It's a brutal decision. It falls on Sunday, March 15: the courts close. The only hearings allowed are for criminal cases.
The Commercial Court of Paris and its 180 volunteer judges are concerned and the clerk's office can no longer provide any reception, except digital.
Paradoxical situation, because at a time when the economic consequences of an unprecedented situation are looming and which has never, as a whole, been seriously thought out, our court would withdraw from the scene?
Our reaction will therefore be built in stages, with one objective: to enable companies to be able to count on the presence of the Paris commercial court.
Services that recover quickly
It doesn't all go away, of course.
Very quickly, opportunities to carry out various procedures or acts in a dematerialized way are made available to the litigants: registration or modifications to the Trade and Companies Registry (nearly 25,000 will have been processed by May 7), registration of cases, filing of requests and payment orders. This is the application of the "digital court" initiated by the National Council of Commercial Court Clerks and gradually being implemented.
At the same time, we have decided to use audio means to handle urgent requests and preventive procedures.
With regard to the latter, we consider it essential to maintain this service, which enables companies that have recourse to it to face unexpected difficulties with the assistance of a court officer (appointed as a conciliator or ad hoc representative) who has in-depth experience of this type of situation.
In addition, from the second week on wards, with the valuable assistance of the Registry, and via a secure videoconferencing software (indispensable in this area), we organised the resumption of our hearings to deal with the difficulties of companies, in order to protect the employees concerned.
The first took place on April 1st and since then, our judges - whose availability and dedication are exemplary - have been able to sit by video conference and in the continuous presence of the Public Prosecutor's Office, two or three days during each of the weeks that followed.
As of May 7, we had examined 42 prevention cases concerning companies with a total turnover of more than 6 billion euros and more than 27,000 employees.
In addition, we had handled 211 insolvency cases involving companies with more than 9,000 employees.
In the field of "classic" litigation, we resumed processing of the Payment Orders on April 14 and, again with the assistance of the Registry, we relaunched the convening of the hearings of the judge in charge of hearing the case in the form of videoconferencing, while proposing, when the case lends itself to it, the formula of judgments without a hearing authorized by an order of March 25, 2020.
At the same time, we will have made available, at the announced end of the confinement, all judgments corresponding to cases whose hearings were held before 16 March.
Our aim, of course, is to be able to deal with future cases without delay. Moreover, a significant proportion of our judges have volunteered to resume hearings, "physically", as of 11 May.
This will depend, however, on the means that will be allocated to us by the Chancellery and then the heads of court in terms of health protection.
Digitalisation in real life
While most business continuation plans were built with a view to grouping together in a computer-equipped location, it is clear that we have experienced the opposite: a dispersal of people with their own equipment as their tool.
It was in this context that we organized and held our first hearings by videoconference.
In just a few short weeks, we have gained real experience of this way of working. As, I imagine, did a very large number of economic players.
There is no doubt that many companies will tomorrow incorporate into their organisation the possibility of using teleworking, which will undoubtedly be a much more frequently used option.
For our jurisdiction, of course, I see advantages in this. The use of videoconferencing for certain types of quick hearings or during certain periods (judicial vacations) could prove useful and effective. However, I do not see it going beyond that.
The act of judging rests first and foremost on the adversarial process; that is, the expression of the point of view of each of the parties involved.
For this purpose, the "physical" hearing, where the lawyers plead, confront each other and the judge's questions, seems to me to be indispensable.
Judging without a hearing or at a distance can only be an adaptation to exceptional circumstances or limited to particular procedures.
What about tomorrow?
We can draw a parallel between human health and the health of economic actors. The most vulnerable are those who already have a history.
Thus, we see the arrival of societies that we already knew from dealing with their difficulties. The containment following the demonstrations of 2018 and the strikes at the end of 2019 acts as a heavy factor in the deterioration of a previously fragile situation.
To date, we are not registering statements from companies that were victims of covid-19 alone. Firstly, because they are trying to take advantage of the wide range of measures adopted by the government. Second, because the scenario for deconfinement has not yet been written, and with it the possibilities and time frames for "recovery".
Unfortunately, it is likely that we, like individuals, will face economic excess mortality.
The crisis that we - that is to say, a group of generations that has not known war - are facing is unprecedented in that it presents us with a considerable and unforeseen event. As far as the difficulties of societies are concerned, we can only note that there will not be the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other who deliberately do not pay the agreed price or do not respect the provisions of a contract.
What we want to avoid is, of course, a chain reaction, with the failure of one company leading to the failure of the supplier or customer companies.
From this perspective we believe that solutions negotiated with the help of the court will have two major advantages: speed and efficiency.
Prevention is one of the little-known missions of commercial courts. Yet the earlier difficulties are caught, the greater the chances of recovery. We should not be afraid of the word court. It can be an actor of survival. I would like to take advantage of this publication to really get this message across to companies, small, medium and large ; We are here to help them. Our ambition is to try to save businesses as much as possible and to enable them to face and, above all, get through these difficult times.
Finally, I would like to underline the indispensable support we have from our judicial system. I refer to the Registry, of course, but also to the Prosecutor's Office, the lawyers, the judicial agents and administrators and other court officers, who together constitute an exceptional environment of dedication and professionalism.
Beyond, however, the observation of a perfectly adapted eco-system, we obviously have lessons to learn from this crisis. A more global reflection is already taking shape to improve the functioning of our court. It must be noted that the circumstances which led us to deal for a few weeks only with the most urgent cases invite us to maintain and above all to strengthen these modern means of communication which can, in such exceptional cases, provide a rapid operational response in the interest of the litigants.
The conduct of litigation is also at the heart of our thinking. We have already initiated an in-depth reform of the preparation of cases in order to control the stages and speed up the processing time. The interest of this approach has been reinforced by this crisis, which has, among other things, revealed the need to assess the relevance of each interaction between litigants and their judges, but also to extend it, perhaps, to collective proceedings.
In any case, the Commercial Court of Paris intends to take part in the work to be pursued by players in the judicial world such as Paris City of Law and the General Conference of Consular Judges and, under their aegis, to formulate proposals for improving the procedural functioning of justice consular in particular.