Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Supreme Court art: 'Bunnies can and will go to France.'

The Eurostar dips under the Channel. 'Is Mummy frit now?' yells a little boy to his father. His mother disappears under a blanket.

As we go down the rabbit hole, that line about bunnies pops into my head. The former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe was alleged to have written it to an ex-lover and blackmailer, implying that a good job in France could be found to mollify him. The chief victim was Rinka, a Great Dane, who was shot dead. The case went to the Old Bailey.

But I digress. Today I want to show you somewhere more elevated, the Cour de cassation, which is the Paris equivalent of the Supreme Court, but the closest I'm allowed to get is the door [right].

It's Paris fashion week so I'm forced to observe that the Cour de cassation logo, with one C reversing into the other, resembles that of Chanel.

I take my disappointment off to the Cour d'appel, in the same building, for cannabis, theft and fraud - brief hearings with repeat offenders.

The first shock is the sight of the leading judge's bare forearm beneath his robe.

In the arena below the bench, each advocate in turn mounts a display like an auditioning actor or bird seeking a mate.

The territory of the accused is separated from the rest of the court by bullet-proof glass. Papers are passed between narrow gaps in the glass panels. Gendarmes move freely around the courtroom and their guns make my tender English soul recoil.

A gendarme calls me 'tu' even though I'm a stranger, and older than he is. Is that because we're all post-revolutionary comrades together? Or is it a power thing?

When the judges start deliberating, I have to leave.

I go to the vast Salle des pas-perdus, a dimly lit marble loitering area. It contains two unnamed sculptures of lawyers who should each have a caption on the wall.

A monument to Chrétien-Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (1721–94), premier président, inevitably represents the right to advocacy. He came out of honourable retirement to defend the most hopeless client of all time, Louis XVI, and as a result was guillotined, together with his family.

Jean-Étienne-Marie Portalis (1746–1807) could indeed throw the book at you, as he wrote much of it: the Code Civil, which the courts in the Palais de justice work to uphold.

Back in London, I pop into the Supreme Court for a special on-location recording of BBC Radio 4's Law in Action: Joshua Rozenberg is interviewing Lord Neuberger, with Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty in the audience.
BBC technician

Openness prevails.

Joshua Rozenberg

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