Research Handbooks in Comparative Law series
Edited by Jacqueline E. Ross and Stephen C. Thaman
Chapter 12: The French case for requiring juries to give reasons: safeguarding defendants or guarding the judges?
This chapter provides a descriptive and analytical examination of the requirement for lay jurors to give reasons for their decisions. In the 2010 case of Taxquet v. Belgium, the European Court of Human Right announced a new right for criminal defendants ‘to understand verdicts’. This jurisprudence has prompted a number of Council of Europe countries to overhaul their criminal procedure, including France, which now requires that its mixed courts, in which professional and lay judges deliberate collectively, justify their decisions on guilt or innocence. Descriptively, the chapter presents the Strasbourg court’s position as well as the French response to it, which have both been heralded as moral advances for criminal defendants. Analytically, the paper considers the values and purposes of reason-giving. What is this turn to heightened reason-giving trying to achieve? I argue that while both the European Court of Human Rights and French lawmakers depict reason-giving as an individual human right belonging to criminal defendants, in practice, reason-giving functions as an accountability device primarily designed to solve systemic issues within the criminal justice system. More specifically, as the French case illustrates, the European interest in reason-giving can be tied to hopes for tighter control over trial judges. The chapter concludes that it is hard, if not impossible, to disentangle two facets of reason-giving, namely, reason-giving as a way to achieve fairness to defendants and reason-giving as a way to provide checks on legal actors who might otherwise enjoy unfettered discretion.
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