France: Juries abolished for most rape trials as lawyers decry attack on legacy of 1789
Most rape trials in France will take place without juries under a widely-opposed cost-saving reform that undoes a change instituted by the 1789 revolution.
All cases involving crimes with maximum sentences of between 15 and 20 years will be tried by courts of five judges rather than three judges and six jurors.
The new “département criminal courts” have been tested in 15 per cent of the country in the past three years. The vast majority of the cases, 90 per cent, involved rape.
Several thousand lawyers, academics and judges themselves have signed texts critical of the new system on the grounds that the pilot schemes have not dealt with the overloaded justice system and that abolition of juries is a danger to democracy.
“The popular jury of the assize court, a legacy of the revolution of 1789, shining symbol of participative democracy, is on its way to extinction,” Benjamin Fiorini, a Paris University law professor, wrote in Le Monde. He was supported by hundreds of professionals.
Éric Dupond-Moretti, the justice minister, rejected the criticism. He had, however, opposed it as “the death of the assize court” before he was appointed to his post – when he was a defence lawyer. President Macron appointed him in 2020.
“The reform absolutely does not mean the end of popular juries,” he told RTL radio. “If there is an appeal, the case is tried again by the traditional assize court … and the most serious crimes are still dealt with at the assizes,” he said.