Paris Court Spurns Victims’ Petition 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The hopes of tens of thousands of French citizens were crushed last week when a Paris Court rejected a direct summons requesting a criminal trial over the national asbestos scandal.1 On the afternoon of May 19, 2023 the Paris Criminal Court dismissed an action lodged in November, 2021 by 1,800+ plaintiffs2 seeking to hold to account the decision makers, government officials, executives and doctors who they believed were responsible for the epidemic which had taken so many lives.3 Rejecting the plaintiffs’ arguments and declaring the procedure “null and void,” the Court said that lack of detail and substance in the filings meant that it was not possible to conclusively link the alleged crimes to the accused.

The litigants’ action cited fourteen individuals, aged 62 to 88, who were suspected of having worked with or for the Asbestos Standing Committee (CPA), a lobbying organization. Between 1982 and 1995, the CPA disseminated disinformation on the asbestos hazard and worked assiduously to forestall asbestos prohibitions being introduced by the French Government, the European Economic Community (the Common Market), and from 1993 the European Union. The work of the CPA was financed by asbestos manufacturers.

For nearly thirty years, French asbestos victims have looked to the judicial system to deliver justice for their injuries; the results have been patchy. Pivotal cases in the legal struggle were:

  • September 6, 1996: first criminal proceedings over asbestos cancer implemented by the Paris Prosecutor’s office;
  • October 29, 1996: judicial investigation against the managers of Eternit, the country’s largest asbestos conglomerate, started by the Public Prosecutor's office in Valenciennes (Nord);
  • November 19, 1996: judicial investigation over asbestos contamination of Jussieu University initiated by Paris Prosecutor's office;
  • December 18, 1997: Eternit sentenced at Dijon Court of Appeal for “faute inexcusable” (gross negligence) in a case brought by four former employees or surviving family members; many manufacturers and shipyard operators were subsequently sentenced for the same crime;
  • May 30, 2000: the French State was held responsible for four deaths by the administrative court of Marseille for failing to take timely action on the asbestos hazard; this verdict was confirmed on March 3, 2004 by the Council of State;
  • May 11, 2010: the Supreme Court (Court of Cassation) recognized the right of workers to receive asbestos anxiety damages;
  • November 7, 2012: the Mayor of Lille Martine Aubry was indicted for homicide and involuntary injury for actions taken when she was France’s Minister of Labor (1991-93); she was cleared of these charges on April 14, 2015;
  • June 13, 2017: the Paris Prosecutor's office requested the closing of investigations in several criminal proceedings, claiming it was impossible to prove the dates of toxic exposures suffered by claimants; numerous dismissals followed, such as the withdrawal on July 10, 2019 of charges against Eternit officials, indicted for homicides and involuntary injuries.


Paris demonstration by asbestos victims, October 13, 2016.

There was massive media coverage of the May 19th ruling by the Paris Criminal Court. Pierre Pluta, 77-year old former Dunkirk shipyard worker, founder of the regional victims’ association ARDEVA and asbestos victim, was incensed by the decision:

“It's incomprehensible… The prosecution is opposed to the victims having explanations of the real reasons why asbestos continued to be used, and this when the health disaster was already known.”


Pierre Pluta at demonstration by asbestos victims, September 19, 2018.

Pluta contracted asbestosis as a result of toxic exposures during 25 years as a fitter-mechanic at the Dunkirk shipyards. He had never been warned about the asbestos hazard or been provided with respiratory protection. A routine lung check revealed his illness. Pluta’s dismay at last week’s developments was shared by victims’ lawyer Antoine Vey who told journalists:

“It is the very principle of public action: when a person files a complaint, an investigation must take place for and against…the decision was taken on the grounds of an imprecision of the summons issued when this citation precisely poses a very clear framework for debate which could have been suitable for a contradictory and public trial… The asbestos scandal, beyond being a major health scandal, is becoming a legal scandal.”4

Speaking on behalf of the victims, President of the French Association of Victims of Asbestos and Other Pollutants (AVA) Michel Parigot said:

“In the asbestos case, there is no particular person responsible for a particular victim but a group of persons responsible who acted in concert… [The CPA] was a de facto association which met about twenty times a year, for several years, to decide on the asbestos policy which is accused of having knowingly caused tens of thousands of victims, not just one. We are confronted here with the inadequacy of the criminal procedure in France vis-à-vis public health issues, but there is room to change that.”

The verdict would, Parigot said, be appealed.

May 24, 2023


1 When a direct summons is issued under French law, no investigation is carried out by magistrates. The plaintiffs are responsible for collecting the evidence and naming the suspects.
Scandale de l’amiante: le tribunal de Paris juge la procédure « irrecevable » [Asbestos scandal: the Paris court rules the procedure “inadmissible”]. May 22, 2023.

2 There were approximately 1,850 victims named in this action of whom 1,600+ were members of the Association Régionale de Défense des Victimes de l'Amiante du Nord-Pas-de-Calais (Regional Association for the Defense of Asbestos Victims of Nord-Pas-de-Calais), a majority of these were from Dunkirk.

3 According to government statistics, more than 3,000 people die every year in France from asbestos-related diseases.
Roméo L. « Le parquet essaie d’empêcher la tenue d’un procès sur l’amiante » [“The prosecution is trying to prevent the holding of an asbestos trial”]. May 20, 2023.
Simon, G. Amiante: pas de procès pour près de 2 000 victimes, "ceux qui font mourir les gens ne sont pas condamnés!" [Asbestos: no trial for nearly 2,000 victims, “those who kill people are not convicted!”]
May 19, 2023.

4 Magueur, M. Scandale de l'amiante: colère et incompréhension après le rejet de la demande de procès penal [Asbestos scandal: anger and incomprehension after the rejection of the request for a criminal trial]. May 20, 2023.



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