The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice

Implementation of the CEPEJ questionnaire on the quality of justice
at the Angoulème Tribunal de Grande Instance
in June 2010

The Angoulème Tribunal de Grande Instance was the first court in Europe to implement the questionnaire drawn up by the CEPEJ’s experts.

In the minds of the judges and officials working at this French court with jurisdiction over the entire département of Charentes, which has a surface area of 5 956 sq. km and a population of nearly 340 000, the aim was not just to test the questionnaire but also to make it a full and integral part of a process of assessing and improving the quality of justice that has already been going on for several years now.

Accordingly, at the formal opening session of the court in January 2010, the heads of the court publicly announced their intention to implement the CEPEJ questionnaire in the form of a court project.

In March 2010, a working group made up of volunteer officials and judicial assistants (assistants de justice) was appointed to run the project.

In June 2010, two-member teams made up of one court official and an assistant or trainee went to meet all the users of the Angoulème law courts.

245 court users agreed to share their feelings about each of the matters raised in the questionnaire.

In their replies on their general perception of the justice system, most of the respondents said that the system was still slow and expensive and that communication was poor. Their trust in the justice system lay just above the halfway point (3.3 out of 6) as did the importance they attached to this (3.7).

The main expectations of Angoulème’s court users related mostly to security (5.3 out of 6 in the importance ranking) and the attitude of judges and clerks (4.6 and 4.85).

Therefore, even in a rural département, the court users had very high demands in terms of security when they came to our courts (5.3/6) and expressed considerable satisfaction with the security arrangements at the courthouse (5.3/6), stating that they appreciated the attitude and politeness of the security officers (5.1).

The expectations concerning an aspect that lies at the very heart of a judge’s functions, namely impartiality and politeness, were unsurprisingly high. We were reassured by the users’ overall satisfaction level in this area, which was 4.3 for the politeness of judges and officials, 4.17 for the clarity of the language used and 4.1 for the impartiality of judges when conducting the oral proceedings.

The most surprising thing about the replies to the questionnaire was the fact that users were least satisfied about the punctuality of hearings (3.61) and support for victims (2.4!).

On the latter issue, it was clear that the system for advising and supporting victims, which is highly developed and available on the spot, thanks in particular to an association with an office at the courthouse, was still not sufficiently user-friendly.

Similarly, there are clear inadequacies with the signposting at the courthouse and the way in which victims called to appear in court are actually dealt with.

User dissatisfaction concerning the punctuality of hearings seems to derive from users' failure to understand why they should be summoned at the beginning of hearings and then forced to wait for hours without any information on how it is likely to progress.

The court has promised to conduct an investigation into these two sources of dissatisfaction, which were mentioned at the formal opening session of the court in January 2011, and draw up proposals which should be applied in the course of 2011.

For the Angoulème Court, the questionnaire has been an invaluable tool and an integral part of the process of improving the quality of justice in Charentes.

It has borne out two of our key ideas:

– the first is that it is impossible to conduct a quality control procedure at a court without involving the public as it is clear that the professionals’ view of their organisation and practices can be far removed from the feelings of those for whom these systems have been set up;

– the second is that it is not always necessary to make use of an external auditing firm to conduct the assessment if motivated and willing staff can be called on, who are able to accept criticism and whose main concern is to improve procedures continually to meet their fellow citizens’ expectations.

Public prosecutor
at the Tribunal de Grande Instance d'Angoulême