That day, Me Simon Couvreur became a judge while keeping his lawyer dress. “In fact, there is not much difference between our dress and that of the magistrates. Our dress just has an epitoge behind while on that of the judges there are bands of silk on the front. But for the public, it’s very difficult to notice it ”, confides this lawyer, remembering that day in 1998 when he sat as… judge at the court of Châlon-en-Champagne. An experience that he willingly accepts to tell when Éric Dupond-Moretti plans to call on lawyers to help the judges to absorb a certain number of cases in stock in the courts.
“Concrete and innovative proposals”
With the lawyers’ strike and then the first confinement, which paralyzed the action of justice, many jurisdictions are having great difficulty in “Lock” cases to be tried before the criminal court. To find solutions, the Minister of Justice has just set up a working group which he expects “Concrete and innovative proposals, even very innovative, perhaps even disruptive”.
And among the avenues launched by Éric Dupond-Moretti therefore appears the possibility of having lawyers sit as assessors in collegiate magistrates’ training courses. “There is nothing disruptive in all this since the code of judicial organization already provides that lawyers can be called upon to deputize for judges for correctional hearings”, underlines Céline Parisot, president of the Union Syndicale des Magistrates.
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It is on the basis of this code that, in certain jurisdictions, which are generally small, lawyers are called upon to sit. “I remember that at the beginning of the 1990s, we thus came to reinforce the magistrates for six months at the court of Compiègne which was confronted with serious problems of understaffing”, tells Me Martine Duval who, then, had served as judge on several occasions. “I have rather fond memories of it even if, already at the time, we found that it was an easy solution for the Chancellery to run justice by using lawyers that it did not pay”, adds this lawyer who experienced this situation again in 2003 when she was a bar.
“I quickly slipped into my role of judgee “,
Me Duval acknowledges that, during these hearings, it was necessary to do information work, in particular with the public present in the room. “Some people could indeed know us as a lawyer and suddenly be very surprised to see us sitting on the other side of the bar”, she explains, believing that she has always managed to sort things out. “I quickly slipped into my role of judgee ”, she assures.
“At first, I was a little uncomfortable”, adds Me Roofer. I wondered if I was going to be able to be impartial. I told myself that I was going to have a hard time shaking off my lawyer reflexes. And, in fact, not at all: I had the impression of getting into this very different function very quickly. “
In 1998, Me Guillaume Bert sat for a whole afternoon in the court of Châlons-en-Champagne. “Me, it took me a little time to get out of my logic as a lawyer and to look at the facts for both prosecution and defense. What is strange, also, at the beginning, is to see on the other side of the bar the colleagues that we know well in general. But the latter were all in solidarity with this action which made it possible to have litigants tried more quickly ”, remembers this lawyer who, like his two colleagues, has a positive memory of this experience. “I learned things, especially about the way a deliberation takes place. As a lawyer, of course, we have ideas on how judges can make their decisions. But when you see it from the inside, it’s very informative », Says Me Bert.
“We put the president in the minority”
For his part, Me Roofer remembers a “Really constructive discussion” during deliberation. “There were not two camps with the lawyer on one side and the two magistrates on the other”, he assures. “I remember that in a case of unpaid alimony, I found myself in favor of the discharge just like the other assessor. And we put in a minority the president of the tribunal who was not very happy but had to validate our decision ”, remembers Me Duval. “In another case, in the 1990s there were so few magistrates available that we ended up with two lawyers for one judge, she continues. ATToday this is no longer permitted, but at the time it was legally possible. “
At the time, the defense lawyers were rather happy with the idea that their clients would be tried by a court where two colleagues would sit. “But unsurprisingly, the president and the prosecution opposed it and the file was sent back”, remembers Me Duval who, like his two colleagues, is opposed to this idea of generalizing the use of lawyers to sit everywhere in France. “This cannot be a means of compensating for the lack of means of justice”, says Me Bert