by Patricia BÉNEC’H-LE ROUX – november 2007
Patricia BÉNEC’H-LE ROUX holds a doctorate in sociology. She is associate researcher at the CESDIP and for several years she has been researching mainly two fields : the sociology of juvenile justice and the sociology of professions (public prosecutors, lawyers, drug abuse workers). The present paper reports on some findings of an interdisciplinary study of changes in the profession of chief public prosecutor, conducted between April 2005 and June 2007.
On August 27 2007, a vice-prosecutor in Nancy made submissions at a criminal court hearing that were implicitly critical of the August 10, 2007 Act that provided for minimum sentences against repeat offenders. Those submissions caused him to be summoned by the Ministry of Justice, while his superiors (the chief prosecutor and the Appellate court chief prosecutor) and colleagues, including the inter-union association and the Conférence des procureurs, organised his defence. The present study does not address this incident, but it does shed some light on the affair, as well as on current debates around public prosecutors. The incident does indeed seem to epitomize the tensions specific to this profession, which has undergone considerable change over the last two decades. Until the ‘80s, the work of the Public Prosecution Office was mostly to decide whether a criminal case should be prosecuted or dismissed, and then to make submissions at the hearing, in accordance with the Napoleonic conception of the function.