The criminalization of aviation accident investigations has been a frequent subject here. The news of the French Appellate Court’s reversal of the corporate and individual (including a DGAC employee!) convictions is indeed great news.
The purpose of an accident investigation should be to secure important safety information in order to try to limit the likelihood of a repetition of what happened. Focusing on the why and how this happened is quite different than an inquiry determining who was responsible. When the any accident investigation is trying to criminalize human error and seeking to put someone in jail, the targets of that accusation are most likely to withhold relevant information which may be incriminating.
The necessary consequence of a criminal lance is that the real causes may be masked in the short term or even indefinitely. Separating the two functions and deferring the punitive phase serve aviation safety and saves lives.
What is notable here is that this was a proceeding under the Code Napoleon, a rule of law in which the prosecutorial and judicial roles are combined in a single position. The notion that some separation is necessary to find the critical safety information first and separately from the search for the culpable individual, is a stretch for a judicial system comfortable with the investigator and judge sharing the same job.
The French decision to remove the criminal sanctions is important for the former defendants. Hopefully, one of the other lessons from this case will be a reexamination by the French legal and legislative communities of this criminalization of what are tragic accidents.Share this article: