Robert Badinter, French ex-minister who fought to abolish death penalty, dies at 95

Former French justice minister Robert Badinter, who has died aged 95, saved many lives by dedicating his own to the fight against capital punishment, playing a pivotal role in banning the dreaded guillotine in 1981.

The soft-spoken attorney, who said he could not abide by a "killer justice system", was widely vilified for pushing through legislation banning the death penalty at a time when most French people still supported the practice.

He said later he had "never felt so lonely" in fighting capital punishment, which in France was carried out by beheading with the guillotine, a practice dating back to the French Revolution of 1789.

But in years to come he would be hailed for his integrity and statesmanship.

The son of a Jewish fur trader who was deported to a Nazi death camp during World War II, he had built a reputation as a lawyer for defending – often successfully – notorious cases that his peers wouldn't dare touch.

"We entered the court by the front door, and once the verdict had been read and the accused's head was safe, we often had to leave by a hidden stairway," the man dubbed "the murderers' lawyer" by proponents of the death penalty, recalled.

'Militant passion'

His career took a decisive turn in 1972 after one of his clients, Roger Bontems, was beheaded for his secondary role in the murder of a nurse and a guard during a prison escape.


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