“Mr Éric Dupond-Moretti, Keeper of the Seals, Minister of Justice”. Rarely has a surname attached to a function caused such amazement. On July 6, 2020, when the secretary general of the Elysée solemnly recites the names of the ministers responsible for composing the new Castex government, that of the lawyer leaves justice professionals speechless. Some of his friends, warned a few days earlier, even believed it was a joke. “We were taken aback, almost suspicious! “Recalls lawyer Jérôme Gavaudan, who chairs the National Bar Council (CNB).
His criminal colleague, well known to the French for his stunts in the courtrooms, is nevertheless very serious. Thirty-six years after being sworn in as a lawyer in Douai, Eric Dupond Moretti has therefore abandoned the dress to put on the costume of Keeper of the Seals. A change of hat that did not make anyone laugh in the ranks of the magistrates’ union organizations, whose initial mistrust has never dropped a notch in two years of reign of “acquittator” Place Vendôme.
A “declaration of war”
Solicited by Agence France Presse on the day of the announcement of her appointment, the president of the USM (union of magistrates), Céline Parisot, had described this decision as a “declaration of war” with regard to her profession. . If the war did not take place, the icy relations maintained between the magistrates’ unions and the minister who would see himself re-enlisted have never warmed up, quite the contrary. Fearing possible conflicts of interest between his new functions as minister and his past profession as a lawyer, two unions – the USM and the Syndicate of the Judiciary (SM) – filed a complaint in December 2020 against Eric Dupond-Moretti.
The two organizations accused him of having taken advantage of his new status to intervene in cases for which he was previously a lawyer. These complaints led to the opening of an investigation by the CJR (Court of Justice of the Republic) then to the indictment of Eric Dupond-Moretti for illegal taking of interests, on July 16, 2021.
A blow for the minister who nevertheless benefited from the support of the executive. “Nobody was fooled by the politicization of this affair”, underlines a macronist. Contrary to a position defended in 2017, Emmanuel Macron, this time, preferred to keep his Keeper of the Seals and sweep away the Balladur “jurisprudence” according to which any minister under investigation should resign. A valuable mark of confidence for the novice in politics who has established himself as one of the few identifiable figures of Macronie and one of its most ardent defenders to the general public.
A “historic” strike
But distrust of the minister, once confined to union players, spread throughout the profession last fall. The judiciary, usually silent, found itself in the street during an unprecedented mobilization which brought together judges, clerks and lawyers. This strike was born after the publication of a column in The world in which young magistrates denounced “difficult working conditions”, a chronic lack of time, “suffering” staff and a “loss of meaning” within the profession.
A sign of this tension around the minister, an unusual pass of arms surprised the actors in the middle last January. On the occasion of the solemn hearing of the return of the Court of Cassation, the Attorney General François Molins had regretted in his speech the “untenable working conditions” and the “structural lack of means” of justice. Remarks deemed “scandalous” by Eric Dupond-Moretti who, according to several witnesses, had scolded the high magistrate in the hushed corridors of the judicial body.
“This is one of his great successes in Place Vendôme, ironically the deputy from the north, Ugo Bernalicis (LFI), Eric Dupond-Moretti will have succeeded in launching a historic inter-union movement and mobilizing magistrates who until now had the habit never to leave their reserve. And no one had done that before him! »
An increase in budget and recruitment
“This mobilization was extremely unfair in view of what he obtained in terms of human and financial progress”, regrets for his part a connoisseur of the Chancellery. During a press conference organized a few days before this strike, Eric Dupond-Moretti had wanted to defend his record tooth and nail. “When we arrived, justice was in a state of absolute emergency. We have repaired the most urgent emergencies, ”he said. In fact, in five years, the ministry’s budget has increased from 8.9 billion euros in 2022 against 6.8 billion in 2017. The budget for judicial services, for the operation of the courts in particular, has increased by 18 % in five years and 698 magistrates and 870 court clerks have been recruited.
“Objectively, we cannot take away from him the successive budget increases obtained. But the minister did not manage to get the justice system out of its state of structural under-staffing. We also regret that a large part of these funds was used to hire contract workers who are precarious jobs and which are not likely to meet the real needs in the courts”, underlines Kim Reuflet, general secretary of the Union of judiciary. Among these contract workers, nearly 1,400 have however been made permanent, assures the Chancellery.
Accustomed to verbal contests in the courtrooms, the former lawyer also distinguished himself in the Hemicycle. In less than two years, the Minister has defended nearly 25 texts before parliamentarians. The strengthening of the professional secrecy of lawyers, the creation of a criminal justice code for minors or the establishment of filmed trials are to his credit. Opposed to their establishment when he was a criminal lawyer, Eric Dupond-Moretti recorded the generalization of departmental criminal courts, these courts without a popular juror aimed at unloading the submerged assizes. A “political skill”, underlines a macronist: “If he had decided to abolish this court which had nevertheless borne fruit during a first experiment, he would have been criticized for giving priority to his former convictions as a lawyer over the interest general ! »
For his colleague Jérôme Gavaudan, the advances made by the law on confidence in the judicial institution have also made it possible to “reverse the steam” in terms of individual and collective freedoms. “At the start of the five-year term, we were in a security trend with the passing of anti-terrorism laws or the law on global security. Dupond-Moretti, he has introduced very important provisions which make it possible to strengthen the rights of the defense and of litigants, ”he greets.
A limited time
But the time given to the Keeper of the Seals will have got the better of some of his ambitions. Launched with great fanfare by the Head of State in Poitiers in October 2021, the Estates General of Justice could not be completed in time for the Minister. Envisaged for March, the recommendations drawn up independently by a committee will not ultimately be able to be presented before the reshuffle, indicates a judicial source.
Finally, when he arrived at Place Vendôme, the Keeper of the Seals had made a vow to bring “the long-awaited reform of the prosecution service”. Considered many times under various governments and majorities, this constitutional revision which would give prosecutors their independence has never taken place. Will he have the opportunity to bring to fruition this promise which was already on Emmanuel Macron’s program in 2017? Interviewed in December by Le Figaro on this subject, Eric Dupond-Moretti had evaded: “We will see, things happen when they have to happen. The future will make us learned”.