French Court System in Europe
Judicial authority is established by Title VIII of the Constitution (English – unofficial translation). As France is a civil law jurisdiction, the Nouveau code de procédure civile states that a judge adjudicates for the instant case and there is no precedent established. According to Article 5 of theNouveau code de procédure civile: “Le juge doit se prononcer sur tout ce qui est demandé et seulement sur ce qui est demandé.”
However, in reality, there has been a growing body of case law from French courts. Therefore, when performing French legal research, examining case law is a required step.
There are several areas to become familiar with when looking at French case law, including the jurisdiction (see below) of various courts (see below), information about those courts and the codes (see below) related to legal procedure and court organization.
Jurisdiction of courts in France is divided between l’ordre administratif, or administrative courts, and l’ordre judicaire, or ordinary courts. L’ordre administratif courts, part of the executive branch of government, handle administrative disputes. L’ordre judicaire courts, decide both civil and criminal cases, unless the state, a state employee or a corporation is involved. If so, the case proceeds to l’ordre administratif.
L’ordre judicaire courts are broken down into the tribunal d’instance and the tribunal de grande instance which both handle civil cases; and the tribunal de police and, for more serious cases, tribunal correctionnel, which have jurisdiction over criminal cases.
The court of last resort for l’ordre judicaire is the cour de cassation, and for l’ordre administratif, it is the Conseil d’État.
To resolve any conflicts over the jurisdiction of these two sets of courts, there is the tribunal des conflicts, which, along with the Conseil constitutionnel, lies outside of the adminstratif/judicaire division.
For a more detailed look at how the court system is structured, refer to: A chart of jurisdiction of French courts
As almost all French case reports are produced by commercial publishers, not many decisions are available full-text on the Internet. However, information about the following courts and the French judicial system is available on the Internet.
- Le Conseil constitutionnel (Background information in English): The Conseil constitutionnel is a special type of court, belonging to neither the administrative nor the ordinary court system. It is also one of the exceptions to the general rule about the availability of court decisions – many of the more recent decisions of this court, established by Title VII of the Constitution (English – unofficial translation), are available full text on the Internet. There is no appeal from the Conseil constitutionnel.
- Le Conseil d’État : Established by Article 52 of the Constitution of 1799, this is the court of last resort for administrative matters. Recent decisions are available on the Internet.
- La Cour de cassation: This is the court of last resort for l’ordre judicaire. A small database of decisions is also available. (English).
- Cour des comptes: The Cour des comptes (Court of Accounts)., and the related Chambres régionales des comptes (Regional Courts of Accounts) have jurisdiction over public sector financial affairs related matters. (English).
- Cour d’appel Home Page: Information about the various appeals courts in France.
- Tribunaux de Grande Instance: Links to the tribunaux with webpages.
Keep in mind the other sources of French case law.
- List of national courts in France.
- Map of France with information on regional ordinary courts.
- Information about regional French administrative courts.
- Map of France with information on regional juvenile courts.
- Constitution de 1958, Titre VIII, De l’autorité judiciaire.
- Nouveau code de procédure civile (NCPC).
- Code de procédure pénale.
- Extracts from the Code de l’organisation judiciaire (Partie législative) and (Partie réglementaire).
Also, see the Codes section of this European legal Encyclopedia for additional sources of French procedural codes.