In the court of Pau, justice decided to put an end to “overtime”. At the end of a general assembly, on December 17, the magistrates of the seat voted a motion affirming their refusal of “Continue to work in the evening” and their desire not to hold hearings longer than six consecutive hours.
“We have therefore decided to postpone all the files to be examined after 8 p.m. to a later date, explains Jérémy Forst, deputy regional delegate of the Union Syndicale des Magistrates (USM). This decision was taken because, more and more, we judge late hours, sometimes beyond 10 p.m. In August, a hearing even ended at 1:15 a.m.! “
The dismay of the Pau magistrates in the face of late hearings is far from isolated. In December, the subject was at the heart of several motions passed in various courts. “We, correctional judges, because of the overload of hearings, must choose between trying at midnight people who risk imprisonment, or deciding to refer cases as complex as domestic violence to a hearing that will take place in a an “, underlined at the end of November an alert platform, signed since by more than half of the magistrates of France.
According to an investigation unveiled at the end of November by the USM, more than a quarter of correctional hearings are held after 9 p.m. With strong differences from one court to another. “In Bobigny, when you finish at 10 pm, you almost think you’re lucky. Because very often, immediate appearances go beyond 10:30 p.m. and it is not uncommon to end after midnight ”, tells Me Virginie Marques, lawyer at the Seine-Saint-Denis bar. “My personal best was 2:45 in the morning! “, specifies Ludovic Friat, secretary general of USM, who chaired these hearings in Bobigny for a long time.
Most courts are not immune. “More and more regularly, we finish after 11 pm”, testifies Me Aurélien Ferrand, in Nantes. In a recent article on the France Bleu Gironde website, a magistrate from Bordeaux even confided that he had presided over hearings this summer concluded at 1.50 a.m. and 4 a.m.
Most often, the problem concerns immediate appearances which are generally linked from 1 p.m. for cases that magistrates and lawyers began to examine in the early morning. “When you pronounce a decision at midnight, it is therefore at the end of a fourteen or fifteen hour working day”, indicates Ludovic Friat, specifying that in Bobigny, an immediate appearance hearing generally includes a dozen cases. “But it’s difficult to predict with certainty how long each case will take”, indicates the magistrate.
For some simple cases, where the accused recognizes the facts, the debates may not last more than an hour. “But we sometimes have rather heavy drug cases with different defendants, for which the debates can last three or four hours”, explains Me Ferrand. At any time, the president can certainly streamline the hearing by sending back two or three cases to a later date. This is not always well experienced by the defendants or the victims. And helps to overload future audiences.
But the real pitfall remains the way in which justice is exercised at a time when fatigue weighs heavily. That of the defendants first of all who, before being tried at nightfall, often have 24 or 48 hours behind them in police custody and a night spent in the court depot. “It is not easy to be able to explain oneself calmly then”, underlines Me Brands. That of lawyers and magistrates too. “At a late hour, we defend badly, we plead badly and we judge badly. With the risk that the last files of the day will be sent a bit ”, continues this lawyer.
“Justice remains a primarily human institution. And even if everyone makes an effort, we are not as powerful intellectually at 11 p.m. or midnight, confirms Ludovic Friat. We do not have the same ability to listen, concentrate, analyze. And it is still a problem when you have to decide on the guilt or the freedom of a person. “