The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that France was unfair to a Nazi collaborator when it denied him permission to appeal his 1998 prison sentence.

The European Court of Human Rights demanded that France grant 91-year-old Maurice Papon a proper appeal hearing of his 1998 conviction for aiding and abetting in crimes against humanity.

Papon was sentenced to 10 years in jail for his role in deporting Jews to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. At the time, he was police chief in the southern French city of Bordeaux.

But the European Court, based in Strasbourg, France, ruled France had erred in denying Papon the right to appeal his conviction. A French court ruled in 1999 that Papon had essentially lost his right of appeal when he fled to Switzerland, shortly after being sentenced.

The Swiss government ordered him to leave the country, and Papon ultimately wound up in a Paris prison.

The European Court also granted Papon about $29,000 in compensation for his legal expenses.

One of Papon's lawyers, Jean-Marc Varaut praised the court's decision. "Finally," Mr. Varaut said, " justice had been done." He said he would demand that Papon's sentence be suspended, while his client is granted a new trial. Mr. Varaut said he is optimistic Papon would eventually be freed.

Thursday's ruling offered Papon's lawyers a rare victory, after a string of setbacks in their demands Papon should be freed on medical and humanitarian grounds.

On Wednesday, a French court again rejected appeals to free Papon for health reasons. French President Jacques Chirac has also refused to grant Papon a presidential pardon.