Most of France's 35,000 attorneys staged a one-day strike Thursday in support of their demand for an urgent review of the overworked and inefficient French court system.

Attorneys in all but three of France's 180 main courts stayed at home, saying they were "being forced to attempt the equivalent of emptying an ocean with a teaspoon," as Christophe Ricour, the president of the provincial bar association, put it. "The system is failing miserably in its duty to deliver justice."Lawyers say reforms announced recently by Justice Minister Elizabeth Guigou will do little to ease the crippling shortage of magistrates, which, combined with a far greater number of cases, has led to lengthy delays.

Justice Ministry figures show that the caseload has risen by 235 percent in the past 20 years, while the number of magistrates - 6,000 - has barely changed since 1875. In contrast, Germany has 25,000 magistrates.

The magistrates' union has invited its members to consider coordinated action with the attorneys.

Angered by delays of up to two years for simple cases such as an amicable divorces, some plaintiffs are suing the state. A man in Aix-en-Provence, whose case took more than three years to come before the industrial tribunal, was awarded $8,000 damages.

Yves Darel, a lawyer in Pontoise, said the four magistrates at the city's family law court deal with some 6,000 cases a year. "It's no longer possible to talk of fair and equal access to the law," he said.

Dist. by Scripps Howard News Service