In Polynesia, nomadic magistrates bring a bit of the Republic to the end of the world

In Polynesia, nomadic magistrates bring a bit of the Republic to the end of the world

They are already there, sometimes for hours. Women with a crown of flowers on their hats and a fan in their hands, men in Bermuda shorts, cut like Fiji rugby players but a little intimidated, old people talking in low voices, waiting in the dampness of the great hall of town hall. They have been reading the poster posted at the entrance for days, in French and in Tahitian: “Notice to the population: the fairground justice informs that a mission is scheduled on the island of Rurutu on Wednesday 22, Thursday 23 and Friday 24 February. » The expectation is high: the last time justice landed on the island was in 2021, and we will have to wait another two years to see it again.

Teana Gooding (right), interpreter, and Mᵉ Levrat, lawyer, before the day's criminal hearings, in Rurutu, February 23, 2023.
In the communal hall, during land hearings, in Rurutu, February 22, 2023.

The fairground judge who gets off the plane is him: Gérard Joly, 62, his features a little drawn after getting up at 4 a.m. in Tahiti, for the three days of hearing, of twelve hours each, planned on this island lost in the middle of the Pacific. Followed by Christophe Lai Kui Hun, his faithful clerk, who drags a stack of files and a printer in a cooler, and by Teana Gooding, the interpreter, who laughs even more often than she speaks.

A fairground judge is not a fairground judge; he is a nomadic judge holding a hearing on an island that has no court. That is to say, in Polynesia, all the 118 islands, except three, including Tahiti – the word “forain” originally designated someone who carried out his activity in markets and fairs, and this magistrate at the end of the world brings with it a bit of the Republic, not without difficulty. Gérard Joly, who was a juvenile judge in mainland France for eighteen years, was posted to Polynesia in September 2006, presides over the labor court (the prud’hommes) in Papeete, and has also been in charge of mobile justice for seven years.

The cliffs of Moerai, in Rurutu, on February 23, 2023.
Fairground judge Gérard Joly, in a corner of the courtroom in Rurutu (French Polynesia), February 23, 2023.

Rurutu is his last trip. The task is exciting but exhausting. It is a question of organizing rounds to serve archipelagos drowned in an area as large as Europe, either by regular flights when they exist, as in Rurutu, a little less than 600 kilometers from Tahiti; either by a private flight with the administrative services of French Polynesia; or even by catamaran, on an often stormy ocean, to approach four or five islands at once in a week. The Tuamotu Islands, which previously saw a judge every ten years, can now hope to have their disputes settled every three to five years. Going to court in Papeete is, for the inhabitants of these islands, financially out of the question.

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