At the end of the four weeks, in order to demonstrate all that you have learned, you are invited to take part in a mock trial – in French – in front of judges from the equivalent of the Supreme Court (la Cour de Cassation) in a courtroom of the historical Palais de Justice.

I was one of the lucky barristers given the opportunity to take part in the Paris Bar Exchange in 2010. It was so much more than I had expected, not only in terms of courtroom etiquette and advocacy, but also learning about the rights of defendants.

The rights of the accused in France

In France, a defendant does not have the right to the presence of a lawyer from the first moment in custody. The defendant also does not have the right to view the evidence or in basic terms, know the case against him. If a lawyer does arrive, he has no part to play in the interview other than to reassure the defendant.

On my first first day in Paris the French constitutional court declared that the current French system for “Garde-a-vue” (detention in custody) was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Apparently, the Gendarmerie (police) were in uproar because they felt that the presence of a lawyer would hamper the police investigation. Surprisingly, this was a view shared by a number of judges that I encountered and the attitude was, with little exception, that the police needed to have the opportunity to investigate the case and get answers from the defendant before a lawyer arrived to “interfere” in matters.

The French criminal justice system: my view

In my opinion there appears to be no belief instilled in the French criminal justice system that a man is “innocent until proven guilty”; rather an accusatory system of “tell us why you are not guilty”. Instead of safeguarding against any potential abuse of power or miscarriage of justice, an overriding concern seemed to be one of minimising expense at all costs.

My perception that safeguarding the public purse to the detriment of ensuring a fair and proper court process became entrenched when I sat in on four robbery trials which all took place in the space of one afternoon, there was no real point in having the defence advocate but for mitigation. A judge would commence proceedings by reading the facts aloud. No live evidence would be called. There would be no cross-examination. The judge would ask questions of the defendants which were sometimes on point, sometimes not. At times, I felt uncomfortable sitting through the proceedings whilst the judge would verbally chastise the defendant for his misspent youth, rather than test the evidence or give the defendant an opportunity to put his case. There would then be submissions from the “partie-civile”, a lawyer representing the injured party and the prosecutor as to what the compensation and other punishment should be. There appeared to be no such thing as “cross-examination”. It seemed that the only role that the defence advocate played was to make closing points or mitigate. I did not see any of those four defendants acquitted.

The French way of doing law

A great deal of time was also spent with the “Cabinet de LaFarge”, a criminal and civil law firm, situated on a bustling avenue near the Arc de Triomphe where I saw how the French do law – glamorously. Each day, I would arrive in the office to be welcomed over a strong, syrupy, black coffee. At 11am and every few hours thereafter, all the lawyers would venture downstairs into the courtyard for their cigarette break. I often accompanied the lawyers to the Palais de Justice where they would be dressed very informally in jeans and trainers.

Avocats v the judges

The advocacy in the civil proceedings would consist of the lawyers approaching the Bench very closely to have what at first appeared to be a civilised chat but then, would suddenly descend into an aggressive battle of wills. I was surprised, at first, that the lawyers showed so little deference to the judges in court but then, after seeing a number of judges, shout over the advocates, talk amongst themselves or pull faces, I understood why.

In France judges and avocats follow different career paths and it is very rare indeed for an avocat to go on the Bench. There is none of the sympathy and understanding of each other’s respective positions that is apparent in the UK system.

Contrast with the UK system

There were moments when I admired the French lawyers. They were fearless and bold in the face of unruly and opinionated judges. However, I felt frustrated that the trial process appeared to be so inherently unfair, that there is no respect between the lawyers and worst of all, for the accused. It truly made me appreciate being a barrister in the UK, equipped with effective advocacy skills and enjoying the benefits of having an adversarial system where the interests of both parties are protected but most importantly, having an experienced judiciary who are detached from the cases that they try.

The Paris Bar Exchange is a programme which is a must for all advocates who have a passion for the French language and a keen interest to learn about a jurisdiction which is geographically so close and yet, historically and culturally, so far removed from anything we could imagine in the UK.

Kakoly Pandé is a criminal barrister and tenant at the Chambers of Mark Love, 2 Dr Johnson’s Buildings, Temple.


The Paris Bar Exchange

Sponsored by the Pegasus Trust, this exchange programme offers barristers of all four Inns of Court (who have been in practice for up to five years) the opportunity to spend a month (September) doing a stage in Paris. Avocat members of the Paris Bar of similar seniority spend July doing a stage in London. The Bar of Paris with the Paris Bar School (EFB) offer: an introductory seminar and other activities at the EFB; a stage in an avocat’s office, preferably specialising in the barrister’s field of practice; attendance at hearings of both interlocutory injunction applications and criminal proceedings; visits to the Palais de Justice, an administrative tribunal or the Conseil d’Etat with some marshalling; meetings between young avocats and barristers and a reception; and conducting a mock trial in the Palais de Justice in French before French judges.

Candidates (who must speak fluent French) should apply not later than Friday, 20 May 2011 by lettre de motivation in French with CV (in French & English) and financial budget to: His Honour Michael Brooke QC, c/o Eamonn O’Reilly, Treasury Building, London EC4Y 7HL, Tel: 0207 797 8210 Fax: 0207 797 8212 E-mail: Visit for more information.