(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 216
by Stuart Russell
A 65-year-old lawyer is arrested at home at dawn, his home is searched by the police, he is involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital and then suspended from practice for three years. In China? No, in France. In one of the most spectacular and outrageous attacks against lawyers in French history, people’s lawyer Bernard Ripert of Grenoble suffered this massive indignity in May 2016.
Ripert was arrested, allegedly for ’intimidating a judge’, and then immediately placed in a psychiatric hospital against his will. An outspoken and courageous member of the Bar for more than 40 years, he was the quintessential people’s lawyer. Since 1976 he has acted pro bono for demonstrators, as well as conscientious objectors, the poor and the downtrodden. In previous years he represented the terrorist group Action Directe. He was well-known across the country for his unbridled attacks against injustice and arbitrariness, inside and outside the courtroom, and because of this many judges detested him, particularly in Grenoble.
Over the years Ripert was subjected to professional disciplinary proceedings, and sanctioned on three occasions, including a one year suspension. Although an 11-member panel acquitted him of disciplinary charges brought in early May this year, the prosecutor lodged an appeal before the Grenoble Court of Appeal. His subsequent arrest unleashed a wave of indignation, solidarity and protest on the part of the Bar, in France and across Europe. The day after his arrest about a fifth of lawyers in Grenoble demonstrated in robes against his arrest, while he undertook a hunger strike.