Eric Dupond-Moretti expected at the turn: the Keeper of the Seals unveils this Wednesday an “action plan” from the Estates General of Justice and watched with feverishness by the judicial world, which has just mobilized to cry out its discomfort. The result of all-out consultations launched a year ago by Emmanuel Macron, the report of these States General had drawn up in July the overwhelming observation of an “advanced dilapidation” of French justice and made recommendations.
The picture has darkened further since, with the record number of prisoners reached in France (72,809 on November 1) and a vertiginous prison overcrowding rate (120%). Faced with this explosive situation, the plan unveiled on Wednesday aims to provide “a response to the expectations of professionals and litigants” based on the “consensus” that emerged from the consultations and on the “strong” priorities of the minister, it is said in his entourage. A few major avenues emerge.
“Slow downgrading” of civil justice
The Minister has already announced that a programming and orientation plan would be presented to secure the promises of hiring by 2027 of 10,000 justice officials, including 1,500 magistrates, and to mitigate the “chronic under-formatting of workforce” identified by the Estates General. It is in particular this lack of means which fueled the mobilization last week of magistrates, clerks and lawyers against “a justice on the cheap”.
The government plan should also focus on civil justice which, according to the report of the Estates General, is experiencing a “slow downgrading” and “no longer manages to settle disputes in decent conditions” when it represents 60% of the judicial activity (divorce, employee-employer litigation, etc.). “We hope for a rebalancing between criminal and civil”, indicates to AFP Kim Reuflet, president of the Syndicate of the magistrature (SM, classified on the left). “We must give back all its place to this civil justice which maintains the bond of trust between the State and the citizens”. The SM will, however, oppose any attempt to “divert” the procedures in order to shorten the delays.
Overhaul of the criminal procedure code
Criminal justice should also be on the menu with a titanic project: the overhaul of the code of criminal procedure which will be done largely “under constant law”, without new law. This reform, announced at the end of October by the Head of State, aims to simplify this procedural bible which has become too complex and whose number of articles has jumped from 1,722 to 2,403 between 2008 and 2022.
Alongside this “recodification”, the executive could also begin this Wednesday a reflection on a combustible subject: the procedures governing judicial investigations. The Estates General had judged the current system, which is based on three types of investigation (flagrante, preliminary, judicial information), a factor of “inequality” between litigants and confusion, but had declared themselves in favor of maintaining the investigating judge . In a recent circular, Eric Dupond-Moretti had defined the main objectives of such a reform: “the investigative capacities must be reinforced and streamlined, the contradictory and accusatory phases redesigned, the place of the victims redefined”.
“Tsunami of Records”
The Union of Magistrates (USM, majority) hopes, more generally, that the measures announced this Wednesday will not complicate the task of a profession faced with a “tsunami” of files which prevents it from “judging well” . “If the announcements consist in financially perpetuating the progress that has been made, we can only agree”, assures its president Ludovic Friat, “but we must avoid carrying out major reforms again without an impact study on their human cost in terms of magistrates and court clerks”.
What about the situation in prisons? The minister will mention it in his plan, promises his entourage, but his plans are not known. The Estates General had pleaded for a “prison regulation mechanism” setting an occupancy threshold for each establishment, beyond which measures could be “considered” to relieve congestion in the establishments. This is also the path advocated by the SM, which expects “strong measures” on this file, when the Chancellery traditionally prefers to insist on the plan to build 15,000 prison places by 2027.
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