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The ’House of Justice’ amongst the people : the sword and the scales of justice

03 / 1993

At the foot of a block of housing in the neighbourhood of Gennevilliers (in the suburbs of Paris), an outpost of justice has been occupying a former butcher’s shop since November 1991. It is the tenth of its kind in France, created in the same vein as the "Houses of Justice and the Law" in Cergy, Argenteuil, Sarcelles, Lyons (where there are four), Villeurbanne or Vaulx-en-Velin, all in areas said to be "difficult".

The programme "Grand angle" on France Culture (Radio France)broadcast a programme on the 9th May 1992 about these "Houses of Justice" and more particularly about the one in Gennevilliers, created on the initiative of the Public Prosecutor’s Department and funded by the local and regional councils but independent from them. This decentralised structure "favours mediation" and aims to reconcile the inhabitants of this popular neighbourhood with the justice system. More than just mediation, it is a system of "conciliation-compensation", carried out by a professional magistrate in addition to his normal function, which represents a considerable amount of extra work. According to its supporters, the advantages of this justice at close proximity are numerous: it is rapid, it enables petty delinquency to be treated properly whereas it is normally treated badly or not at all. "Only a very short period of time expires between the crime and the summons (4 days instead of the usual 15)which permits reflection before any lapse of memory intervenes". This facilitates the dialogue in the attempt to reach a compromise and reasonable compensation.

By getting other people to intervene (victims’ associations, a probation committee, psychologists, social workers)the "House of Justice" has tried not only to ensure the settlement of judicial problems, but also to provide a social or medical service, thereby sowing another idea of justice. Going beyond the idea of a solely repressive justice, it wants to play a preventive role of legal information, and perhaps even protection (especially from police abuses). The young people of Gennevilliers seem to be satisfied with this open dialogue with justice. As for the chief of police, he hopes for greater comprehension by the magistrates of the daily problems faced by police officers, citizens and even delinquents.

Despite all this, there are still many doubts which are expressed: on one hand, some judges fear that a justice too close to the people does not give as good a guarantee of anonymity and neutrality as some would like, and does not fulfil the arbitral role of the judgement (which is separate from the question of the knowledge of people’s problems). On the other hand some young people only see in it yet another tool of repression, whereas victims and police chiefs deplore the feebleness of its non-repressive approach!

The future of the "Houses of Justice" is hanging in the balance: should we make a law to generalise them, at the risk, according to Pierre Lyon-Caen, a state prosecutor, of provoking certain deviations (excessive repression or compromises). The latter would however like to see , their extension to underprivileged areas, an idea which the father of the "Houses of Justice" condemns, as he refuses to see in them an exceptional justice for disadvantaged neighbourhoods but rather prefers to associate them with a certain type of litigation (maintenance allowances, representation of children etc.).

Palabras claves

justicia, delincuencia, medio urbano, población desfavorecida

, Francia, Gennevilliers


Peppered with interviews and genuine examples, the programme highlights very well the questions and contradictions brought up by the phenomenon of the "Houses of Justice": sowing a "new idea of justice". The problem is just that! Does it mean changing the image (the look)of justice, which does not enable the population to reappropriate justice, unlike the "Boutiques de droit" (Community Justice Centres). This stands out very clearly from the interviews of young people and of the "users", they seem satisfied by the less procedural, less impressive and "warmer" aspect of this justice, but do not share in its conception or in its definition.


Original card in French in Dph data base. The ’title/sub-title’ field corresponds to the ’translated title’ field in the French card.

Interview with FOSSAT, Pascale; BRENIER, François



La Maison de Justice dans la cité: le glaive et la balance

Juristes Solidarités - Espace Comme vous Emoi, 5 rue de la Révolution, 93100 Montreuil, FRANCE - Tél. : 33 (0)1 48 51 39 91 - Francia - - jur-sol (@)

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