Download an English translation of the law here:
• From when does the prohibition apply?
The prohibition on concealing the face enters into force on 12 April 2011.
• Does the law apply throughout France?
Concealment of the face in public spaces is prohibited on all French territory, both in metropolitan France and in France’s Overseas Departments and Territories.
• Does it apply to foreign residents and foreign tourists in France?
The law applies to all persons on French territory, irrespective of gender, age and nationality.
• Do foreign travellers on a stopover in France have to observe the prohibition on concealing the face?
The prohibition on concealing the face shall apply in airport transit zones in France.
• Can a person who is compelled to conceal their face be punished?
Concealment of the face observed in a public space may be the result of constraints placed upon the person in question and may be deemed to be an offence of forced concealment of the face.
This offence, set out in Article 4 of the Act (creating a new Article 225-4-10 of the Penal Code) is punishable by one year’s imprisonment and a fine of €30,000 (these punishments are doubled if the person compelled is a minor). The offence consists in compelling another person, “by means of threats, duress or constraint, undue influence or misuse of authority (…) by reason of the sex of said person to conceal their face”.
It is the responsibility of the authorities to prevent such activities and to do their utmost to combat all forms of violence and discrimination against women, which is unacceptable and contravenes the principle of gender equality.
In situations of constraint, upon which it is the responsibility of the legal system to decide, the person whose face has been concealed may be discharged from criminal liability.
• What clothing is prohibited?
Clothing intended to conceal the face is any clothing which makes it impossible to identify the person. The face does not have to be completely concealed for a person to be in breach of the law.
While not an exhaustive list, the following are prohibited: balaclavas, full-face veils (burqas, niqabs, etc.), stockings, masks and all other garments and accessories which, when used alone or with other garments, result in the face being concealed. Since it is an offence, the question of whether it is intentional or not is irrelevant, once the clothing worn is concealing the face.
• Are there exceptions for certain items of clothing?
Article 2 of the Act sets out several exceptions to the prohibition on concealing the face.
Firstly, the prohibition does not apply “if the clothing is prescribed or authorised by legislative or regulatory provisions”. For example, Article L. 431-1 of the French Highway Code stipulates that users of two-wheeled vehicles must wear helmets.
Secondly, the prohibition does not apply “if the clothing is justified for health reasons or on professional grounds”. Medical reasons, for example, may justify the wearing of bandages on the face.
• What is the public space?
Section 2 sets out that “The public space shall be composed of the public highway and premises open to the public or used for the provision of a public service.”
Premises open to the public are deemed to be places to which the public have free access, even if it is conditional, in that any person so desiring can fulfil that condition (e.g. payment to enter a cinema or theatre).
The following are examples of premises falling under this category: exhibition spaces, cinemas and theatres, businesses (cafés, restaurants, shops), banking institutions, railway stations, airports and all means of public transport, as well as forests, beaches and public gardens.
The notion of public roads refers to spaces in which there is traffic flow.
With the exception of those used for public transport, vehicles on public roads are deemed to be private premises. A person concealing their face while in a private car is therefore not in breach of this law. Under the Highway Code, however, it remains prohibited to drive while wearing clothing which can put public safety at risk.
Premises designated for public service refers to all public institutions, courts and administrations as well as bodies with a public service role.
The main places concerned are the various State public administrations and establishments, regional and local authorities and their public establishments, town halls, courts, prefectures, hospitals, clinics, post offices, public and private educational establishments (schools and universities), family allowance offices, health insurance funds, job centres, museums and libraries.
• Is it prohibited to conceal one’s face in places of worship?
Wearing clothes which conceal the face is not prohibited in places of worship when they are prescribed for religious reasons and accepted as such by the person responsible for the premises. In other situations, the specific regulations for public order in places of worship apply, under which the police can only intervene at the request of the religious leaders present.
• What happens if a person refuses to uncover their face?
The French police and gendarmes are authorised to record the offence and issue a report.
• What penalty is imposed on people who conceal their face?
Persons who disregard the prohibition on the concealing of the face in public spaces are subject to a maximum fine of €150. The local legal authorities are responsible for enforcing payment of the fine.
Click here to see the Government’s official website dedicated to this law (French only)
To see the original French version of the law please click here or download as PDF by right-clicking on the icon below and "save link as":