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Dive into the heart of the Bobigny court: "We meet the whole of society and, sometimes, the worst of it"


THE PARISIAN WEEKEND. Planted in the middle of the towers, the Palais de Justice de Seine-Saint-Denis, the second largest court in France, deals with

Clara Castello has a Penal Code on the windowsill and a call center helmet on her head.

At the other end of the line, the police tell him about the stupidity and violence of the men.

Stationed in Bobigny, the deputy prosecutor, 29, responds to calls from around twenty police stations in Seine-Saint-Denis to guide them in current cases.

His colleagues take charge of murders, scams, acts involving minors or drugs.

Clara Castello has the right to rape and conjugal homicides as well as to everyday delinquency.

With 200 magistrates, 60,000 new criminal cases (minors and adults combined) in 2019, and 33,000 new civil cases, Bobigny is the second court in France, after Paris.

And he is, so to speak, a victim of his own success.

Built in the 1980s, its glass, concrete and metal building is now undersized and not very functional.

But the place is preparing for its moult.

Lights, security system and electricity will soon be redone.

Above all, an extension of 15,000 m2 should see the light of day by 2026. Total estimated cost: 120 million euros.

For now, the court looks like a beehive of dramas big and small, from neighborhood conflicts to custody clashes to legacy battles.

Without forgetting the crimes and misdemeanors which fall under the penal.

On the permanent set, Clara Castello, deputy prosecutor, responds to calls from the police stations, and decides on the follow-up to be given to the cases mentioned.

LP / Arnaud Dumontier

For Clara Castello, this Monday at the end of March is a terribly ordinary day.

A husband who beats his wife in front of children and neighbors.

A pharmacy in which a customer, after being bullied by the security guard, returns armed with a knife.

An illuminated person who wanders at night in the garden of a private individual, guided, he will say, by the spirit of his deceased mother ... The 67 calls of the day are of the same ilk.

What follow-up to give them?

What to do with people in police custody?

Clara Castello only allows herself a handful of minutes to decide on the "criminal orientation" of each case. That woman who spat in the face of a neighbor for a forgotten salad bowl? It will be a reminder to the law accompanied by a citizenship course. These two colleagues who fought with shovels? They will have to explain themselves to a mediator. And this man who, in six months, contacted his ex-girlfriend 7,000 times, threatening her by text message: "I'm going to burn you and your family"? Trial ! The magistrate instructs the clerk to find a date for the hearing.

That day, the most worrying affair comes from Saint-Denis.

The day before, children were playing ball at the foot of the towers and drew the insults, racist, of the guardian.

"Then his companion came out shouting that he was going to kill everyone", exposes, over the telephone, the judicial police officer.

This 42-year-old Pole - let's call him Igor -, alcoholic and unemployed, is said to have run behind the little footballers brandishing a knife.

He was arrested.

In the neighborhood, another boy told police how, a month earlier, the same Igor allegedly put the edge of a hatchet to his throat.

“It's still worrying!

»Clara Castello chokes, who prolongs the custody of the person concerned, giving twenty-four more hours to the investigators to search his accommodation and find the hatchet.

"Don't you think your son needs his room?"

Justice can be invited to Mr. and Mrs. Everyone.

Sophisticated bun and apple green jacket for her, shapeless gray sweatshirt for him.

Now separated, each one flanked by a lawyer, these thirty-something have two children, 12 and 7 years old.

Before bringing them into the office of Sylvie Le Cabec, the family affairs judge, the clerk verified their identity - it has happened that a lover or a neighbor pretends to be a husband ...

The elegant in the jacket wants exclusive parental authority, the doubling of the alimony and replace the usual name of the children by his own.

She blames dad for slapping and spanking them when he complains that she lets them use social media unattended.

“My client discovered 500 photos of his daughter on TikTok.

On some, she came out of the shower taking lascivious poses, ”attacks the lawyer.

"You will become reasonable, intimate the judge to the parents.

You have a common interest: that your children are well.

And, lady, you are not going to decide everything just because the children live with you.


Accompanied by their lawyer, Hélène and Mickaël wait in front of the 6th room, called the construction room.

They hope to obtain a right of way on the plot of their neighbors, to access their land more easily.

LP / Arnaud Dumontier

Responsible for couples in divorce proceedings or already separated, Sylvie Le Cabec, 64, often sees, in this department, women subject to their husbands, without means of payment or telephone, without friends or work. And also notes the repercussions of these conflicts on the children, which she may decide to hear: “I ask them what would change their lives. Some answer me:

That mom and dad stop insulting each other.

I repeat it to the parents, hoping that it hits. "

In the office, another woman recounts how, with her son, she fled the marital home in 2019: “My husband threatened to kill himself, I couldn't take it anymore…” The mother and child now live in a studio , but the wife always repays the loan of the four-room apartment occupied by the unemployed gentleman. She would like to get the accommodation back, but he fears ending up on the street. "Don't you think your son needs his room?" »Launches the judge at the man, sheepishly.

"In 80% of cases, the fathers do not ask for the habitual residence of the little ones, except to annoy the mother", observes Sylvie Le Cabec, aside. The mother of a 4-year-old girl succeeds them. The father lives in Mayotte. He sent a mail. "He says he has always looked after your child," reads the magistrate. "He lies, he never calls, he never gave me any money", assures the mother. The amount of child support is often the crux of the dispute.

On the other side of the door, other destinies are playing out.

Mickaël and Hélène come out of a hearing in the 6th chamber, called the construction chamber.

The couple, from the community of Travelers, bought a piece of land in Montfermeil, which cannot be built on and is difficult to access.

For thirteen years, he has been fighting in court in the hope of obtaining a right of passage on the neighboring plot.

“We wanted to settle down in order to have a better life,” says Mickaël.

But the town hall and the neighbors give us misery.


In a room on the ground floor, Anaïs Charbonnier, execution judge, presides over the sale by public auction, by banks and condominium trustees, of previously seized real estate.

LP / Arnaud Dumontier

On the ground floor, another atmosphere. Every Tuesday, through an enforcement judge, banks and condominium trustees auction off the assets previously seized from their bad payers. Potential buyers were able to view the homes a few days earlier. If the owner refuses to open, the law allows recourse to the police.

“The debtor can settle his debt until the last minute,” says a lawyer.

Sometimes when he sees 40 people arriving at his house for a visit, he clicks.

»A garden level of 30 m2 in Livry-Gargan is sold for 95,000 euros, legal costs included.

A studio in Epinay-sur-Seine goes for 138,000 euros.

"We must wait until the end of the winter break to request the eviction of the occupants," murmurs a regular.

It may take a year and a half to collect your purchase.

»It will remain to renovate and resell it to collect a capital gain.

At the assizes, the atmosphere is tense

Meanwhile, Clara Castello received news of the search carried out at Igor's home. "The police have not found his hatchet," sums up the substitute. But they discovered a 22 long rifle rifle. It is a category B weapon, the possession of which is prohibited without authorization. The magistrate decides to present Igor the next day before the 17th chamber. This system, called immediate appearance, is reserved for offenses. Crimes require further investigation and go to trial.

That day, the magistrate on duty - there are fourteen examining magistrates in Bobigny - is a smiling forty-something, who prefers to keep her name silent.

“I am a shadow worker.

She points to a thin pink cardboard pocket on her desk, "a recent rape", before pointing to a bulky stack of documents.

“There, the investigation is practically finished: a money conveyor suspected of having stolen 3 million euros.


Read alsoExtension, business, staff: the files of the new president of the Bobigny court

Rape, armed robbery, murders, assassinations… And the darkest part of the human soul, especially sordid cases of pedophilia, fall to the examining magistrates.

“You meet all of society and, sometimes, the worst of it.

And we are alone.

It is impossible to talk about such horrors to those around us.

"The forty-something, in charge of a hundred cases, is thus confronted with shaken babies or settling of scores between cities," because during a punitive expedition in a neighborhood, a young man fled less quickly than others ".

The examining magistrate never decides on penalties.

Its role is limited to conducting investigations: hearings, requests for expert opinions… “I am autonomous, independent, but responsible for my decisions.

The examining magistrate is not all-powerful.

Anything I do can be appealed.


In the office of one of the fourteen investigating judges from Bobigny, the files are piling up.

These concern a single case, soon to be judged.

LP / Arnaud Dumontier

Once it considers a case ready for trial, it returns it to the Criminal Court (in the case of a complex offense) or orders an indictment before the Assize Court (for a crime).

That of Bobigny operates from Monday to Friday.

This week, she's examining a failed assassination.

The jurors, citizens drawn by lot, and three magistrates took their places at the back of the large room.

In front of them, curious people, journalists and a dozen lawyers.

The victim is also present, in a wheelchair.

Jimmy has been paraplegic since a man shot him in the Bondy forest in 2017. Judged today, his ex-partner Amandine admitted having hired the killer and led Jimmy into this ambush.

Their son, 3 at the time, was out for a walk, strapped to his stroller.

The debates take place in a serious, tense atmosphere.

The Assize Court will sentence Amandine to eighteen years in prison.

In the Salle des pas perdus of the courthouse meet lawyers, magistrates, visitors… LP / Arnaud Dumontier

Outside the room, the court continues to live.

Here, two lawyers exchange courtroom jokes.

There, another takes a calm voice to address his client.

Sixty-year-olds wandering the inner courtyard look more like lost tourists than a couple waiting to take the helm.

Young people tap on their smartphones, overcoming boredom while waiting for a friend's trial.

A man dozed off on a bench, indifferent to the cries that suddenly echoed from the reception of the building.

The public must pass through a metal detector before entering, which generates waiting and nervousness.

A visitor screams, brandishing papers, perhaps her summons.

“A lower tone.

If you yell, you go out!

»Annoys a policeman, who ends up pushing out the indelicate.

At the deposit, scabies, tuberculosis and Covid

Igor is now in the depot, the court jail.

He had been taken there the night before, installed in a cell, a tiny, blind room covered, walls to the ceiling, worn tiles, and closed by a heavy metal door.

Managed by the Ministry of the Interior, the Bobigny depot welcomes its residents even at night.

It is also saturated with, sometimes, more than 100 arrivals coming from the police stations (the “referrals”) or the remand centers (the “extracts”) for 33 jails, individual or collective.

Every morning, prosecutors, lawyers and social workers descend into this cramped prison to meet the defendants before the afternoon hearings.

Prison court, the depot consists of 33 cells.

LP / Arnaud Dumontier

The five maintenance boxes are not enough, especially since, that day, one of them is closed while waiting to be disinfected. An inmate with scabies passed by. “There is a large mix of people in a small place, recognizes Fabrice Maître, responsible for the depot. We have to deal with scabies, tuberculosis, and now Covid. In March, several officials fell ill and the departmental equestrian and anti-crime brigades came to strengthen the workforce.

"We also have people who try to cut their veins or hang themselves in a cell," continues the police commander.

Without forgetting the risk of escape.

Each newcomer goes through a metal detector and is superficially searched.

Sometimes the police find smartphones or, slipped through the elastic band of an underwear, plastic coffee stirrers sharpened like scalpels.

For lack of a place to isolate themselves, the prosecutors sometimes speak, standing, in the corridors, with the referees.

They notify them of the offenses with which they are accused.

This homeless man accused of having hit his mother will have to answer for acts of violence which resulted in days of total disruption to work, but also for contempt of a policewoman.

Read alsoThe filing of the Bobigny court on the verge of explosion

“The cops called me a son of a bitch.

Me, I said:

Peggy the slut,

it's nothing!

»Vociferates the person concerned, in jogging and tap dancing.

"It is not because I reproach you for the offenses that you have no rights, reminds him the prosecutor Ludovic Lestel, fitted gray suit.

You can file a complaint against the police officers.


An employee of Apcars, an association employed by the court to conduct personality investigations, Erika, 46, questions the prisoners about their background, their training, their family… These elements will be discussed during their trial.

"The sentence must take everything into account, not just the criminal record," explains Erika, who comes across people damaged by drug addiction, domestic violence, city galleys.

“Many are not used to talking about themselves, or are totally in the present.

What happened before, what will happen after, doesn't matter.

It is Igor's turn, brought in handcuffed by a policeman.

The Pole appears frail, as if extinct.

Tells him about his addiction to vodka - up to one bottle a day - and his jobs as an electrician or plumber.

An accident a few years ago locked him up at home.

The service of seals, an improbable cave of Ali Baba

Found during the search, his 22 long rifle rifle is intended to end up in the seals department, where the objects seized during the investigations are kept.

The larger ones, like the 1,500 vehicles recovered over the years in Seine-Saint-Denis, are stored far from the court.

But the rest is stored on site in an improbable Ali Baba cave where game consoles, smartphones by the thousands, bottles of fine wines and bloodstained clothes are piled up.

CDs filled with pedophile images sit alongside split motorcycle helmets, vestiges of fatal accidents.

A strong room contains the most sensitive: weapons, including a bazooka, and ammunition;

valuables (jewelry, ingots, diamonds);

drugs, even if in each case, only a sample is kept for possible analyzes, the rest being destroyed.

Me Mbeko Tabula (left) accompanies one of his clients of the day, in interview with the prosecutor, who informs him of the facts against him as well as of his rights.

The man is assisted by an interpreter.

LP / Arnaud Dumontier

The tribunal thus keeps within its walls the evidence of decades of investigations.

Once the case has been finally decided and under certain conditions, the seals can be returned to their owners, crushed and incinerated, sold for the benefit of the State or transmitted to institutions.

The management of this stock, which is not fully computerized, is a headache.

“We kept human bones in Bobigny which were donated to the Paris medico-legal institute.

Counterfeit franc notes, dating from the 1980s, have been entrusted to the Banque de France.

And, last week, three elephant tusks and a rhino horn went to the National Museum of Natural History, ”explains Claire Stanescou, 41, recruited to order this junk.

Last year, this new director of court registry services tackled unnecessary drugs.

Almost 1 ton of narcotics went to the incinerator.

"I am now looking for a solution to destroy firearms," ​​continues Claire Stanescou.

The oldest were seized in 1975, before the construction of the court!


Trials soon to be filmed?

It's time for Igor to see his judges. Spiral staircases lead directly from the depot to the courtrooms, one or two floors above. Police officers escort the accused to the accused's box and, for safety, sit behind him. So this is the 17th courtroom, one of the two chambers dealing with immediate appearances. The representative of the prosecution, responsible for defending the interest of the community, and the clerk sit on the platform, soon joined by the three judges.

Called to decorum by a police officer, four young people in the audience silently remove their caps.

On the benches too, three pre-teens huddle up against their mothers: the Pole's alleged victims.

From the outset, the lawyer asks for a postponement of the trial, so that her client can prepare his defense.

The judge is required to agree - it is the law - but can keep Igor in detention until the new hearing.

His lawyer pleads for release.

“I suggest that you simply forbid him to go to Saint-Denis.

He always managed.

He's going to find a place to stay, ”argues the black dress, who discovered the case a few hours earlier.

It was committed ex officio.

Every morning, a lawyer (here, Me Baheja Rajoun) collects the files of the day before distributing them to his colleagues appointed to work.

LP / Arnaud Dumontier

In fact, every morning, a lawyer takes cognizance of the cases heard in the afternoon, and distributes them to the brothers and sisters present.

On the program of the day, 22 people in immediate appearance, two openings of judicial information for rape and a file of fraud by an organized gang.

Imposing, Me Mbeko Tabula, shoulders tight in a jacket that is too small, dreadlocks cascading down to the lower back, is one of these advocates for urgency.

The morning we meet him, he has to defend a Moroccan without shelter or papers, who broke into a pharmacy at night to steal 237 euros. "At 95%, I see amateur delinquency," analyzes the lawyer. While their elders had a favorite field - burglaries, robberies - young people try to do everything, and usually do it badly. Some, unconsciously, want to experiment with jail to add this line to their CV. "

In the box, the Moroccan, who lied about his identity during his arrest, immediately promises to tell the truth. "It's all to your credit," laughs the president of the tribunal. The defendant talks about his mother who was sick with cancer and who remained in the country. "I'm sending her money," he said, promising "not to go out at night again." He was sentenced to five months in prison, then to leave French territory.

“As much, for 237 euros? It is class violence! »Loose Me Tabula, favorable to filmed hearings, a reform proposed by Eric Dupond-Moretti, the current Minister of Justice, in order, says the lawyer," that the magistrates can realize their excesses ". The judge issues a warrant of committal: the man will sleep in prison tonight. Not Igor. He was released with a ban on appearing in Saint-Denis. His trial is postponed to May 26.

Source: leparis

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