Introduced in 1806, the French prud’hommes or industrial tribunals deal with over 200,000 cases every year, settling disputes between employees and employers, namely conflicts regarding dismissals, salaries, paid leave or harassment. For several years, there has been debate about these tribunals currently composed of four non-professional judges: two councillors (conseillers) elected by employers, two others elected by employees. “Prud’hommes judges are not the same as those who have completed ten years of studies, but rather professionals who have been elected,” comments Claude Llorente, an experienced Parisian lawyer who has pleaded before the Paris Prud’hommes for a number of years. “And in the end, even if this system is decried by employers, it works out not too badly.
Having your nose stuck in books and the Employment Code for years does not always allow a person to search the depths of the human soul so well.”
Towards the end of the “judge and party” system?
Long the bête noire of employers, the Prud’hommes is tipped in favour of employees. The President of the tribunal makes the final call whenever results yield a draw, namely when each side wins the favour of two tribunal members. “It would be necessary to tackle a reform of the Employment Code, to make it more flexible,” comments the Parisian lawyer. “It’ll be years before we see professional judges.”
The working group presided by Didier Marshall suggests setting up a “tribunal du travail” (employment tribunal) – a new name for the Prud’hommes – whereby procedures would commence by an attempt at mediation, run by an employee councillor and an employer councillor. In the event of failure, the case would be referred to a mixed panel composed of a professional magistrate (who would preside over the panel) and two elected councillors. While formulating this proposal, the working group recognises that “it is necessary to take into account the strong opposition of prud’hommes councillors to the mixture of professional and non-professional judges, perceived by them as a source of a loss of identity and probable disinvestment”. To balance out its recommendations, the working group also suggests introducing mixed panels of professional and non-professional judges in the case of appeals.
Claude Llorent is sceptical about the proposal. “It’ll take years before we see professional judges. And it’ll come as no surprise if new revolutionaries supporting Mélenchon (editorial note: a French politician) and other unions come and launch initiatives so that nothing hampers this system.”