VIVE LE SYSTEME DE JUSTICE
January 16, 2012 4 Comments
Over 2000 years ago Plato said
“Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of its citizens.”
I have long believed in the ideal of Justice as represented by Justitia the Roman Goddess of Justice, frequently shown globally at courthouses and courtrooms. She is most often depicted as holding a set of scales in one hand representing a case’s support and opposition, blindfolded to show impartiality, and carrying a double edged sword symbolizing the power of Reason and Justice which can be wielded either for or against any party.
The ideal is that every person irrespective of colour, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, handicap or nationality will be treated equally under the law.
I have lived as an expat resident for over 30 years since leaving New Zealand in 1981, and recently have had some instances that have made me wonder whether the ideal, whilst it may be enshrined in a country’s laws, is ever achievable based on the way that this is interpreted and implemented by the general populace, including the public officials who are actually tasked with the upholding of the tenets of Justice.
Whilst I cannot speak for all countries, I have had come across some situations recently in my own life in France that have brought me to the conclusion that at times, Lady Justice does let the blindfold slip somewhat to have a look at who are the antagonists, and then exhibits some bias.
Some weeks ago I was returning from the local building supplies centre in our Boxer van with a load of sand and cement when, on a narrow country lane, I happened to barely touch side mirrors with another large van travelling in the opposite direction. I had no damage at all, but the side mirror on the other van was broken. When the other driver realised that I was a foreigner, he refused to sign the accident report unless I would state that it had been my fault. As I had been well within my side of the road I refused to do so, at which point he insisted on calling the local Gendarmerie. When the French constable saw that my French license (which I have had for about 10 years) had been exchanged from an Australian one, he took the side of the French driver, pointing out to me that he was aware that Australians drive on the left side of the road. He then gave me a lecture on the fact that in France we drive on the right side of the road, despite the fact that I have lived and driven in France for a decade, had a clean driving record, and despite the fact that the glass from the other van’s mirror was actually on my side of the road. The gendarme then endorsed the accident report stating that the accident had been caused by a foreign driver.
I bought a property in France and the agent for the seller was an Insurance Broker. After taking possession I received a visit from an employee of a large French Insurance company who announced that he had come to inspect the property for insurance purposes, based on the fact that the insurance broker had organised insurance on my behalf acting as my agent. I advised that I did not know him personally, that he was not my agent in any way and that I already had insurance cover organised through my normal broker. A few days later I received an invoice from the French insurance company, to which I responded with a letter advising the fact that I was well insured and had no relationship in any way with them or with the Insurance broker who had arranged the insurance (and been paid his commission). After a number of threatening letters from the Insurance Company, I sought legal advice and was told that I should give up, pay the invoice and send a letter by registered mail cancelling the policy after this one annual payment, otherwise the invoices would keep coming, initiated annually by the Broker, who had somehow become my agent in this unsought for relationship. The reasoning was that though I was totally in the right, and despite the fact that the broker had no document to show that he had the authority to act on my behalf, a foreigner could rarely win an action against a large French company and that the legal costs in trying to do so would be considerably more than the invoice.
I renovated our second floor apartment in Megeve in the French Alps using an English company owned by a friend. At the same time as we were doing the renovations a blockage occurred in the plumbing of the apartment below us resulting in some flooding and water damage in the restaurant below on the ground floor. Even though no-one could show that we had had anything to do with it, and the fact that our water had been turned off during the renovations, the Body Corporate hit us with the bill for the damage to the restaurant. Their reasoning was that we were renovating at the time, and that we had used an English, rather than a French, company for renovations and despite thisbeing totally legal under EU law, an English company would know nothing about French plumbing. The fact that the apartment below us was extremely run down and badly maintained and had been rented out for years was not taken into consideration at all when trying to allocate the blame for the blockage.
I do not mean to just pick on France as the negative example as I am sure that foreign residents struggle with the same issues wherever they live, and I am sure that this was never the intent of the French justice system, but any justice system is only as good as those that administer it, and as long as the average French person resents the presence of foreigners in their country, particularly Anglophones, justice will always be administered as being different for citizens than for residents.
It is not surprising for me to see the growing popularity in France of Marine Le Pen and the French Nationalist Front Party, which is the far right challenger for the French presidency and which is anti-foreigner, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti- everything but that which is totally French, whatever that may mean.
I find it sad that in my adopted country, that I have grown to love in so many ways and at so many levels, so many people have this attitude to foreigners, as I believe that the mingling of cultures is what gives a country its richness in every way … sadly it is one of the things which, together with the taxation system, may ultimately make me decommit to France.