An unprecedented procession of black dresses should parade in Paris this Monday from 1 p.m., from Place de la Bastille to Place de la Madeleine. On strike for more than five weeks, lawyers (there are 70,000 in France) protest against the abolition of their autonomous regime provided for in the current bill on pension reform.
The mobilization of this profession is taking a historic turn: since the lawyers went into battle in early January, they have been using great means. Requests for referral of files, massive defense (several lawyers, sometimes a dozen, plead on a single file), no less massive filing of requests for release of defendants, actions that are starting to paralyze many courts.
The fight is also symbolic: we no longer count the demonstrations during the vows of re-entry in the jurisdictions, the throws of black dresses or Penal Code, and the clips of songs and dances shared on the social networks. The haka of the Bobigny bar (Seine-Saint-Denis), the resumption of Adèle's song "Balance ton quoi", transformed into "Balance ta robe" by young lawyers from Valenciennes (North) or the smoke from lawyers from Paris under the windows of Nicole Belloubet, the Minister of Justice, reflect a deep challenge.
VIDEO. "This reform will kill our cabinets"
Christiane Féral-Shuhl, president of the National Bar Confederation (CNB), which represents the professional orders, unions and associations, details the reasons for this anger.
How did the lawyers come to these five historic weeks of strike action?
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CHRISTIANE FÉRAL-SCHUHL. To understand, it is necessary to resume upstream the course of "consultations". During the meetings that took place with Delevoye last year, our representatives returned from meetings saying: He does not listen to us. Then the retirement report came out in July, and we immediately got into it. Very quickly, this turned into a deaf dialogue. We were told: You refuse because you did not understand , or you are in bad faith . In August, the Collective SOS Retirement brought together the liberal professions - all of which have an autonomous regime - and the first demonstration took place in September. The next day, discussions resumed with the Keeper of the Seals and Delevoye who kept repeating: We have decided that you will be in the universal system, tell us what you want . The situation was grim, these meetings led to a deadlock. From October, there was silence. We wrote an open letter in December, which remained unanswered. A second letter on January 2 in which we announced our strike, which is unusual for lawyers. The meetings have certainly resumed, but to no avail. We had a meeting in Matignon this Sunday, it was canceled and postponed to Tuesday.
What is the heart of the problem that leads you to refuse this reform?
Our status is liberal, it is neither that of civil servants, nor that of employees. We have neither job guarantees nor social protection. We finance 100% of our contributions. There is no equal footing possible with the other diets, it would be like mixing cabbage and carrots. This construction has existed for over 70 years and it works very well. We have taken, year after year, binding measures of good management, like the other autonomous funds, and this allows us not only to have reserves for the long term, but to donate as solidarity 100 million euros annually to the community. 1.7 billion over the past 30 years has been donated. Why throw this working system in the trash?
What is the government against you?
That our profession will disappear, among other things, under the effect of artificial intelligence (AI) which will upset it. Of course all professions are going to be modified by AI, but there will always be a need for lawyers, justice does not go with software! Let's be serious, the danger comes from this reform. The lowest income bracket of lawyers, that of 0 to 41,000 euros, will be impacted by a doubling of its contributions, which would jump from 14 to 28.2%. Lawyers are clearly threatened in their survival, and it is also the access of litigants to the law that will suffer. What adds to our nervousness, are also the false words: The lawyers will have better pensions , we hear. We refute these comments, because to have 20% additional pension, calculation disputed incidentally, we would have to increase contributions by 55%!
Do you think it is lawyers, as a profession, who are under attack?
No, these are all Liberals. There are targets on the reserves of all autonomous regimes. Ours amount to 2 billion. The fundraising conference has already said that it should be used on these reserves. This is experienced by lawyers as an expropriation, a kind of nationalization. What bothers us most is that this proven system would be torn down for precarious mechanisms. We are trying to give us guarantees, but tomorrow a finance law can unravel everything.
How do you see the days after the event?
These deadly attacks on lawyers must stop. They are both desperate and angry. It should be noted that 100% of the bars went on strike for more than five weeks. This is unheard of ! We hope to succeed in making it clear that before penalizing lawyers, we should first wait for an evaluation of this law, perhaps proceed by strata. Because once everything is destroyed, there will be no turning back. There is no obligation to advance by forced march. The lawyers' anger is no longer controllable. There is no longer any confidence, there is a rupture.
How do the legal professionals you represent analyze the severe opinion of the Council of State which speaks of “legal uncertainty”?
This opinion of the Council of State clearly changes the situation. It confirms what lawyers have been saying for months! It justifies a break and forces reflection. It would not be a mistake for the government to stay, it would be common sense. Because today there is no guarantee that the proposed system will work. We can also see that discomfort is everywhere, even among certain LREM deputies.
Does the new justice reform, which came into effect on January 1, contribute to the current revolt?
Yes, without a doubt. During this project launched at the start of the mandate, the government put 150 proposals on the table. Solicited, we agreed with 80% of them, and opposed or requesting discussions for the remaining 20%. What was not our surprise to discover that the text of the law was ultimately concentrated on this 20%! I observe that we had not already been listened to on subjects where we are very legitimate. However, certain provisions of this law were later censured by the Constitutional Council.