Mouvement pour l'Égalité entre les Femmes et les Hommes


Forced suicide in French law

Before the law of July 30, 2020 introducing two new aggravating circumstances to moral harassment, suicide and attempted suicide, we were, in France, faced with a legal vacuum.

If moral harassment at work was recognized in 2002, ratifying years of industrial tribunal jurisprudence, it was not until 2010 that moral harassment within couples, psychological violence, were recognized and integrated into the Penal Code :

“The violence provided for by the provisions of this section is punishable regardless of its nature, including if it is psychological violence” (art. 222‐14‐3 of the penal code).

All this violence – lies, sarcasm, insults, contempt, humiliation, denigration, isolation, financial dependence, threats, are recognized in a specific offense.

The Grenelle against domestic violence is a set of round tables organized by the French government between September 3 and November 25, 2019. Its objective was to bring together people concerned by issues related to domestic violence, in order to determine measures to be taken. take to fight them.

It is this Grenelle which made it possible to achieve the inclusion in the law of the notion of forced suicide.

The constraint, highlighted by Véronique Wester‐Ouisse, lecturer in private law and criminal law and now vice‐prosecutor in Quimper, was to ensure compliance with the principle of criminal legality: nulla poena nullum crimen sine lege – no conviction possible of an act, even if it is extremely shocking, without the legislator having previously provided that it must be criminally sanctioned and having a clear, precise text.

Véronique Wester‐Ouisse also made it possible to draw up a table of existing incriminations and to note that none could find application in the event of suicide caused by repeated violence and humiliation of a spouse:

1) Voluntary homicide, murder or assassination, cannot establish guilt.

Certainly, in the case of a spouse’s suicide, physical or psychological violence has led to death, but

• it is indeed the person themselves who, through their act of suicide, is the cause of death

• most of the time he will lack the intent to kill. By definition, the perverted spouse uses his victim, needs them. His disappearance, in principle, does not help “his affairs”.

2) Suicide provoked by a spouse will bring to mind the incrimination of provocation to suicide, in article 223‐13 of the Penal Code: “The fact of provoking the suicide of another is punishable by three years of imprisonment and 45,000 euros fine when the provocation was followed by suicide or a suicide attempt.”

Although it can indeed be considered in some cases, this offense is too restrictive:

• Demonstrate provocations to suicide, real incitements to suicide pronounced by the accused, directly addressed to the spouse

it requires a consummate act (a suicide or an attempt)

There must be an intention on the part of the provocateur aimed at causing the spouse to actually commit suicide: but it will be difficult to find such intentions in someone who needs the object of their perversion.

3) Homicide by recklessness

Article 221‐6 refers, for the definition of recklessness, to article 121‐3 of the Penal Code, which is one of the most complex texts there is. The application of this text to the suicide of a spouse presupposes that this suicide is qualified as homicide, that is to say the death of another, which implies demonstrating a causal link between “imprudence” and this death. , which others have inflicted on themselves.

The reasoning imposed by article 121-3 defining imprudence is full of traps, the first difficulty to resolve being that of the certainty of causality. It is first necessary to demonstrate that death is caused by recklessness, even partially; the causal link must exist, in a certain way. Applied to our hypothesis, it is necessary to demonstrate that the violence and degrading remarks observed caused or at least contributed to the suicide. If the causal link exists, a distinction must then be made between two types of causal link. Article 121‐3 distinguishes between direct causality, between recklessness and death, and indirect causality. Causality is direct if imprudence was decisive in producing the damage (art. 121‐3 paragraph 3). Causation is indirect if imprudence created the situation which allowed the damage to occur, or if the respondent did not take measures to avoid it (art. 121‐3 paragraph 4)

Applied to our situation:

psychological or physical violence is direct causality if this violence is a determining factor in the suicide of the spouse

Psychological or physical violence is indirect causation if this violence allowed the suicide to occur, or if the accused did not plan measures to avoid it.

These complex texts were developed for situations of material accident type, and in no case for cases of psychological violence. Using them for spousal suicides adds, to the subtlety of the situation of intra‐family violence, legal subtleties that are unsuitable for the situation.

Furthermore, qualifying induced suicide as involuntary homicide would imply being able to qualify psychological, or even physical, violence as “recklessness”, notwithstanding their irreducible voluntary nature. This qualification must therefore be rejected.

4) Endangering others could be considered, but reading the incrimination text immediately excludes any application to spousal suicide. Indeed, article 223‐1 only criminalizes exposure to an immediate risk of death “through the manifestly deliberate violation of a particular obligation of prudence or safety imposed by law or regulation”. Only technical safety and caution obligations are considered here.

5) The offense of intentional violence resulting in death without intention to cause it, often called “fatal blows”, is criminalized in article 222-7 of the Penal Code; the penalties are aggravated by article 222‐8 when they were committed by the spouse, common-law partner or PACS partner.

-> To criminalize the suicide of a spouse, it is therefore preferable to start from the existing situation by amending it in the simplest way possible.

The reflection was based on positive law which had a text criminalizing the harassment of a spouse, a possible basis for the criminalization of suicide provoked by a spouse.

And a giant step forward has been made, ten years after the recognition of psychological violence in couples: forced suicide has entered the penal code (art. 222‐33‐2‐1) in the same way as control. Parliament definitively adopted (law no. 2020‐936 of July 30, 2020) the law aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence.

Article 222‐33‐2‐1 of the penal code

Harassing one’s spouse, partner bound by a civil solidarity pact or partner through repeated comments or behavior having the purpose or effect of deteriorating their living conditions resulting in an alteration of their physical or mental health is punishable by three years’ imprisonment and a fine of €45,000 when these acts caused total incapacity for work less than or equal to eight days or did not result in any incapacity for work and five years’ imprisonment and 75 000 € fine when they caused total incapacity for work for more than eight days or were committed while a minor was present and assisted.

The same penalties are incurred when this offense is committed by a former spouse or a former partner of the victim, or a former partner linked to the latter by a civil solidarity pact.

The penalties are increased to ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of €150,000 when the harassment has led the victim to commit suicide or attempt suicide.

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