Difficult bet than that taken by the journalist Laetitia Ohnona to film, in the very restricted setting of a courtroom, a new absence. That of the popular jurors when justice must rule on any crime punishable by a maximum of twenty years of imprisonment, whose trial, hitherto reserved for the assize court, will now be held before a departmental criminal court.

Tested since 2019 in around fifteen jurisdictions, these courts made up of five professional magistrates will be generalized at the start of 2023. In more than nine out of ten cases, they have to judge rape. “He said to me: ‘Dad, he put his pecker in my buttocks'”, loose, in tears, hands clasped on her chest, the woman who filed a civil action for her son victim of incest, during the audience filmed in full for the documentary Courscriminales, by Laetitia Ohnona. The faces are cut, the voices slightly attenuated, the date kept secret to respect victims as accused.

There remains the judicial court of Caen and its actors, questioned at length to dissect the consequences of a reform which triggered, at its announcement, the ire of lawyers and certain magistrates. “If justice had the means to operate as it was designed, and if it had the means to hear criminal cases within a reasonable time, no one would ask themselves these questions”, notes François Lalès, investigating judge at Caen.

The criminal court is indeed the forced acknowledgment, by justice, that its impoverishment has now reached the sanctity of the assizes. Excluding jurors reduces hearing and trial time, as well as limiting the practice of correctionalization of rapes – some magistrates preferring to minimize the facts to ensure a faster criminal response. But it is on the crime most often devoid of material evidence that the gaze of the citizen escapes.

Exceptional indecision

Without witnesses, without traces, in front of inconclusive child psychiatric expertise and the denials of the accused, a trial of rape of a minor depends on “the child’s word and the value given to it”, notes Laetitia Ohnona. Before a criminal court, it is up to the magistrates alone to forge, in the name of society as a whole, an intimate conviction. The exceptional indecision of the prosecution filmed in Criminal Courts is, in this respect, exemplary.

The panorama, very balanced, of an evolution finally perceived by many actors as “globally positive” and whose level of severity is similar to that of the assizes nevertheless leaves the appearance of regret. Those of the lawyers first, deprived of the hope of returning the conviction of the unseasoned jurors to their verbal contests. Those of a justice, finally, whose citizens are still kept at a distance despite the immense educational contribution that constitutes the responsibility of jurors. André Gide, himself drawn by lot in 1912, kept repeating that it was “an irreplaceable experience”.