FRANCE — As France’s highest court on Tuesday struck down the constitutionality of a law allowing the government to charge the price of water to residents who use a water-filtration system, the court also ruled that a law that lets people who can’t afford to pay their own bills avoid paying fines and interest must be made more affordable for all citizens.
The ruling by the constitutional court comes on the heels of a series of lawsuits by French citizens who had their water-filtering systems cut off, or were denied service, for nonpayment.
A law last month by France’s justice minister, Anne Hidalgo, which allows fines of up to 3,000 euros (2,000 US dollars) and interest of up the equivalent of $5,000 to be levied against people who fail to pay water bills is set to go into effect on February 6.
But a group of local activists, led by the local environmental group SOS Arsenale, appealed against the decision and won the right to pursue a class action lawsuit against Hidalgos decision.
The legal challenge comes on top of a massive push to change the law in the last year, including protests and rallies in several French cities, and a push by the government, which has promised to introduce a new water bill by the end of March, in order to avoid further damage to the water-supply system.
The case against Hildego was filed by the environmental group in 2015, when the water system was being brought up for privatization, and the court was set to hear the case on Feb. 7, but a court ruling on Monday made the case moot, the Paris-based newspaper Le Figaro reported.
The lawsuit, which seeks damages of more than €1.6 million (€1.3 million), said that Hidalgovos law “has been repeatedly and illegally passed by the French government without any consideration of its effects on the public interest,” and was “unlawful and unjustified.”
“The ruling is a setback for the water privatization plans, which were already under legal threat,” said a statement from the environmental organization, which also called on Hidalgaos to resign from her position as justice minister.
The court’s decision, however, did not require Hidalgcos to step down.
She will continue to serve as justice ministry minister until the new water law is passed, the group said.