Are Judges Street-Level Bureaucrats? Evidence from French and Canadian Family Courts

Are Judges Street-Level Bureaucrats? Evidence from French and Canadian Family Courts

Are Judges Street-Level Bureaucrats? Evidence from French and Canadian Family Courts

Are Judges Street-Level Bureaucrats? Evidence from French and Canadian Family Courts

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Référence bibliographique [19772]

Biland, Émilie et Steinmetz, Hélène. 2017. «Are Judges Street-Level Bureaucrats? Evidence from French and Canadian Family Courts ». Law & Social Inquiry, vol. 42, no 2, p. 298-324.

Fiche synthèse

1. Objectifs


Intentions :
«[T]his article compares two judicial systems in which the judge’s role has been defined in different ways. It uses a case-oriented comparison, rather than a variable-oriented one […], in order to account for the effects of national patterns such as judicial organization and legal culture on professional practice, even with respect to small differences. Specifically, it considers French family justice as a civil law example that maintains judges as frontline actors in family dispute resolution, as compared to Quebec, the French-speaking province of Canada, whose legal tradition mixes civil law and common law influences […], and in which judges tend to act as players of last resort.» (p. 302)

2. Méthode


Échantillon/Matériau :
Les données québécoises sont issues de la rencontre avec 18 juges québécois et 5 membres de l’administration du ministère de la Justice, mais aussi de l’observation pendant 140 heures dans une salle d’audience, en relation avec 130 cas.

Instruments :
Guide d’entretien semi-directif (juges et personnel administratif)

Type de traitement des données :
Analyse de contenu

3. Résumé


«[T]he comparison between French and Quebec family judges shows that several factors can drive the judiciary closer to or further from the SLB [street-level bureaucrats] model, with respect to the nature of their encounters with clients and of judicial discretion. When studying trial judges confronted with a mass of litigation such as family disputes, we conclude that the division of labor among law professionals and public institutions is crucial to understanding the position of the judiciary: they act as frontline SLBs in France, dealing with all litigants under strong time constraints, or, in Quebec, are considered as a last resort for dealing with the most complex and contentious cases. Even if, in such a mass of litigation, family trial judges share a common concern for dealing with numerous demands, we conclude that they do not resolve the usual dilemma between standardized shallow practice and case-by-case decision making in the same way. Regarding family law implementation on the ground, this international comparison shows that it is even more standardized in Canada than in France for most child support disputes, while Canadian magistrates are more likely to apply an individualized treatment than are French ones to custody litigation and to major economic disputes.» (p. 320)