• 60'
  • Author : Chloé Vienne
  • 09-01-2021
  • Master : 3006


In the Nimes courts, traffic offences represent more than half the cases heard. Among them are drivers who, one day, happen to commit an offence. And then there are the others, the repeat offenders, the “professional” law-breakers. In France, there are 3,500 road deaths every year. In 3 cases out of 4, alcohol is behind the wheel, leading to tragedy. No traffic offence is like any other. But they all have one point in common: a fraction of a second is enough to change a life. Judges and prosecutors must arrive at the fair penalty. How do you judge these drivers? How can you be sure they won’t start over again? For several months we were allowed to set up our cameras in the court rooms, where people judge other people. In order to capture the intimacy of this justice that affects us all.

The office of Eric Maurel, Public Prosecutor, overlooks the historic Nimes arena. And each day he too engages in a gladiatorial combat: to protect the interests of Society. He has the reputation of being uncompromising over traffic offences. For him they are the “mirror of our society”. During sensitive trials, where the courtroom is charged with emotion, he makes great efforts to awaken the accused to their responsibility: “it’s the story of a tragedy foretold, it had to happen. The question is not to know if, but when?” He has no hesitation in demanding exemplary sentences.

It’s the burden of Judge Christine Ruellan to follow them up or not. In a career spanning 35 years, she has seen all sorts of drivers come before her. But weariness has never got the upper hand. “If you don’t have faith in people, you should change your job”. From driving without a licence or insurance to manslaughter, she always listens to the prosecution and the accused with great attention. In order to find “the fair penalty, the one that will be understood.”

We also followed her throughout an entire trial. That involving Tahar, father of a devastated family. One year ago, a drunken driver swept away the life of his son. For the first time since the accident, he will be face to face with the man. He is hoping that the magistrates can put words to his pain and impose a severe sentence on the driver responsible for the tragedy. “When he got behind the wheel, he did it knowingly. I want him to be condemned as a criminal”.

However, in France, drivers who kill on the roads are judged for misdemeanours and not crimes. We followed one of them. Philippe also caused a tragedy after having taken the wheel following a lunch where he drank too much. His best friend was killed on the spot, his partner is still in a serious condition. By some miracle, he survived, but with irreversible psychological after-effects. “I wish I’d gone instead of them, that I hadn’t got behind the wheel that day, but it’s too late. I have to pay.”

We also followed some drivers summoned for less serious offences. Those who find themselves in the dock for the first time… Most of them have exceeded the speed limit by more than 30mph. In the history-laden courtroom, they plead their case, with more or less success… Patrice, a construction entrepreneur, for example, will see his licence suspended for a year and the imposition of a €1,200 fine. “I think it’s a high price. I risk losing my job. How will I manage without a car?”.

Alongside magistrates and road-users, take a plunge into the judicial arena of Nimes.

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