Dialogue and the Inquisitorial Tradition: French Defence Lawyers in the Pre-Trial Criminal Process


Recent years have seen an intermittent debate amongst journalists, policy-makers and academics in adversarial jurisdictions about the nature and quality of the inquisitorial tradition in criminal process. Much of the political impact of the debate in Britain has stemmed from the view asserted periodically by certain high profile figures that some form of judicial supervision of police investigation – as practised for example in France – might be introduced in England and Wales.1 Such views tend to find expression when events call into question not just particular rules but also the underlying structures and assumptions of our adversarial tradition of criminal process. Thus in 1991 the public revelation of serious miscarriages of justice led to the appointment of a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in which the adversarial character of the pre-trial process seemed to be a key point of interrogation.2 The police view, demonstrated in a number of key cases, was that once they were clear that a suspect was guilty they had no responsibility to pursue exculpatory lines of investigation. This, combined with the failure of defence lawyers to play the extensive, autonomous investigative role the adversarial system demanded of them, encouraged some to ask whether there might not be advantages in somehow ensuring that the resources and rights of the state were devoted to pursuing exonerating as well as incriminating evidence. Given the limited empirical evidence then available on the workings of judicial supervision in practice4 and the sometimes vehement dispute in France itself about the future of its pre-trial process and especially the juge d'instruction(examining magistrate), the proposals were perhaps not surprisingly rejected.5 But since the mid 1990s, British funders have begun to finance a number of empirical studies of French criminal justice.6 This paper reports the principal findings of a empirical study primarily funded by Britain's Economic and Social Research Council into the role of defence lawyers in France.7 Our focus and primary theme is the developing nature of their dialogue and exchanges with key state actors such as judges, prosecutors and the police on the one hand and with clients on the other. But in so doing we aim to cast light on the broader functioning of the pre-trial process in France.

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Field, S., West, A. Dialogue and the Inquisitorial Tradition: French Defence Lawyers in the Pre-Trial Criminal Process. Criminal Law Forum 14, 261–316 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:CRIL.0000037066.92478.3e

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  • Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Process
  • Public Revelation
  • Police Investigation
  • Defence Lawyer