Monday, November 19, 2012

Legal realities

Drama in Perigueux's courtroom! A woodland proprietor was claiming damages, with interest, from her neighbour who had carelessly allowed his bonfire to damage her trees. Claim: her financial loss was otherwise irreparable. (Yes, the price of wood has recently shot up.) Unfortunately her lawyer mumbled, so many details were lost to the entranced audience. Fortunately the defending lawyer had a strong sense of the dramatic, refuted all the claimants plaints. Not only was her claim untrue, the opposite was true – the 'accidental' burning of the 'rubbish' on the floor of her woodland had cleared and improved it. The judge hearing the case, a slight middle aged lady, consulted the advisors from the Ministry of Justice and, probably wisely, decided to withold her judgement till later.

Given that the lawyers were likely to cost the plaintiff and the defendant around 80-100 € an hour, one wondered why no court has been established on the basis of 'knock their silly heads together'. Bring on the Red Queen. This feeling was reinforced when a young man presented himself at the bar, determined to quarrel with the traffic police as to whether or not he had gone through a red light in the centre of Perigueux. The dispute centred round which red light was concerned, the police had one in view, he had another. The judge hummed a little and said she would deal with him later, too.

Then we came to the meat of the cases before her: cases brought by the département de l'inspection du travail. This was where we – officially Clea as the 'donneur d'ordre' for La Chaise – were involved. Most of the cases, including ours, were about the lack of 'correct' book-keeping. The early cases concerned restaurant owners with part-time employees, pregnant wives, new establishments the defence was generally boo-hoo-I-did-my-best. The judge fined them all.

And then came our turn. We, too, had transgressed the rules laid down, no daily attendance book, no regular monthly printed salary statements, just bank transfers. The charge was impeding inspectors from doing their work of inspecting the books. When I mentioned to Arnold that he had to note down every day his arrival and departure times, in an official book countersigned by his employer – aka Clea – he became unusually loquacious. Dutch can be a most descriptive language.

The visit of the inspectrice was rather a shock for us. We are used to dealing with the rigidities of the French administration which are usually skilfully managed by French bureaucrats so that it works. The inspectrice had no sense of proportion at all. I lost patience (I'm Dutch, too) and left her to the diplomatic tact of JP.

When called to the bar, a very innocent, very pregnant Clea explained that, as she had a full time job as well as the farm – which did not provide a decent income – her 'aged' parents did the paperwork. The judge asked how old were her parents. Mild panic as Clea turned towards to me to ask. The judge explained that the rules were for the benefit for both employer and employee and was Clea now en regle? Oh, yes! Fine 70€ each on two counts.

But we are in France. The judge pointed out that if the fines were paid promptly there would be a 20 per cent discount.

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