Welcome to the Court

Publication Date01 Mar 2010
AuthorDanielle Morin
Danielle Morin is Roland-Chagnon Associate Professor of Audit, HEC Montréal, Quebec, Canada.
© The authors, 2010. Reprints and Permissions: http://www.sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav
Vol 76(1):25–46 [DOI:10.1177/0020852309359043]
Review of
Welcome to the Court . . .
Danielle Morin
The French Cour des comptes is one of the numerous Supreme Audit Institutions
which oversee proper use of public funds. This research project on the Cour des
comptes is intended notably to establish how the Court has integrated the broad
principles governing the function of supreme audit institutions (SAI) as established
in the Lima Declaration adopted in 1977 by the International Organization of
Supreme Audit Institutions ( INTOSAI), which France signed, together with nearly
190 other countries. We conclude with an examination of the risks inherent in the
Court’s necessary passage from tradition to modernity at the dawn of the twenty-
first century, and of its capacity to change its world vision. The analysis of the way
in which the Court has integrated the broad principles governing the operation of
supreme audit institutions has brought to light serious flaws in the Court’s invari-
ant structures, flaws which necessitate a recomposition, in the sense put forward
by Jean-François Kahn (2006). The recomposition of the Court’s invariant structure
heralds a revolution at its core. Tradition, prestige, ritual and symbolism can no
longer serve as ramparts against modernity and its imperatives of accelerating
change. The Court’s very survival as a credible and effective supreme audit institu-
tion is therefore at stake.
Points for practitioners
The equidistant position that the Court claims to maintain between Parliament and
the Government is a theoretical concept whose applicability remains to be proven.
The Court’s status of financial jurisdiction contradicts the flux of its activities: the
proportion of jurisdictional activities is giving way to non-jurisdictional activities
from year to year. The apparent neutrality of the magistrates of the Court can be
questioned in light of the successive appointments of the First Presidents of the
Court in the last two decades. The professionalization of the mission of the Court
26 International Review of Administrative Sciences 76(1)
will inevitably prompt a reexamination of the status of the magistrate and the skills
newly required to successfully carry out the unprecedented mandates conferred
on the Court.
Keywords: auditor, Auditor General, Cour des comptes, performance audit,
Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI)
I believe that active surveillance is necessary to suppress inaccuracy and guarantee
the legitimate use of public funds. (Napoléon 1st)
It was in 1807 that the emperor entrusted this noble mission to the Cour des comptes,
but the Court itself had been in existence long before then. Considered the longest
standing of the French State’s ‘grands Corps’, the Court can date its existence back
to the Middle Ages (though in a somewhat different form). Upon entering the Palais
Cambon, which has housed the Court since 1912, what is most striking is its magnifi-
cence. Solemnity reigns, with its numerous rites and strict dress codes. Each year
is inaugurated with a solemn session. In the Grand Chamber, the President of the
Court, robed in ermine-trimmed black velvet (as prescribed by imperial decree on
28 September 1807), brings before the assembly all the big projects planned for the
coming year and beyond. Besides the members of the Court, representatives of the
Government and of Parliament are also invited to attend the assembly. Along the
grand staircase, we see the Republican Guard in their plumed shakos, with swords
drawn. Here homage is paid. Steeped in tradition, these ceremonies seem to be
borrowed from another era.
In 2006, the Court broke with tradition and took a major step towards modernity
by appointing, for the first time in its history, two women, namely Claire Bazy-Malaurie
and Marie-Thérèse Cornette, to serve as presidents of the Chamber. In 2007, Rolande
Ruellan was appointed as president of sixth Chamber. Decisions concerning the activ-
ity program of the Court and publications are taken after the First President consults
with the presidents of the Chamber and the Public Prosecutor, who meet within the
Programs and Public Report Committee. To ensure general management of the Court,
the First President consults with the conference of presidents. Before 2006, Hélène
Gisserot was the only woman to be admitted to this inner sanctum where crucial
decisions are made by the Court. Ms Gisserot worked from 1993 to 2005 as Public
Prosecutor, a very high-level post at the Cour des comptes.
The Cour des comptes stands for Tradition, Prestige, Ritual and Symbolism. These
are the values and hallmarks inherited from the nineteenth century to which the
members of the Court are still very attached. This institution, whose destiny was
marked out in 1807, has managed to maintain the grandeur conferred upon it. Yet
how can this institution successfully adapt to the twenty-first century and withstand
all the upheavals — past, present and future — which threaten public administrations,
without losing its soul? These values and hallmarks to which the Court is so attached
are precisely those which are held in contempt by partisans calling for the reform of
public administration. These days many reformers think it is very poor form to bow to

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