In August of 2001 me, my brother and a friend of ours were backpacking across Europe. While in Paris we went to visit the Palais de Justice on a Thursday afternoon around 3pm and found the entire building essentially deserted. I'm not exaggerating when I say that we strolled through just about every hall and office in the building without seeing anyone, French or otherwise. We even found our way to the roof through a service passage and up a dingy spiral staircase hidden behind a "secret" disguised door in one of the offices. It was really bizarre to us that the building was apparently vacant on a weekday afternoon, but we made the most of the opportunity. Fortunately we didn't get caught and thrown into French prison.

The European Council's commissioner for human rights has described conditions in the prison in France's most august court building as the worst he has seen.

Alvaro Gil-Robles said the cells in the historic Palais de Justice in Paris were squalid and inhumane.

Describing them as "dungeons", he said: "It is incredible that people are imprisoned in such conditions, without ventilation and without natural light. I have never seen a worse prison." Mr Gil-Robles, 60, an academic lawyer and Spain's former national ombudsman, spent 16 days in France last month inspecting prisons, detention centres and mental hospitals.

In a meeting last week with Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, he said he was astonished that such "squalid and inhumane conditions" should exist at the Palais de Justice, the vast complex that houses the supreme court of appeal and criminal courts.

I'm glad we went to the roof rather than the basement.

(HT: James Taranto.)



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