Despite deconfinance, justice in France slows down

More than three weeks after the closure, cases not assessed in France continue to accumulate. The priority now is to clear the courts, with the risk of “dehumanizing” justice.

“My lawyer has just told me that we will not be presented to the family member before October.” Contacted by France 24, Laura *, 30, does not take heart. This mother, who accuses her expat partner of violence, invested heavily on her appointment with the magistrate of Agen, which was originally scheduled for June. But the incarceration, after paralyzing the judiciary in France, again delays his hearing.

In all cases, the Ministry of Justice announced in early May prioritize urgent litigation, such as domestic violence, after containment.

“First it was the lawyer strike, then in early March it was my son’s father who didn’t show up and now the corona virus,” Laura laments. As a result, it has been almost a year – since the filing of her case – that this mother has been waiting to appeal to a judge alone custody of her 5-year-old son, with visits supervised by a social worker for the child’s father. A year in which, with a heavy heart, she is forced by the law to entrust her son a weekend of two to her violent ex-partner.

“He was drunk and he had just beaten her while she was pregnant”

“My son has no place there,” Laura said. “My son’s father’s new partner called me in need in early April. He was drunk and he had just beaten her while she was pregnant. She called the police, he took custody and she was moved with 115 for a few weeks before returning home.”

“My son has no place there, I don’t want him to witness this climate with violence. He comes back washed after every visit with his father,” said the mother, determined to bring her child home. protection as soon as possible. Laura’s lawyer therefore asked the family member for an interim decision so that the case could be settled quickly. Young woman is waiting for an answer.

“Behaviors before the judge for family affairs are the most complicated to organize at present,” explains France 24 Katia Dubreuil, president of the Syndicat de la magistrature, who expressed her difficulties to the chancellor.

“While incarcerated, certain procedures can be handled in writing, but this is not the case in family matters that requires the judge to personally belong to the parents and children in the latter.” However, the premises for the family business judges do not always allow reception in accordance with the new social distance rules. “And yet it is a priority,” laments the union, which for several years has condemned the lack of permanent rights.

Respect for barrier gestures slows the courts

French courts, which reopened their doors to the public on May 11, are, as everywhere, subject to major health restrictions: filtered entrances, condemned seats, freezing in quantity, offices open to the public. However, the courts are not all housed in the same boat. “There are inherent boundaries for the premises,” says Katia Dubreuil.

The adjustment is easier at TGI in Paris, a brand new court of 120,000 square meters, than in the narrow confinement of TGI from Bobigny in Seine-Saint-Denis, where space is lacking even in normal times. Another example, in Lons-le-Saunier, in Jura, the library has to be requisitioned to serve as the judge’s office, while in Tarascon, in Bouches-du-Rhône, the judge’s too-crowded waiting room of children has been sentenced.

“Respect for barrier guests automatically extends the time,” said Isabelle Gorce President of the Marseille Court. Consequently, the files accumulate in the magistrates’ offices and the delays explode. In Marseille, where “500 applications for divorce await treatment”, only “ten couples” will be called upon hearing at beautiful hours.

In Paris, 450 hearings were interrupted per week

Other jurisdictions have done the math. Delays are everywhere: at the Evone County Court (Essone), within two months of the filing, 1500 documents on family law matters, 800 from the criminal justice system and 6 from the criminal courts could not be processed, reportedFrancetvinfoMay begins. In Versailles, where 2,000 files have been transferred, hope for a return to “reasonable processing times” for September. In Paris, 4,000 hearings have been interrupted, or 450 per week since March 16, the hearings can be spread to 2021 and 2022.

Another reason for slowing down: for several weeks, the clerks could not notify the judges of decisions, due to lack of access to IT tools. In some cases, they will need to redo the summons of those summoned and to support them, a temporary reinforcement of 1,000 temporary employees has been announced.

It is “necessary but not enough”, Judge Katia Dubreuil. “When we hear about the digital revolution, we are far from it; we lack basic tools, such as simple computers,” she said.

Are you looking for alternative solutions

Before the bottleneck of the court machine, the Ministry of Justice is looking for alternatives. In a note released in early May, he encouraged a reorientation of less serious crime procedures to streamline the scheduling of hearings. It also encourages increased use of video conferencing and civil proceedings without negotiation, by exchanging files.

Thus, in Paris, Prosecutor Rémy Heitz intends to classify without a measure one-third of the 4,000 documents in corrective “interrupted” during the confinement and considers alternatives to the trial for another third.

Another announcement: the use of criminal courts, without a popular jury, so far in the trial phase, could be extended to a third of the territory without waiting for the results of this experiment. A decision regretted by some professionals condemning “a regression” during the pretext of the health crisis.

“This crisis once again reveals the total need for justice. We would have liked – as for the hospital – it opens the way for change,” laments Katia Dubreuil. “But the opposite is the case. The primary goal is to clear the stock of cases that have not gone to justice. We are going against dehumanized justice.”

* First name has been changed.

With AFP