Easter is gone, and the French President has spoken on Easter Monday. Easter is all about life after death, and his little speech was all about light at the end of this dark period. But I’d rather not go any further in this comparison, although the timing of his allocution was evocative. Actually, after enduring 27 minutes or so of such hefty preaching, I felt utterly depressed. Indeed, he gave us a date that many craved. The end of the current lockdown is now known: May 11th. I can’t miss it, it’s one of my childrens' birthday. But this date, dear to my heart, was dashed out with no real explanation of what is to be expected. Schools are to reopen gradually (what the heck does that mean?), and I suppose that by enchantment, masks will be in ready supply, easy to find, effective. I noticed that after the “FFP2 mask”, and after the “surgery mask”, there will be a newcomer: the “General public mask”. I suppose it is the least efficient of all masks. Did anyone test it officially?! Has it been approved by some authority?! No one knows, or at least, I don’t, and the French press, this morning, isn’t very inquisitive about it. Anyone with common sense understands it is nothing more than a “communicational item”. You might as well walk out with a handkerchief under your nose it would be the same…

But above all, what depressed me was the fact that there wasn’t a word in the President’s mouth for the Judiciary.  Hospitals are at work (and brilliantly too), police are doing their bit also, but all French courts are stalled. The public service of Justice, in these times of troubles, is not to be seen. During WW1 and WW2, French courts discharged their duty. They had to enforce some horrible laws at times, but at least they were there. I remember, as a law student, being baffled when I realized that while Uncle Mike was a RAF POW in Germany and after that in Poland (and one of the master escapers of his day, a feat which cost him his life in the end), some of the major French law cases in Tort law were being laid down by the “Cour de cassation” (a mix between the Court of Appeal in London and the Supreme Court). I always wondered how judges and lawyers could debate the subtleties of civil law when, elsewhere, human beings were ill-treated, detained in horrendous conditions, and lost their lives. But the fact remained: major precedents in Tort law (not to mention other areas of the law) were decided in those very dark days indeed. Justice, and the Judiciary as a whole, functioned more or less. Of course, the French Bar was stripped of all Jewish “Avocats”, a shame of all shames, and the same may be said about judges, so it is difficult to say it was all “business as usual”. But at least the necessity of Justice wasn’t negated.

Yesterday, while listening to the French President, I felt very deeply that this necessity of Justice was being negated. The mere fact of not having one word for the Law and the Courts, as though any society can live without them, was saddening and above all depressing. Last March, the French government was allowed to rule through “ordonnances”, that is to say Bills that won’t be run through Parliament. It is, effectively, discretionary power. The “Conseil d’Etat” (one the of two top Courts in France, in charge of Public law, a concept which is foreign to the British mind, and acts as the Prince’s Counsel), gave the nod and furthermore has rejected all fast-track submissions emanating from some lawyers’ and magistrates’ syndicates or professional bodies, that tried to secured public liberties under such a regime. Despite this very tense context, yesterday the President didn’t have a word to say about French Justice and the necessity to get it back on track. Clients have told me over the phone of their debtors who now refuse to pay rents, alimony, or whatever they have to pay (since there is no Judge to enforce any of these, why bother?). A growing idea has dawned onto many minds in France: do what you want, because times are tough. Never mind the contract one signed, never mind the Court Order directing what to do, never mind the gentleman’s attitude. Judges have vanished, lawyers can’t sue, so it’s holiday time for all.

It is sad to realize that the necessity of keeping the public service of Justice open and effective has been totally overlooked by those in power. I have the strange feeling that when this happens, it is a sure sign that something is beginning to squeak in any society. After the Yellow Vests interlude that shook French society so strongly, such oblivion can only be seen as a mark of unconsciousness, bordering on flippancy.

Maybe I am very wrong. Maybe the law is an ass anyway. Maybe Shakespeare was right when he wrote in Henry VI “the first thing we do, let’s kill the lawyers”.

But maybe not. After all, this joke was expressed by villains, who later on in the play commit murderous deeds…

Finally, as I go over these lines once again, I wonder: why should I chafe so much about all this? Wouldn’t I be better advised to get back to another play from the great William, and remember the words that Polonius spoke to Hamlet (despite all his doubts…) : “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.”

Well, let’s hope so…

Jerome CASEY, © 2020, all rights reserved.