Thursday, August 11, 2005

The 10th District Court: Moments of Trial

"10e Chambre: instants d’audiences" is a French fly-on-the-wall documentary of parts of the proceedings of the 10th District Court in Paris. The quick verdict is that things will go worse for you if you insult parking wardens than if you drink and drive!
What you get to see is excerpts from a stream of trials for 105 minutes and then they roll the credits and you think "but… but… why did they stop there?" It didn’t really seem like an hour and three quarters. Because you don’t get to see the whole of any one trial I can’t say for certain how French District Court trials are held. But the trials seemed to follow this format: There is usually one judge and no jury (but some trials merited three people sitting up front). First the judge sums up the case and then questions the defendant, starting with name and address, but quickly moving to asking about what happened and asking the accused to give their side of the story, which the judge usually questions. Sometimes there is a civil plaintiff (in one case it was the insulted parking warden in another a policeman who had been injured arresting a pickpocket -- but not the tourist who had been pickpocketed!) who gets to say what happened to them and the judge asks them how much damages they want. Then the prosecutor makes a brief statement saying how bad the accused is and how terrible the crime was and finish by asking for a particular punishment. The defence lawyer (or the defendant) gets a turn to give excuses and suggest a lighter sentence (or ask for acquittal). Then the defendant gets sent to wait outside until sentencing at the end of the session.
The crimes are mundane: two drink driving charges, a pick pocket, calling two traffic wardens "bitches", pestering phone calls to an ex-girlfriend, carrying a shotgun in a public place, a silly case of a guy who gets into an argument the day he gets out of jail, a dodgy case of carrying an illegal weapon. The defendants are varied from the inarticulate and incoherent to one that shouts despirately and others that won't shut up, even when it is in their interest. The two middle class defendants seem to get up the judge’s nose much more than the others. The lawyers are for the most part odd, postering creatures, that play a minor part in the proceedings.
At the end of the session the defendants are brought back in and the sentences are read out. Each scene is preceded by a date and time, given that one judge heard all the trials and she was still hearing cases at 3am (and having trouble finding her way through her papers) I wouldn't care to be at the end of her case list!
On the whole this is an unusual view into side of French of life that we are highly unlikely to see otherwise and a glimpse at a justice system that is different to our own and to the fictional anglo-american justice system as we see on film and TV.
Ian’s rating 4/5

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