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The Global Legal Monitor is an online publication from the Law Library of Congress covering legal news and developments worldwide. It is updated frequently and draws on information from official national legal publications and reliable press sources. You can find previous news by searching the Global Legal Monitor.

France: Bill to Amend Constitution Submitted

(June 19, 2018) On May 9, 2018, the French Prime Minister submitted a bill to the National Assembly (one of the two houses of the French Parliament) that aims to amend several provisions of the Constitution. (Projet de loi constitutionnelle pour une démocratie plus représentative, responsable et efficace [Constitutional Bill for a More Representative, Responsible, and Efficient Democracy], ASSEMBLEE NATIONALE [NATIONAL ASSEMBLY], No. 911, May 9, 2018.)  This bill addresses a fairly wide range of constitutional issues, the principal ones being discussed below.

Elimination of the Cour de justice de la république [Court of Justice of the Republic]

The proposed constitutional reform would eliminate the Cour de justice de la république, which was created in 1993 to try government cabinet members for criminal offenses committed during their time in office. (CONSTITUTION art. 68-1.) Instead of being tried by this special court, cabinet members would be tried according to normal rules of criminal procedure for offenses committed during their time in office but not related to their office, or by the Court of Appeals of Paris for offenses committed in their capacity as cabinet members. (Projet de loi constitutionnelle art. 13.)

Former Presidents Would No Longer Automatically Have a Seat on the Constitutional Council

The Conseil constitutionnel (Constitutional Council) is the only French court with jurisdiction over the constitutional validity of French laws. (CONST. arts. 61, 61-1, 62.) It also is responsible for monitoring the lawfulness of presidential elections and referendums, and has jurisdiction over litigations regarding legislative elections. (Id. arts. 58–60.) Ever since the current French Constitution was adopted in 1958, former presidents have automatically had a seat on the Constitutional Council, along with nine judges appointed by the president, the National Assembly, and the Senate. (Id. art. 56.) With this proposed reform, former presidents would no longer automatically have a seat on the Constitutional Council. (Projet de loi constitutionnelle art. 10.)

Consent of the National Council of Magistrates Would Be Necessary for the Appointment of Prosecutors and Investigative Judges

Currently, the executive branch must seek the advice of the Conseil national de la magistrature (National Council of Magistrates) before appointing prosecutors and investigative judges, but it does not need its consent. (CONST. art. 65, ¶ 5.) Under the proposed reform, the National Council of Magistrates’ consent would be required as well. (Projet de loi constitutionnelle art. 12.)

Economic, Social and Environmental Council Would Become the Civil Society Chamber

The Conseil économique, social et environnemental (Economic, Social and Environmental Council), an advisory body to be consulted for economic, social and/or environmental issues, would be replaced by Chambre de la société civile (Civil Society Chamber). (Id. art. 14.) This new body would have essentially the same role as its predecessor, but the bill aims to make its members more representative of civil society and to reinforce the Chamber’s advisory role. (Id. exposé des motifs [Explanatory Statement].)

Special Status for Corsica and Increased Autonomy to Overseas Regions and Départements

The constitutional bill, if adopted, would give Corsica the status of collectivités à statut particulier (Special Status Community), which would constitutionally enshrine a certain degree of autonomy for the island. (Id. art. 16.) Furthermore, the bill aims to increase the autonomy of French overseas regions and départements (the territorial subdivision of France between the region and the municipality) by providing procedures for them to request the authority to legislate for themselves on certain issues. (Id. art. 17.)

Streamlining the Legislative Process

The constitutional bill contains provisions to limit the back-and-forth between the two chambers of Parliament (the National Assembly and the Senate) that can occur when they cannot agree on a bill. (Id. art. 5.) If adopted, the reform would also bar members from submitting amendments that do not change the substance of the bill and amendments that are not directly related to the bill’s subject matter. (Id. art. 3.) Parliamentary commissions would handle a larger proportion of the legislative work, as only bills important enough to justify “a solemn debate” would be discussed in plenary sessions of the National Assembly. (Id. art. 4.) Furthermore, appropriations bills would be subject to an accelerated procedure, and the government would have the ability to prioritize bills that it deems important regarding economic, social, or environmental matters. (Id. arts. 6–8.)

Timeline and Reception

This constitutional bill is expected to be voted on by the National Assembly during this summer and then to be considered by the Senate in the fall. (Projet de loi : réforme des institutions, acte 1 [Bill: Institutional Reforms, Act 1], LA DEPECHE (May 8, 2018).) Overall, most of the proposed provisions appear to be considered uncontroversial by the general public. (Id.) However, certain voices—particularly from the left-wing La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party and from the center-right Les Républicains (The Republicans) party—have expressed concern that some of these reforms would weaken the French Parliament. (Des élus s’inquiètent de la réforme constitutionnelle [Some Elected Officials Worry About the Constitutional Reform], L’EXPRESS (May 9, 2018).)

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China: Constitution Amended to Require State Functionaries to Take Constitutional Oath

(June 15, 2018) On March 11, 2018, the National People’s Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) adopted an amendment to the PRC Constitution. In addition to removing term limits for the President and Vice President of the PRC, the 21-article amendment made other changes to the Constitution, including requiring state functionaries to take a constitutional oath when assuming office. (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Xianfa Xiuzheng An [PRC Constitutional Amendment] (adopted by the NPC on Mar. 11, 2018) (2018 Amendment), NPC website; Changhao Wei, Translation: 2018 Amendment to the P.R.C. Constitution, NPC OBSERVER (Mar. 11, 2018); Laney Zhang, China: 2018 Constitutional Amendment Adopted, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (May 18, 2018).)

The newly added paragraph 3 of article 27 of the Constitution states that “[s]tate functionaries shall take a public oath of allegiance to the Constitution when assuming office.” “State functionaries” subject to this requirement include state leaders and other government officials, judges, and prosecutors at both national and subnational levels, according to a decision adopted by the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) specifically on the constitutional oath. The decision defines “state functionaries” to include those elected or appointed by the people’s congresses at the national and subnational levels, and those appointed by the governments, courts, and procuratorates at all levels. (Quanguo Renmin Dabiao Dahui Changwu Weiyuanhui Guanyu Shixing Xianfa Xuanshi Zhidu de Jueding [Decision of the NPCSC on Implementing the Constitutional Oath System] (Feb. 24, 2018, effective Mar. 12, 2018) (2018 NPCSC Decision) art. 1, NPC website (translation by author).)

The President and Vice-President, Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson of the NPC, Premier, Vice-Premiers, State Councilors, Ministers and Commissioners, President of the Supreme People’s Court, President of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and other high-level officials elected or appointed by the NPC take the oath in ceremonies organized by the NPC Presidium. (Id.) President Xi Jinping, who took the oath on March 17, 2018, to begin his second term, became the first Chinese president to take such an oath, according the official Xinhua news agency. (Xinhua Headlines: Chinese President Takes Oath of Allegiance to Constitution for First Time, XINHUA (Mar. 17, 2018).)

State functionaries have been required to take the constitutional oath by an earlier decision adopted by the NPCSC in 2015, which went into effect on January 1, 2016. (Laney Zhang, China: Government Officials to Take Constitutional Oath, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (July 27, 2015).) The NPCSC revised the decision in February 2018, to expand the scope of state functionaries subject to the requirement to include those appointed by the new supervision organ (supervisory commissions). (2018 NPCSC Decision art. 1.) The 2018 Decision also includes the director of the new National Supervisory Commission in the swearing-in ceremonies organized by the NPC Presidium. (Id. art. 3.)

In addition, the 2018 NPCSC Decision requires that the national anthem be played and sung at all swearing-in ceremonies. (Id. art. 8.) The Decision also slightly revised the oath, which now reads as follows:

I pledge to be loyal to the PRC Constitution, to safeguard the authority of the Constitution, to perform obligations imposed by law, to be loyal to the country and to the people, to be fully committed in performing my official duties, to have integrity and always work in the interest of the public, to accept the supervision of the people, and to work hard for the great cause of building a prosperous, democratic, civilized, harmonious, and beautiful strong modern socialist country! (Id. art. 2.)

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Saudi Arabia: Shura Council Approves Anti-harassment Bill

(June 14, 2018) The 150-member Saudi Parliament in its 40th ordinary session of May 28, 2018, approved a new anti-harassment law by an 84-vote majority. (Royal Decree No. 96/M of May 31, 2018, government weekly newspaper Umm al-Qura website (in Arabic); Shura Holds Its 40th Ordinary Session, SAUDI PRESS AGENCY (May 28, 2018); Habib Toumi, Saudi Shura Approves Anti-harassment Draft Law, GULF NEWS (May 29, 2018).) The new law aims to combat the crime of harassment, punish the perpetrators, and protect the victims in order to preserve their privacy, dignity, and personal freedom, as guaranteed by Islamic law. (Toumi, supra.)

Provisions of the Law

The new law defines the term “harassment” as any word, act, or sign with a sexual connotation by a person to any other person that harms their body or modesty by any means, including through modern technology. The law imposes on violators the penalty of imprisonment for up to two years and a fine of up to 100,000 Saudi Riyals (about US$26,666). The penalty is enhanced to five years of imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 Saudi Riyals (about US$80,000) if the individual repeats the crime of harassment. Provisions of the law also punish incidents of harassment at work places. Additionally, the law provides that anyone who incites others or assists them in any way to commit the offense of harassment are punishable by the same penalty prescribed for the offenders. Finally, anyone who attempts to harass another person is punishable by one year of imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 Saudi Riyals (US$13,333). (Id.)

Reactions to the Law

  1. Members of Parliament

Female members of the Saudi Shura Council have endorsed the law. Hoda Al-Helaissi, a female member of the Council, announced that the new law is extremely important, adding that the law not only protects both genders but also protects women while driving. (Aisha Fareed, Saudi Shura Council Approves New Law Against Harassment, ARAB NEWS News (May 29, 2018).) (The ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia expires on June 24, 2018. (Hams Saleh, Saudi Women Drivers Begin Countdown to Big Day, GULF NEWS (June 13, 2018).)) Al-Helaissi further stated that there would be more modifications to the law in the near future. (Fareed, supra.)

Another female member of the Shura Council, Latifah Al-Shaalan, said that the new anti-harassment law is an important addition to the Kingdom’s legal history because it fills a legislative vacuum. Al-Shaalan added that she had proposed more articles to the anti-harassment law concerning protecting victims reporting incidents of harassment and witnesses to such incidents. (Id.)

  1. Legal Counselors

In addition to members of the Shura Council, Saudi legal counselors, such as Dimah Al-Ashraf, have declared their support for the new law. Al-Asharf said that the law is a “qualitative leap” in the field of fighting sexual harassment in the Kingdom. (Id.) Faisal Al Mashouh, another Saudi attorney, also said that the law would “be a road map to control existing relations in society and protect the rights of women.” He added that the new law would grant women more self-confidence and encourage them to pursue their goals and be active participants in nation building, as envisioned in Vision 2030 of the Kingdom. (Rodolfo C. Estimo Jr. & Aisha Fareed, Saudi Society Welcomes New Law Criminalizing Sexual Harassment, ARAB NEWS (Sept. 30, 2017).)

  1. Saudi Citizens

Saudi citizens have also endorsed the new law. Rawan Al-Jabri, a Saudi woman, said that what the new law provides “is not a privilege as much as a basic right for all women,” and punishing those who harass either women or men would lower the harassment rate. (Fareed, supra.) Farah Al-Jabr tweeted that she finally felt “like a human being,” while Maha Al-Fahad tweeted, “OK … If this is a dream, don’t wake me up.” (Estimo Jr. & Fareed, supra.)

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Colombia: New Law Mandates Loss of Right to Inherit in Cases of Abuse or Neglect of Relatives

(June 13, 2018) On May 30, 2018, President Juan Manuel Santos promulgated Law 1893 to punish children who abuse, abandon, or engage in questionable practices toward their parents by nullifying the children’s right to their parents’ inheritance. (Hijos maltratadores no podrán heredar: nueva ley de la República, EL ESPECTADOR (May 30, 2018).)

Senator Roy Barreras, who sponsored the bill, explained that the measure aims to encourage respect and care for parents, the elderly, and disabled people by punishing children who abuse their parents. (Id.)

Grounds for disinheritance of blood relatives up to the sixth degree include homicide, whether intentional or unintentional. (Ley 1893 por el que se Reforma el Articulo 1025 del Código Civil, May 24, 2018, art. 1(1)–(3), Presidency of the Republic website.) Additional grounds for disinheritance include the case of children who failed to take action to save their parent’s life if they could have done something to prevent the parent’s death and heirs forcing the decedent to include in his or her will clauses that would benefit the heirs. (Id. art. 1(4), (6), (8).)

Other grounds include making a serious attempt against the life, honor, or patrimony of the person whose assets were to be inherited, including failing to seek help to save the person’s life or assets. (Id. art. 1(7) & (8).)

Law 1893 adds new grounds of disinheritance in addition to the three already effective under the Civil Code, such as the heir hiding the will left by the parent. (Id. art. 1(5).)

The new law is a response to official statistics for 2017 that show 70,000 cases of interfamily violence and 20,000 cases of people in a neglected situation abandoned by their relatives. (Hijos maltratadores no podrán heredar: nueva ley de la República, supra.)

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Colombia: President Promulgates Reform of Youth Citizenship Statute

(June 13, 2018) On March 1, 2018, President Juan Manuel Santos promulgated Law 1885 of 2018 on Reforming the Statute on Youth Citizenship (Law 1622 of 2013). The new Law creates a political electoral system allowing youth between fourteen and twenty-eight years old to elect members of and be elected to municipal youth councils. Under the new Law, Council members have the right to express their opinions and vote in local, departmental, and national elections every four years. (Presidente Santos sancionó la Ley 1885 de 2018 que modifica el Estatuto de Ciudadanía Juvenil, COLOMBIA JOVEN (Mar. 2, 2018); Ley 1885 de Por el Cual se Modifica la Ley Estatutaria 1622 de 2013 y Se Dictan Otras Disposiciones, Mar. 1, 2018, Presidency of the Republic website.)

President Santos said the new measure would strengthen the capacity of youth to pursue a better future. (Presidente Santos sancionó la Ley 1885 de 2018 que modifica el Estatuto de Ciudadanía Juvenil, supra.)

According to its sponsor, Senator Santos Calderón, the new Law gives youth new political responsibilities and provides them with the incentive to become politically engaged. (Id.)

The Law includes a special chapter on young victims (víctimas) who would be guaranteed special representation on the youth councils. (Id.)

It also allows youth to participate in the decision-making process related to the use of public funds. (Id.)

The Law tasks municipal council members together with national and local government authorities with defining how economic resources are to be allocated and establishing policies, programs, and projects that will benefit the Colombian people. (Id.)

Agreements reached between the government and the youth councils, through coordination commissions, will be binding. (Id.)

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