Laymen and Lawmen

Criminal court jurors and the legitimacy of and challenges to the power of judges
By Aziz Jellab, Armelle Giglio-Jacquemot


Jurors in criminal courts are rarely mentioned in judicial reports. The media most often only discuss the role they played in a judgment. Yet the experience of these “judges for a day” reveals the contradictions of a justice system which, calling on non-expert “citizens”, forces them to assimilate legal practices and to take on a role for which they are ill-prepared. To jurors, this socialization process takes place against a backdrop of questions on their own legitimacy. In addition, jurors have to interact with magistrates whose status, reception strategies and debate organization, both in court and during deliberations, make them dominant professionals, with a power that can be perceived as excessive. The division of labor between jurors judging facts and magistrates judging according to the law introduces a subtle hierarchy, where “common sense” and “emotion” seem to be the basis for judgment by jurors, while magistrates rely on “law” and “reason”. Challenging the power of judges, and some of their practices, is a way for jurors to argue that a human perspective should be an intrinsic part of any judgment, as revealed in the biographical history of the juror-citizen. This challenge illustrates the paradoxes of an institution which maintains the fiction of equality between citizens while in effect perpetuating certain forms of domination. This leads to questioning of the criminal courts (cour d’assises) as a “democratic” legacy, the “deliberative democracy” characterizing the court’s modus operandi, and the social impact of this experience, with regard to the involvement of former jurors in the public space.


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