In Nanterre, lawyers and magistrates counterattack
Ordinarily, they clash in courtrooms. This Tuesday, November 29, they were side by side in the gallery. In an attempt to save their court from « shipwreck », Nanterre lawyers and magistrates have decided to make common cause, by launching an unprecedented procedure to have the shortage of personnel imposed by the Chancellery on their jurisdiction recognized. A shortage that has been raging for more than ten years, but which has just resulted in a traumatic tragedy for an entire institution: the death, on October 18, in the middle of a hearing, of a 44-year-old judge, Marie Truchet, who has become the symbol of overworked and exhausted professionals.
For “force the Chancellery to come out of its heavy silence and to explain itself”, the black and red robes chose, unsurprisingly, the weapon of law. The Bar of Hauts-de-Seine and the association of magistrates of the Judicial Court of Nanterre have thus just filed, before the Council of State, an « appeal for excess of power » against the Ministry of Justice. They target a text in particular: the Circular on the location of jobs, often referred to via its acronym CLE, which defines the maximum number of magistrates to which each jurisdiction in France can claim. In Nanterre, this number has been set for 2023 at 109 sitting magistrates, compared to 108 in 2019, and 37 public prosecutors, compared to 36. A minimalist increase, taken without any objective criteria, and in fact “not up to par at all” the real needs of the court (estimated at a minimum of 50 additional magistrate posts), nor the deterioration of the working conditions of justice personnel, all of these professionals proclaimed on Tuesday.
“We are asked to make Tati, not Dior”
“When I came back to Nanterre, five years ago, I was told clearly: “You are not here to make Dior, but Tati”. At best, the most persistent among us – as was the case with Marie Truchet – manage to do Monoprix…” image the magistrate Dominique Marcilhacy, vice-president of the court and delegate of the Union of magistrates (USM), at the origin of this initiative. Clearly, the jurisdiction is totally overwhelmed – and its agents with it – by litigation that no longer has any relation to its human resources. The results ? Hearings that drag on until the middle of the night, magistrates who write their decisions during their holidays or their weekends, and delays that drag on despite everything, to the greatest misfortune of litigants…
« We can’t do it, the situation is catastrophic, continues the colleague of Marie Truchet, who officiates at the correctional center. In my hearings devoted to domestic violence, I systematically dismiss 30% of cases, for lack of time to process them. And these dismissals are more than a year away… I let you imagine the consequences for people. In our corrections center alone, we also have 55 cases whose investigation has been completed, for serious facts such as incest, which are awaiting a trial, but for which we are unable to set a hearing date. »
The specificity of the Nanterre court is not taken into account
In order to compile their case, lawyers and magistrates surveyed all the floors of the Palais de Justice and one thing is clear: the berezina concerns all departments. Thus, the 7th chamber, which is dedicated to disputes related to construction, is literally overwhelmed with files: “between 1600 and 1900, for only three magistrates, without any assistant lawyer to help them, specifies Mariannig Imbert, also founder of the association of local judges. However, these are voluminous, technical, complex files, with considerable financial stakes, which affect the Grand Paris Express, the 2024 Olympics or even the towers of La Défense. Each case takes an enormous amount of time, and it can take six or seven years to come to a decision. What does this mean? »
It is this specificity of the Nanterre court that everyone would like to see taken into account. « The Hauts-de-Seine is 4% of French GDP, the business center of La Défense (1st in Europe and 4th in the world), more than 159,000 companies, including twelve from the CAC 40, and numerous head offices, whose decisions sometimes impact employees throughout France, or even the world”, explains the lawyer Isabelle Clanet-Dit-Lamanit, future president. Hence the colossal litigation in the area of criminal labor law (obstructing freedom of association, accidents at work, concealed work, etc.), collective disputes related to work, or even industrial tribunals. “Today, an employee who wants to bring his dismissal before the industrial tribunal will not see his case judged before the summer of 2026… And if the industrial tribunal advisers disagree, we must add another two years of waiting” , laments the lawyer Sophie Caubel, a regular at the social center of the court. For family affairs, it is hardly better, especially since the assets concerned are sometimes also very large. Once all the documents have been sent, it is impossible to hope to obtain a hearing for a divorce in less than a year. And in the event of disagreement on alimony or child custody, the delays are even more “unreasonable”: you will have to wait between 15 and 18 months… « This exacerbates tensions within couples and can lead to additional problems, such as violence or harassment », points out Dominique Marcilhacy.
The Keeper of the Seals cancels the presentation of his « action plan »!
Faced with the urgency of the situation, lawyers and magistrates were not satisfied with the appeal for abuse of power, which can take several months, even years, before being decided by the Council of State. On November 15, they also filed a « suspension summary » against the CLE circular, in order to have it annulled. This route normally leads to a decision “in a few weeks”. To put pressure on the Keeper of the Seals, who was to present his « action plan » from the Estates General of Justice on Wednesday, the professionals also appealed to elected officials on Tuesday. “They can count on us, has already responded PCF-Nupes MP Elsa Faucillon, present at the press conference, with her colleague Aurélien Saintoul (LFI-Nupes). We are going to hear the minister next week and we will also carry the iron during the discussions on the future justice law. Gérald Darmanin obtained 15 billion euros for the police, not Mr. Dupont Moretti. When we hear the strong words of the justice staff, we can only regret this arbitration. » An arbitration which seems to have had consequences this Tuesday evening. In an email sent shortly before 6 p.m. to the press, the Chancellery simply canceled the presentation of the action plan, « for reasons of the government calendar ». This is postponed to « early 2023 ». Justice will therefore have to wait a little longer, before finally being « repaired ».