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France ends 'costly' jury trial experiment

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France ends 'costly' jury trial experiment
File photo of a court in Belfort, France. Photo: Thomas Bresson
11:05 CET+01:00
France announced this week it is to abandon jury trials in certain criminal courts, calling time on former President Nicolas Sarkozy's flagship attempt to ‘democratize' the French justice system.

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira revealed on Monday that France will put an end to jury trials at the country's 'tribunal correctionnels', where all but  the most serious of crimes are tried.

The change in the law brings to an end an apparently failed experiment by the previous Sarkozy government to bring the French people closer to their justice system through his 'citizen-judge' initiative.

“Despite some positive aspects, the reform increased the cost of trials and prolonged the duration of hearings, without improving the public image [of our justice system],” Taubira said in a statement this week.

The pilot program, put in place by Sarkozy in 2011 was trialled in the eastern city of Dijon and Toulouse in the South West.

It involved placing two ordinary French citizens on the bench alongside three judges to hear less serious criminal cases.

A report by two senior judges on February 28th published in the Nouvel Observateur, criticized the jury trials for being costly, “extremely burdensome”, and claimed the citizens were “not equipped technically” to deal with complicated legal issues. Jurors were often swayed by the views of judges on the bench.

The presence of French citizens in such trials is set to formally end on April 30th, according to a statement from the Ministry of Justice.

Jury trials will however continue to take place for more serious crimes which are tried at the ‘cours d’assises’ or Assize Courts.

In these trials six or nine citizens sit with three judges to hear cases concerning more serious crimes, or felonies, which carry sentences of at least 10 years imprisonment.

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