" That's where it all began. There that Nicole Belloubet took all the dresses at her feet ", shows us this lawyer proudly stretching her arm towards a passageway of the judicial city of Caen. On January 8, while the Keeper of the Seals visited the tribunal de grande instance for his first trip in 2020, several dozen lawyers swung their robes "in a spontaneous movement". The rest is well known: several other bars have taken up the initiative, which has even spread in other forms elsewhere, white coats, textbooks, tools, etc.
For three weeks, lawyers have entered the challenge of the pension reform, which provides for the end of their autonomous plan and the doubling of their contributions (from 14% to 28%). A reform which, according to the National Council of Bars, would weigh on the future of small firms. As a result of this strike movement, widely followed in all Bars, in Caen on Tuesday, the large bay windows of the new courthouse only lit up empty corridors.
“It is heartbreaking not to be by our customers' side”
The main mode of action of this Norman bar, which has 400 members of its Order, is the request for referral. The lawyers appear before the court but refuse to plead on the merits. "I am requesting dismissal because of a strike," we hear in a courtroom. Or again: "I ardently request the dismissal". This Tuesday morning, five files, the entire correctional hearing, were postponed to a later date.
This refusal to plead also weighs on family matters. "Certain hearings are postponed for several months, this poses problems for the rights of custody of the children, the payment of alimony which is not decided and tends a little more certain situations", notes a lawyer between two doors.
Me Cindy Boudevin, general delegate of the Bâtonnier, moderates: "We can make exceptions for very urgent cases, but if we explain them, most of the customers are understanding". "It is heartbreaking not to be by our customers' side, to practice the empty chair policy", anger on his side the criminal lawyer Me Kian Barakat.
About 140 of the Caen black dresses came together in a discussion on WhatsApp, allowing them in particular to mobilize quickly in the event of difficulties in obtaining a referral: this Wednesday morning for example, the colleagues decided that they will go to plead several the same file before the Court of Appeal, a way to slow down the hearing.
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The magistrates of Caen seem in their majority rather benevolent towards their adversaries in the courtrooms, even if they remain discreet, bound by their duty of reserve. "The dangers attached to the reform of the lawyers' pension plan seem to us to have more lasting effects than the temporary disruptions of the strike," said Jean-François Villette, magistrate at the court of appeal, and local representative of the Syndicat de la Magistrates.
But some magistrates are not of the same opinion and would like to continue their hearings. "A judge twice asked a client who did not speak French if he was sure he did not want to continue without advice," said a lawyer. Another relates how the magistrate insisted before his client on appeal: "You know, the dismissal is not suspensive, you will return to prison", he would have reminded the accused.
It seems to the administrative court (TA) in particular that it seems to get the most stuck when requesting referrals. The heads of the courts have in fact received a circular from the Secretary General of the Council of State inviting them to pronounce referrals only as "exceptions justified by particular situations", denounces the Syndicate of administrative jurisdiction.
"We too can be adamant"
Faced with this determination, lawyers do not hesitate to organize. Thus, for an audience scheduled for next Friday at TA, they had prepared a reply via Doodle, an online planning application. "We had to make a delegation of colleagues with a former Bâtonnier or members of the Council of the Order to obtain the referral to the forceps", explains Me Cindy Boudevin. But the administrative court finally decided that it would not try the case. "They knew we were coming in force," triumphs the representative of the small bar of Caen.
But lawyers do not hesitate to use another means of action: the massive requests for release of the defendants placed in pre-trial detention. For Monday and Tuesday, around twenty of these requests have been submitted. "With the deadlines imposed, it will clog up the jurisdiction," hopes a lawyer. "The objective is neither to undermine the jurisdiction, nor the clerks who are already suffering", promises Me Kian Barakat: "We want to strike hard, by highlighting the lack of means of justice and showing that we too can be adamant and ramp up. "