Like fois gras, revenge is best served cold. So, 200 years after Waterloo, exponents of the justice system created by Napoleon’s deputy Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès may be excused for crowing a little.
At a conference at the University of Westminster last week to promote the impending reform of French contract law, first-instance court judge Michaël Haravon deployed some gentle wit to contrast aspects of the French and English systems.
For a start, he said (in impeccable English) he was not a representative example of the judiciary, as 63% of judges in France are women. He also noted that in France the expression ‘having your day in court’ is a reality, with 70% of civil claims getting a hearing and a decision. ‘There are no court fees’, he observed by the way. Whether ‘quick and dirty’ civil justice was superior to the ‘full majesty of the common law’ was ‘not something I could possibly comment upon’.
However, he confessed to a certain inferiority complex (or did he?). ‘We are told that our system offers no advantages over common law systems and this leads us to approach reforms in a self-critical way.’ Unlike in the common law world, where the approach to reform is: ‘We are the best in the world, how can we make it better?’