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Juvenile criminal justice reform enters into force: here’s what it changes – France


Recast of the 1945 ordinance

This new code is a major overhaul of the ordinance of February 2, 1945 relating to delinquent children, which laid down as principles the primacy of education over law enforcement, the specialization of juvenile justice and the reduction of responsibility according to age. These principles are reaffirmed in the CJPM preliminary article.

The age of criminal majority remains set at 18 years.


Criminal proceedings in two stages

This is the flagship measure: the text introduces a two-step procedure, with a break between the first hearing which decides at short notice on the guilt of the minor – and where applicable on the reparations granted to the victim – and the second which pronounces the sanction. In the meantime, the minor is subjected to a period of “educational probation”, a period of observation which may include educational measures and security measures. This principle of “hyphenation” has exceptions. The text makes it possible to hold a single hearing, ruling on both guilt and penalty, for low-gravity facts or when the minor is already the subject of educational monitoring. For repeat minors, the court can also be seized by the prosecution for the purpose of a single hearing during a deferral, “a kind of immediate appearance for minors”, worry the magistrates’ unions.


Constrained deadlines

For the first time, the time limits for judgment are time-bound. The phase of instruction before the juvenile judge having been abolished, the minor will be summoned within ten days to three months for the first hearing to decide the question of his guilt. Then, six to nine months later, the hearing on the sanction will take place. It is educational in first intention, but a sentence can be pronounced by exception. Sanctions can be pronounced by the juvenile court or by a single judge in the council chamber, where before the reform only educational measures could be decided.


Unique judicial educational measure

It replaces the multiple devices created over the successive reforms of the 1945 ordinance. To individualize the educational work, it is flexible: integration (schooling), reparation for the offense committed (towards the victim with his consent or towards society. ), health (medical care), placement (in a home, in a foster family, in school boarding). The judicial educational measure can be ordered for five years and it can be extended if necessary until the young person is 21 years old. A “judicial warning” can also be pronounced with regard to a minor, resulting from the merger of previous measures, which disappear (admonition, surrender to relatives and solemn warning).


Reduce pre-trial detention

This is one of the objectives of the reform, while the number of minors incarcerated in pre-trial detention awaiting trial, and therefore presumed innocent, had exceeded more than 80% in recent years. The text restricts it to serious cases and to repeat minors, within the framework of a judicial investigation or during a deferral with a view to a single hearing. It can also be pronounced after the revocation of a judicial control or a house arrest under electronic surveillance.


Presumption of criminal irresponsibility before 13 years

The first CJPM article states that “minors under the age of thirteen are presumed not to be capable of discernment”. This presumption is simple and can therefore be challenged: a judge will be able to decide that a young person of 11 or 12 years is endowed with discernment, which supposes that he “understood and willed his act” and “is able to understand the meaning. of criminal proceedings ”. He will then receive an educational measure. This presumption of irresponsibility is above all symbolic since it was already not possible to pronounce a sentence against a minor under 13 years old. By setting this age threshold, France is also bringing itself into compliance with the international texts which require it. In Europe, the age of criminal responsibility varies: it is 10 years in England and Wales, 14 years in Spain, Germany and Italy, 18 years in Belgium.

“Untenable” deadlines

To support the reform, the ministry has strengthened the courts by creating 72 magistrates’ posts and 100 clerks, to which are added the recruitment of educators in the judicial protection of young people (PJJ). Resources “insufficient to respond to the current misery of children’s courts”, tackle Cécile Mamelin, of the Union Syndicale des Magistrates (majority), in principle in favor of a reform. In particular, there are still many cases to be dealt with in the various jurisdictions, which will have to deal with the procedures “in stock”, initiated under the regime of the 1945 ordinance and those falling under the new code.

The question of means will be at the heart of rallies organized this Thursday in front of the courts at the appeal of a collective bringing together the unions of the PJJ, the Syndicate of the Magistracy or the Syndicate of Lawyers of France, standing against a reform deemed repressive .

Beyond that, professionals wonder about the capacity of the courts to judge within the allotted time, without deviating from the spirit of a reform which establishes as a principle the time given to educational work. “It’s pretty like that on paper, but the deadlines are untenable,” warns Sonia Ollivier, of the SNPES-PJJ-FSU, the first union of specialized educators. “The fear is that we have so much difficulty in meeting deadlines that we find ourselves managing, increasing the number of unique audiences, less individualizing the follow-up in order to save hearing time”, fears Pascale Bruston, president of the court for children (TPE) of Paris.