Judging, advising and making proposals - the Conseil d'État plays a key role in regulating and improving public prosecution The Conseil d'État’s 2nd annual meeting at start of the new session

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On Wednesday 6 September 2023, the Conseil d'État held its second annual meeting after the summer break. It was attended by the Prime Minister, several members of the Government and representatives of major public institutions. The Conseil d'État’s Vice-President, Didier-Roland Tabuteau, reminded those present of the role of the Conseil d'État: underpinning the rule of law in France by ruling on disputes between citizens and the administration and advising the Government and Parliament on draft legislation and regulations. As such, the Conseil d'État is an observer of the strengths and weaknesses of public prosecution in France. Today’s report, presented by the Vice-President, addressed the question of the “last mile” of public policy, making recommendations for effective public policies that are tangible for users.

At this second annual meeting marking the start of the new session, the Vice-President spoke of the Conseil d'État’s place in our democracy and presented the institution's annual report on the “last mile” of public prosecution.

Continuously guaranteeing the rule of law, the expression of democracy

Didier-Roland Tabuteau reminded attendees that, in ruling on disputes between citizens and administrations, the Conseil d'État “guarantees the functioning of democracy and the pursuit of the general interest by applying the law”. Independent from the various parties, the administrative judge does not initiate proceedings and does not issue opinions. Their role is to ensure that the rules of law – which are decided by the people’s representatives and are the expression of democracy – are respected. The judge regulates these matters as closely as possible to the realities of the situation, with urgency if necessary, taking account of the consequences of these decisions and checking that they are implemented by the administration.

“The judge is not just another participant in the debates and controversies that shake society. They say where the law stands, they say it independently and they must be able to say it with peace of mind. Their decisions can be commented on, and rightly so; they can be challenged through legal channels, that is vital. But to denounce them as illegitimate, by attacking those who made them, is to call into question the rule of law.”

And when the Conseil d'État gives its opinion on draft laws and regulations, it looks after the general interest by ensuring that they are effective in achieving their objectives, understandable, applicable in practical terms, and comply with the law.

A report to ensure that public prosecution actually reaches its users

Through its role as judge and advisor, the Conseil d'État continuously assesses the strengths and weaknesses of public policies and supports changes to them. While the public expects a great deal from public prosecution, its effectiveness, and its ability to achieve its objectives and actually reach those it is intended for, face increasing scrutiny. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that it is possible to simplify, innovate and shorten decision-making chains to provide effective public services. Today, the Conseil d'État is publishing a report that sets out proposals to encourage administrations to simplify public policies so that they reach those for whom they are intended: the people themselves.

“We must start with the user, to analyse how public policies reach, or fail to reach, those for whom they are intended, and how they achieve, or fail to achieve, the objectives set by public authorities. The Conseil d'État is committed to understanding the practical impact of the law on people's lives in its day-to-day work as a judge and advisor. This report is a cross-disciplinary attempt to do just that, drawing lessons from both successes and failures.”

Following a cross-disciplinary analysis of what works and what does not, the Vice-President of the Conseil d'État observed that a gap has opened up, in recent decades, between the expectations of users (who have themselves changed a great deal) and the actions of public bodies (which have also undergone profound transformation). This gap is contributing to “a growing crisis of confidence among our fellow citizens”.

The Conseil d'État has put forward 12 proposals based on three objectives: firstly, proximity, by proposing concrete, operational solutions to bring public prosecution closer to users; secondly, pragmatism, by listening to citizens to understand their needs and working with them to devise appropriate solutions, and by incorporating complexity into the administration so as not to burden users with it; and thirdly, trust, by valuing public sector workers and public servants on the ground, and giving them room to manoeuvre so that they can adapt the responses they provide.

“These proposals do not call for major reforms, but for a great deal of ambition to bring about tangible and far-reaching changes in the work of the administration so that the last mile is effectively covered.”

Find out more:
- Watch the meeting marking the new session of the Conseil d’État
- Read the Vice-President’s speech
- Read the report “The user from the first to the last mile of public prosecution: a question of effectiveness and a democratic necessity” [in French]