Among lawyers as among magistrates, criticism fuses. The choice of the revolutionaries of 1789 to set up the popular juries in the court of assizes to avoid inter-self, that of the legal professionals, is seen reduced. Since January 1, the departmental criminal courts (CCD), composed exclusively of professional magistrates, have been extended to the whole territory. This generalization, provided for in the reform for confidence in the judicial institution (1), adopted a year ago, applies to all first instance judgments of crimes punishable by less than twenty years of imprisonment.
In recent weeks, voices have been raised to recall the importance of citizen participation in the work of justice through the popular jury. What Éric Dupond-Moretti, the current Keeper of the Seals, defended until recently when he was a criminal lawyer…
The arguments in favor of the status quo are manifold. “The assize courts guarantee the democratic participation of citizens in criminal justice”, firmly defends Benjamin Fiorini, lecturer in law at Paris 8, on the initiative of a citizen petition launched in this direction. For him, “judges must show pedagogy towards jurors who are profane in the matter”.
Beyond the debate of the place or not of the juror within a criminal trial, it is the very heritage of the Revolution of 1789 which is at stake. The popular jury, symbol of participatory democracy before its time , is now under threat. It is estimated that citizen juries represent 20,000 people each year. “The fact that jurors are drawn by lot from an electoral list is a first direct contact between citizens and the way justice is done,” insists Célia Gissinger-Bosse, author of a book on the subject ( 2). In addition, the question is also directed towards the jurors themselves who, on the whole, stand out by evoking “an enriching experience”, she recalls. In her investigation, she notes that “some magistrates need these popular jurors to talk about the functioning of justice in their entourage”. A fortiori in a context where the very low conviction rate in cases of sexual crime creates a form of misunderstanding in public opinion.
For Benjamin Fiorini, lecturer in law, the CCDs send “a negative message” to the victims of rape. A message that there would be crimes (those above twenty years imprisonment) where it would be necessary to have the attention of society and those which do not deserve this social attention, “where criminal justice for rape would be between legal professionals. While one in two French people do not trust the justice system (3), this reform risks driving them further away.
Proponents of the reform assure them that it must save time, money and above all to stem the trend towards the correction of rape. It is, as the bill specifies, “improving the procedure for judging crimes to allow greater speed in the decisions rendered”. Indeed, on reading the explanatory memorandum, it is stated that these DCCs are created “in order, mainly, to reduce the duration of hearings, thus allowing the judgment of a greater number of cases at each session , and consequently to limit the time limits for hearings”.
Finally, the economic aim is beyond doubt. According to the evaluation and follow-up committee, the average cost of a day of hearing before an assize court is €2,060, compared to €1,100 before a CCD. “The current Assize Court does not allow, with its financial and human resources, to judge in satisfactory conditions”, notes Stéphane Mazars, Renaissance deputy for Aveyron and supporter of the reform. at a time when the crisis of confidence in the judicial institution is growing, the deputy of the majority tempers this generalization. “The presence of the popular jury is not totally suppressed, since if the litigant is not satisfied with the judgment rendered, he can appeal and he finds the traditional assize court. »
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