member of the Let’s Talk Democracy association, I often go to high schools where young people feel excluded. We must restart the social elevator.

It is often said that justice lacks resources, but the Minister of Justice has announced a plan worth 11 billion euros and 10,000 additional jobs…
The budget increased from 6 billion in 2010 to 11 billion in 2024, this is to be welcomed, but this does not solve all the problems. For thirty years, political power has accumulated reforms without the means to apply them. The institution was gradually drowned. It will take time for her to come out of this. Immediate appearance hearings can last until 4 a.m.! Legislating under the influence of emotion, following news items, which politicians are accustomed to, leads to the adoption of a large number of poorly constructed texts which slow down procedures.

Justice is considered too complex, too slow…
The French are right. A labor dispute can take three years before a response is provided. We need more resources, a simplification of procedures, more collegiality.

What has carried you through all these years?
The passion, which has never left me. A demand for justice, loyalty. During my law studies, I understood that I could not become a lawyer, because I did not want to defend “clients” whose sincerity I doubted. For me, the prosecution had a dynamic image: it was about fighting, under the directives of the Minister of Justice, with the freedom to innovate, as best as possible against delinquency.

Was your faith a strong anchor, particularly during the attacks?
Certainly. On January 7, 2015, when I arrived at the crime scene in the Charlie Hebdo editorial office, I isolated myself to reflect for a few minutes, find inner strength and commune with the victims and their families.
What have your ten years of study with the Jesuits brought you?
Humanism, openness to the world, respect: others have the right to be as they are. I am very respectful of other religions, and if I support the right to blasphemy, I do not use it. The danger is not religion, but the manipulation of religion by ideologies.

Catalan, you are passionate about mountaineering. Is the mountain your viaticum?
The mountain shaped me. When we find ourselves faced with danger while climbing, we must not lose our composure and we are all responsible for each other. Mountaineering inspired my management style: every leader needs the collective. Its role, based on trust and esteem, is to increase the value of others.

What do you hope for France in 2024?
I hope that France will find harmony again.

1) Head of the public prosecutor’s office, the public prosecutor leads public action and requires the application of the law. He represents the interests of society.

2) General Directorate of Internal Services.

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