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My Research

Prosecutorial discretion and accountability – A comparative study of France and England and Wales.

My research is a comparative study of prosecutorial discretion and accountability in France and England/Wales. These jurisdictions remain quite different, the French system being founded on the inquisitorial principle and the English system remaining largely true to the adversarial tradition. These differences are reflected in particular in their prosecutorial arrangements. Whilst the French prosecutor is part of a centralised judicial hierarchy and her role is part of a broader case enquiry, her English counterpart plays a more narrowly defined prosecution role, divorced from the case investigation.

The discretion entrusted to public prosecutors must be exercised impartially to conform with the basic right of individuals to equality before the law and to protection from discrimination. This impartiality requirement calls for prosecutorial independence: dependence, especially political dependence, risks interfering with the proper exercise of the prosecutor’s discretion. Equally, broad discretionary power coupled with complete independence could also lead to potential abuses and arbitrary decisions if left unchecked.

My study endeavours to understand how the French and Anglo-Welsh criminal justice systems attempt to combine the necessities of accountability for public prosecution services in modern democratic societies with the flexibility and reactivity needed in the application of the law provided by prosecutorial discretion.

Methodology

My PhD combined library-based research with empirical fieldwork. The existing legislation and prosecution policies were examined, as well as disciplinary procedures and external inspectorate bodies' roles. A period of direct observation of the work of prosecutors was also undertaken in each jurisdiction. Ethnographic work is particularly suited to comparative studies “where the researcher may wish to avoid predetermined (and possibly ethnocentric) categories and attempt to learn from the jurisdiction more directly” (Hodgson J. (2005) French Criminal Justice: A Comparative Account of the Investigation and Prosecution of Crime in France, Oxford: Hart Publishing, p.10). Observation permitted me to conduct interviews with prosecutors of different hierarchical levels in a more informed way.

Findings

The thesis argues that neither system observed achieves a satisfactory balance between accountability and discretion for public prosecutors. In France, although democratic and hierarchical accountability channels are well developed in theory, oversight is weak due to the primacy of the concept of ‘adaptation’ in the legal culture and the strong professional ethos of procureurs as independent judicial officers. In England and Wales, public prosecutors are part of a highly bureaucratic and centralised structure which strictly enforces consistency in prosecutorial decisions at the expense of much discretion and autonomy for individual prosecutors whose responsibility is limited to narrow and repetitive tasks due to the segmentation of the prosecution process. This overbearing accountability structure, coupled with a historical balance of power in favour of the police, appears to prevent prosecutors from making decisions perceived as unpopular with their hierarchy or the police. Finally, pressure on resources and a drive for efficiency in both jurisdictions have resulted in the bureaucratisation of the criminal justice process with part of the prosecution workload being delegated to unqualified staff and minor cases being processed as quickly as possible into a one-size-fits-all system.

Main Supervisor:

Prof. Jacqueline Hodgson

School of Law
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL
UK

Tel: +44 (0)2476 524163
Fax: +44 (0)2476 524105

Jackie dot Hodgson at warwick dot ac dot uk

Co-supervisors:

Prof. Edith Jaillardon

Faculté de Droit et Science Politique
Université Lumière Lyon 2
4 Rue de l'Université
69365 Lyon Cedex 1
FRANCE

Tel: +33 (0)4 78 69 76 39
Fax: +33 (0)4 78 69 73 59

Edith dot Jaillardon at univ-lyon2 dot fr

Roger Leng

School of Law
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL
UK

Tel: +44 (0)2476 523168
Fax: +44 (0)2476 524105

Roger dot Leng at warwick dot ac dot uk

Research Groups: