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The Black Robe Brigade, these lawyers who break the codes

Black Dress Brigade

Pirate flag as an emblem, this group of angry lawyers is up against the law on Global Security. For two years, he has been present in numerous demonstrations, in the name of the defense of freedoms. This shift from courtrooms to the streets is a sign of an evolution within the profession.

This evening of Tuesday, November 24, 2020, Marianne sees red. The face of the large statue, in the heart of the Parisian Place de la République, reflects the glow of the smoke cracked at its feet. Gathered to protest against the violent evacuation of migrants, two days earlier, the crowd of demonstrators looks up and phones: a dozen lawyers, in black robes and pirate flags in hand, left to board the monument .

An inscription "Black Robe Brigade" (BRB) appears behind the smoke. The astonishing image is making the rounds on social networks. Successful operation for the group of fulminant lawyers which thus marks the spirits with its punchy actions and its anti-institutional convictions.

This is because the "black robe brigade" is not at its first attempt. Activists have been pounding the pavement since 2019. The spark came from the pension reform which lit the flame of revolt within the bars. The government then wanted to merge the independent fund for lawyers into the universal scheme. Enough to upset the precarious balance of small firms, according to them. “90% of the bars had gone on strike.

There was a wind of solidarity never seen before in our profession, because of the feeling of being constantly inaudible to the public authorities, ”explains Kian Barakat, 43, specializing in criminal justice and an early member of the collective. . For this lawyer at the bar of Caen, the visit of Nicole Belloubet, then Minister of Justice, to the Calvados town, in January 2020, was an unexpected opportunity to show this general discontent: she remembers this armful of dresses thrown at the foot of the Keeper of the Seals, a very symbolic sign of protest. “From there, there was a kind of unlocking, we relaxed,” she says.

Spontaneously, the BRB takes root in this distrust of institutions. "We were born out of a desire to be in accordance with the codes of the street, to weigh more spectacularly in the debate, therefore to carry out punchy actions, to mark the occasion", describes Alexis Baudelin, 30 years, lawyer at the bar of Paris and of all the demonstrations in the capital. On January 31, 2020, the Jolly Roger floats on Place Vendôme, opposite the Ministry of Justice. "Under the windows of Nicole Belloubet", smiles Kian Barakat.

The irony of a new generation

This bravado, the first flash of the collective, denotes the state of mind that animates its 200 to 300 members divided into sections, from Paris to Montpellier, Nancy or the DOM-TOM. The irony becomes their trademark: the sign ''BRB'' initially referred to the "Brigade for the repression of the bandist". And the collective organization wants to be at the antipodes of the corporatism of the profession. Without a spokesperson or leader, refusing the idea of ​​the membership card, "we are in tune with the times", says Alexis Baudelin, who does not reject the comparison with the horizontal functioning adopted by the yellow vests.

Sharing the model of current social movements, the BRB seems above all to reflect a notable evolution within the very codified universe of lawyers. “The classic image of the bar has shattered. The profession is becoming increasingly young, feminized, plural with these lawyers who are struggling to make ends meet. The BRB is a product of this new generation which no longer hesitates to mobilize”, analyzes David Van der Vlist, secretary general of the Union of Lawyers of France (SAF).

Moreover, in the same vein, the SAF, the first representative body of the profession from which a large proportion of the members of the BRB come, also suffers the effects of this disaffection for conventional bodies: "We also embody this crisis of models traditional. Before, the unions could suffice. But today they are literally invisible. Concerning us, this pushes us to leave the courtrooms, to carry our voices ourselves, as close as possible to the litigants”, explains Alexis Baudelin. And argue with them.

Because, of all the causes in which the Black Robe Brigade has been involved, the law relating to Global Security is the one that polarizes the most dissatisfaction of these lawyers mainly invested in the criminal field. “We are actors and first-rate spectators to witness what is happening: an organized dysfunction of justice through the implementation of reforms that undermine fundamental freedoms. And that's what we are fighting for, ”insists Kian Barakat. In this constant concern for representation, the toga is required in processions, despite the tacit tradition of the necessary prior authorization of the order to march in uniform. The Caen lawyer still hears the applause of the demonstrators when the collective joined their procession. “The perception of the lawyer by public opinion has evolved: showing that we are there, in a robe, this also proves our transparency and the fact that lawyers are no longer wealthy people sitting on privileges, she continues. Our fight is very serious in substance. We demand salutary justice and not a justice that crushes. But we seek to wage our fight above all in a facetious way. »

The Pirate's Freedom

The incarnation of this playfulness is deliberately displayed: the Jolly Roger, the emblematic pirate flag, these glowing smoke bombs and the significance of the color black. Symbols attached to the imagination of the movementist left. But the BRB defends itself from any partisan dimension: “There are many different currents within the collective. From left, from right. Our common interest: it is the defense of freedoms”, justifies Alexis Baudelin. But the Parisian lawyer assumes the choice of the flag of piracy: “We fight for what is typical of the principles of piracy. We oppose institutions as they are established, hegemonic. We refuse authority, ”he asserts. A libertarian discourse that continues in the maritime legend associated with the flag, with the mythical foundation of Libertalia, a colony to the glory of the pirate and republican utopia allegedly born in Madagascar at the end of the XNUMXth century. "It's more of a kind of homage to freedom," tempers Kian Barakat.

Also, the BRB dismisses the accusations, launched by a part of the profession, about a possible radicalization. Example for Alexis Baudelin: “The establishment of the curfew at 18 p.m. was no exception to legal proceedings. Concretely, we can no longer welcome customers from that moment. We are furious with this decision, but we have not blamed anyone. We simply took our anger to the order, which followed us, he says. We go to the streets, we break the codes, but we don't want to damage the image of our profession. »

Also, the union of the profession, the SAF does not perceive the BRB "as a competitor", remarks David Van der Vlist, its secretary general. “I see us more as complementary, partners despite our difference in structure. The BRB has a real force of action which is important today, because it makes it possible to fully join the mobilization, to reach more people, ”he says. And Alexis Baudelin to hope: “Perhaps one day, the margins will dictate their laws. The pirates couldn't have said it better.

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