France politics: Quick View - Government gives first hint of likely judicial reforms

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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Politics, News Analysis, Forecast, Political stability
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On January 15th Nicole Belloubet, the justice minister, unveiled the results of a report prepared by a task force convened last October to propose suggestions to long-running weaknesses in the country's court system.


The Ministry of Justice requested that the task force focus on five areas: transforming digital systems, simplifying criminal and civil procedures, updating territorial boundaries and streamlining sentences. These five pillars correspond with the areas identified as particular weak spots during the 2017 election campaign of the president, Emmanuel Macron. The goal is to expedite what are often lengthy court procedures, free up overburdened judges and tackle overcrowding in prisons. Given concurrent efforts to keep a lid on government spending, the policy suggestions must achieve these aims without a significant increase in public funding.

Many of the task force's proposals relate to cutting red tape and are relatively uncontroversial. The task force suggests modernising the courts' digital systems in order to reduce the administrative burden, which is at present substantial. More civil cases would be overseen by a mediator (often a retired lawyer or solicitor) rather than a judge, whereas larger numbers of small-scale offenses would be punishable through fines rather than prison time. The task force also believes that these proposals would reduce the backlog in the court system and help to reduce overcrowding in prisons.

The most controversial aspect of the proposals relates to territorial reorganisation. There are currently 36 courts of appeal across the country-a figure that did not change after the reduction of the number of regions in 2016. As a result, many regions have two or three courts of appeal, which lack co-ordination between each other. The task force suggests centralising these courts of appeal, which has raised concerns among magistrates that some will be closed.

The proposals are likely to form the basis for a series of judicial reforms. The prime minister, Edouard Philippe, has indicated that three separate bills are likely to be unveiled in the coming months: a financial bill related to spending by the justice ministry, a civil procedures reform and a criminal procedures bill. The government hopes to pass these bills before the summer recess, with the measures coming into effect in September.

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