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  • Writer's pictureMarie-Avril Roux Steinkühler

🇬🇧 - The French, adultery and morality, or why adultery is no longer a violation of morality

The latest twist in the saga surrounding the former First Lady of France, Valérie Trierweiler and her lover Patrick Devedjian: adultery is no longer a violation of morality according to the French supreme Court, the Court of Cassation[1]. The latter dismissed Patrick Devedjian's complaint filed against the two publication managers of the magazine Point de Vue and of the Groupe Express-Roularta for libel in the interview with the two authors of “La Frondeuse” ("The Rebel").

The claimant had argued that the revelation of his possible relationship with the former First Lady, while they were both committed, offends his honour or reputation, as prescribed in Article 29 of the law of 29 July 1981 on press freedom[2] and Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights[3].

Newly weds in front of the Eiffel Tower
© Mark de Jong

However "the evolution of manners and moral concepts no longer allows us to consider that the imputation of marital infidelity would, in itself be likely to damage anyone's honour or reputation"[4].

Remember that four criteria shall be met in order to determine whether libel has occurred:

  1. an allegation or imputation;

  2. a statement of fact;

  3. an offence against honour or reputation;

  4. an identified person or body.

The case at hand concerned the decision as to whether or not there is a violation of honour or reputation. That is to say that "behaviours constituting criminal offenses" or "behaviours considered contrary to the generally accepted moral and social values  at the time the judge rules"[5]are imputed.

The Court of Cassation upheld the decision of the Court of Paris, which had reminded the attendees that adultery was decriminalised forty years ago. Does this mean - as the judge believes - that adultery is socially acceptable and no longer a violation of morality?

Le Monde published an article on this subject on January 17th, 2016 entitled “Après le coq français, le cocu français”(“After the French Cock, the French Cuckold”), which was based on several surveys including one carried out by IFOP, which estimated that 55% of French men and 32% of French women have already acted unfaithfully. It also notes that "we are the country with the highest rate of forgiveness for adultery in the world "; it is morally acceptable 53% of French people[6]. The judge was thus not mistaken in his assessment of the moral values ​​of the moment.

[1] Court of Cass. 1 st civ. ch., 14-29549, 17th Dec. 2015

[2] "Any allegation or imputation of a fact that damages the honour or reputation of the person or body to which the fact is attributed is a libel."

[3] "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence."

[4] Court of Cass. 1 st civ. ch., 14-29549, 17th Dec. 2015

[5] ibid.


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