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Mr Guy Canivet - Doctor of Laws - Judge of the French Constitutional Court and former Chief Justice of the French Supreme Court

Oration by Doctor S J Gurman

Guy Canivet is a French lawyer. That is a simple, straightforward statement which is also true: the kind of statement to delight the heart of any lawyer. But it is not the whole truth: it is akin to describing Shakespeare as an English playwright. It could be said that Guy Canivet is the French lawyer. Until his retirement in 2007 he was Premier President de la Cour de Cassation, the senior judge in France, holding a position analogous to that of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He now sits on the French Constitutional Court, the highest constitutional authority in the country, and so helps to ensure that the principles and rules of the French Constitution are upheld. He is also a member of the independent Ethics Committee of the International Olympic Committee, ensuring equity of a wider field than the judiciary.

The French inquisitorial system is very different from the English legal system. I say English, rather than British, since the Scottish system is different yet again. The Faculty of Law at Leicester teaches on several different jurisdictions, requiring the successful Law graduands here today to acquire a very large amount of knowledge. I salute them!

Guy Canivet began his career in the French courts in 1967 as an auditeur de justice, an assistant to a juge d’instruction. He was appointed juge d’instruction at Chartres in 1972. The role of the juge d’instuction under the French system of justice is rather different from that of judges in English courts. An English judge effectively acts as a neutral referee between opposing parties. The juge d’instruction, and his assistants, conduct the investigations in cases of serious crime or in complex civil cases: they are only involved in about 3% of cases. This role is reflected in the usual translation of the title as examining magistrate. The juge d’imstruction hears witnesses and interviews suspects and orders further investigations. His goal is not the prosecution of a particular person but the determination of the truth and their duty involves the careful search for both incriminating and exculpatory evidence. This training as an impartial searcher after truth has served Guy Canivet well throughout his later career.

Guy Canivet was raised to the Court of Appeal in Paris in 1991 and became Premier President, that is the senior judge, of that Court in 1996. In 1999 he became Premier President of the Cour de Cassation, senior judge of the highest court in France, the court of final appeal in civil and criminal cases. The Premier President is the highest-ranking judicial officer in France and is responsible for court administration and the discipline of judges as well as judging final appeals.

As Chief Justice, if I may so term him, Guy Canivet made an enormous contribution to the independence of the judiciary. He often protected the judicial system, and his fellow judges, from interference from politicians, including the President of the Republic. He has also staunchly and selflessly supported criminal prosecutions against politicians in a number of corruption cases which came before his court. Several such cases involved the immunity from prosecution of the President of the Republic, which he opposed. This question was later decided in favour of the President by the Conseil Constititionnel which in such a matter was the court of last resort. He has also had a great influence on the French courts’ acceptance of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and has been instrumental in establishing a Europe-wide use of such case law.

Throughout his career Guy Canivet has sought fearlessly to promote, protect and serve the interests of the French people, with total disregard to any possible consequences to himself. He is an outstanding example of that true breed of judge: one who believes in an overriding duty to fulfil the public interest in the administration of justice above all else and to do so with confidence and authority at the highest level.

Guy Canivet has had a long and illustrious career as a judge and he has held the highest positions which a French judge can hold. But that is not all: he is also an active University teacher and a first-rate scholar. For many years he was a professor at the Universite Paris V – Rene Descartes and now holds a similar position at the Sorbonne. He has written widely on human rights and the independence of the judiciary as well as in Competition Law. In recent years he has also worked hard on his English and is now capable of delivering erudite lectures to the English judiciary, in English. In so doing he has greatly changed the views of many in the English legal system as to the true nature of French and European law. Fortunately for my audience, I have been able to give this oration in my native and only tongue. To conclude I say, in English:

Mr Chancellor, on the recommendation of the Senate and the Council, I present Guy Canivet that you may confer on him the Honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

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