Lawyer and academician Jean-Denis Bredin is dead

The lawyer and writer Jean-Denis Bredin, member of the French Academy, where he had been received on May 17, 1990, died, at the age of 92, announced the President of Paris, Wednesday 1is September, after information from the Point.

No doubt those who have approached and heard him, in amphitheatres, conferences, courtrooms or elsewhere, will first of all regret the exquisite courtesy of a man of temperance, tolerance and respect, enamored of justice. They will also remember an unfailing modesty, an astonishing restraint, given the breadth and quality of his writings.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti saluted his memory in a tweet: “A very great figure in the French bar has just passed away. He will have marked his time with his talent and the many battles he fought. »

“It won’t be enough of a lifetime to be forgiven for existing. » This terrible sentence appears in the only autobiographical story that Jean-Denis Bredin had resolved to publish, in 2007. His memories of a sad child, he had previously evoked them away from fiction, in One good child (Gallimard, 1990). He came back to it, bluntly this time, in a book he wanted to call “Excuse me”. Its publisher (Grasset) preferred Too well brought up. He recounted the torments of a child reduced to silence as much as to excellence. A child “doomed not to live”, who then had to – and knew how to – grow up, and clear (brilliant) paths, while often apologizing for taking them.

Born May 17, 1929 in Paris, Jean-Denis Bredin grew up corseted, crushed under the weight of a mountain of two-sided bourgeois virtues. Work, seriousness on the side of his father, from a family of Alsatian Jews; an austere man “serious face, cluttered with worries”, to whom he is entrusted after the divorce of his parents. The elegance and refinement of his mother, whom he joined on his father’s death; it is up to the child to pray to him (Catholic) every evening. “These two bourgeoisies (…) respectively accused themselves of being narrow and boring, or light and perverted. They did not see how similar they were, only attentive to appearances, so suspicious of life! » Jean-Denis Bredin’s mother will remarry in 1939 with Jean Lemaire.

First, everywhere and always

Every medal has its place. These were prizes, and an excellence he could not shake off. Top of the class at Lycée Charlemagne, in Paris, where, muttering an inaudible ” here “ at the call of the assumed name which had been imposed on him to protect him, he sees his comrades who wore the yellow star disappear little by little. Is it to spare his abused identity or, more simply, to preserve his freedom? He then refuses to enter Normale-Sup because you have to be a “resident” there, and chooses law rather than letters. A step aside. It won’t be the last. Jean-Denis Bredin is first, everywhere and always. A doctor of law at 21, he was first in the private law aggregation at 28, first in the competition for the Conférence du internship des avocats.

In 1950, the year in which he was granted a decree to permanently change his original name, he was admitted to the Paris bar. In 1965, he teamed up with Robert Badinter – with whom he co-signed several articles in the columns of World – to found what later became a prestigious business law firm. Recently, Jean-Denis Bredin was part of the arbitration tribunal responsible for settling the dispute in the Tapie-Crédit Lyonnais case.

Jean-Denis Bredin, who has written numerous legal articles, as well as texts on the art of eloquence and the legal profession, was a professor at the law faculty of Rennes, Lille, Paris-Dauphine , then at the University of Paris-I from 1971 to 1993. Although he taught law to generations of students, he defended its main principles, those that were particularly close to his heart, to a wider audience. .

Starting with the presumption of innocence, each time – and there were many occasions – that he felt it was particularly abused. “She is in France only a solemn hypocrisy. No one in our country is presumed innocent as soon as suspicion hangs over him., he wrote in July 1997.

Lawyer for Denis Seznec, Guillaume’s grandson, who devoted his life to rehabilitation of his grandfather, he then expressed his ” disappointment ” and his “amazement” in front of “sinister stop” of the Court of Revision, which had not followed it.

Read also Jean-Denis Bredin, the historian of “antiheroes”

A few years earlier, Jean-Denis Bredin had already failed in his attempt to revise the Ranucci trial, guillotined in 1976 for the murder of a little girl. More than a presumption, innocence was an obsession for him. “What about the “real” culprit? », the magistrate Antoine Garapon had questioned him, during an interview broadcast on France Culture in September 2011. “I was interested in the innocent, which is ultimately the most beautiful, the most moving part of justice”, Bredin replied. Adding, true to himself, in a constant temptation to depreciate: “But it’s also an easy way out. »

The “ease” in question was (very) rigorous and titanic construction sites. Nearly four years of work for each of the main works which earned him full recognition as a historian. Two or three years for research (bibliography and printed sources) and preparatory work, one or two for writing. He published Joseph Caillaux (Hachette, 1980); and Sieyès: the key to the French Revolution (Fallois, 1988).

In this register, only one title, undoubtedly the most successful, the one that has made a mark and which continues to be “the” reference in the matter, does not bear the name of the one to which it is dedicated: The case (Julliard, 1983). The fate of Captain Dreyfus is its raison d’être and the common thread. Corn The case exceeds it, which describes more closely this France of the end of the XIXand century, in particular the place and role of the Church and the army, to better identify the plural sources of this major injustice – anti-Semitism in the lead – which permanently split the country in two.

Pierre Mendès France for model

No doubt there was a gap between the justice thought out by Jean-Denis Bredin and that which is applied – with the limited means allocated to it – in the courts. Legislative inflation, and its repressive slope, was not to reassure him. But it is a chasm that separates politics, which Bredin once tried – becoming vice-president of the Movement of Left Radicals (MRG) from 1976 to 1980 – from the principles to which he referred. He abandoned all political responsibility, accepting only to be entrusted with missions in the 1980s, in particular on audiovisual and cinema, as well as the presidency of the board of directors of the National Library.

Jean-Denis Bredin, who hoped that the left would promote “the obstinate learning of respect for the human person and his dignity”, had Pierre Mendès France as a model. The historian lawyer had met the former President of the Council to The case. He had preface The Mendes France Trial, by Christiane Rimbaud (Perrin, 1986), then devoted himself to a book on the same subject (A court at attention. The trial of Pierre Mendès France, May 9, 1941, Fayard, 2002).

Read also Jean-Denis Bredin, the historian of “antiheroes”

In a column titled “Another idea of ​​​​politics”, published in The world of April 13, 1995, Jean-Denis Bredin wrote – but it is still the voice of Mendès that he made resonate: “The intellectual and the politician could do a lot to bring about a more lively democracy, where dogmas, words and appearances do not necessarily reign. (…) The detestable risk would be, for the democracy of the approaching century, that one day the discourse of the intellectual seems only picturesque, and that of the politician indifferent., he wrote in June 1999, in an unfortunately premonitory text.

During the centenary of the Dreyfus affair, his work crowned with several prizes had been republished, in an expanded version. “It doesn’t matter that the Dreyfus Affair is historically over, explained Jean-Denis Bredin at the time, World of June 21, 1994. She continues to draw dividing line between those who prefer dogma to truth, those who prefer res judicata to justice, those who believe that there are values ​​superior to the individual: the fatherland, the state, the army, the party, the leader , and those who refuse to do so. “It should also be noted that this dividing line does not separate the good guys from the bad guys, which would be too simple, but that it undoubtedly passes through each of us”, added the historian.

A case – certainly not the least – was settled. The Affair, this great capital affair, that of truth and justice, continues and will continue, causing false certainties or torments in all of us. She has just lost one of her most fervent lawyers.

Jean-Denis Bredin in a few dates

May 17, 1929 Birth in Paris

1950 Admitted to the Paris Bar

1965 Founds a law firm with Robert Badinter

1983 ” The case “

1976-1980 Vice President of the Left Radicals Movement

2002 “The Trial of Pierre Mendès France”

1is September 2021 Death in Paris

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