French Legal Research

French Legal Research in Europe

Unlike the United States and other common law jurisdictions, France derives its legal system from the civil law tradition. Therefore, researching French law does not follow the same methodology as legal research in common law jurisdictions, like the UK, Australia and the United States.

A basic understanding of the French Constitution (see below), the supreme law, and its provisions is a sound first step when starting research on French law.

In accordance with the civil law tradition, much greater emphasis in the French legal system is placed on codified law, the many codes, rather than on case law and precedent, as in common law jurisdictions.

However, bear in mind that there has been an expanding body of case law, so legal research must include a look at the court system of France.

As with research in common law countries, looking at the legislative process and the resulting legislation is also important, particularly for pending legislation or for constructing a legislative history.

Of course, a look at international agreements, or treaties, and their provisions is also necessary.

In addition to these basic sources, there are many additional resources (see below) to assist with French legal research, including dictionaries (see below).

A bibliography (see below) is provided to assist with finding out more about French legal research and the French legal system, on the Internet, as well as in print and commercial on-line sources.

With research in any non-English speaking jurisdiction, most of the resources are in the native language, in this case, French. If English translations are available, they have also been referenced. However, bear in mind that these are unofficial translations, even if provided by the French government, as the pages’ disclaimers indicate.

This entry is an overview of French legal research. It is not meant to be a complete list of all resources available; there are many other sources available for French legal research and topics not covered by this legañ Encyclopedia.

French Constitution

Since France has had many different constitutions as well as laws modifying its current constitution throughout its history, French constitutional law encompasses more than strictly the text of the most recent constitution. Taken together, the following are the basic documents comprising the current French Constitution, the supreme law of the country:

  • The 1958 Constitution, including revisions (French) (English – unofficial translation).
  • The Preamble to the 1958 Consitution, which references the 1789 Rights of Man and principles of national sovereignty (French).
  • The Preamble to the 1946 Constitution (French).

The International Legal Studies section of the Harvard Law School Library also has the key French constitutional documents in paper format.

Amendment of the Constitution

The French Constitution can be amended by the procedure established in Title XVI of the Constitution of 1958 (English – unofficial translation).

Conseil Constitutionnel

Established in 1958 by Title VII of the 1958 Constitution (English – unofficial translation), there is also the Conseil constitutionnel, the French constitutional court, which can review laws passed by the parliamentary body prior to the laws entering into force. The Conseil constitutionnel also ensures proper conduct of and reviews all disputed elections. There is no appeal from the Conseil constitutionnel.

Decisions for the Conseil constitutionnel are available on the Internet in full-text back to 1999 and in index form back to 1958. There are also print case reporters for the Conseil constitutionnel.

French Court System

For information about the French Court System, click here.

French Codes

Five Basic Codes

In the tradition of the civil law, codes are the basis of all French law. The five original Napoleonic codes, still the most important today, are:

  • Code civil
  • Code de la procĂ©dure civile (as of 1976, Le nouveau code de a procĂ©dure civile)
  • Code de commerce
  • Code pĂ©nal
  • Code de procĂ©dure pĂ©nal

These codes, with the exception of the Code de procédure pénal, are available as official versions with a search interface, from the French government on the Internet. Unoffical versions are also available.

Paper copies of these five French codes are available in many law libraries, including:

  • Code civil
  • Nouveau code de la procĂ©dure civile
  • Code de commerce
  • Code pĂ©nal
  • Code de procĂ©dure pĂ©nal

Other Codes

There are numerous other codes covering specific subjects.

Other codes are also available on the Internet, both from official government sites and from unofficial sites.

Official versions available include:

  • Code de la consommation
  • Code de dĂ©ontologie mĂ©dicale
  • Code electoral
  • Code de la famille et de l’aide sociale
  • Code des marches publics
  • Code des pensions civiles et militaires de retraite
  • Code de postes et tĂ©lĂ©communications
  • Code de la propriĂ©tĂ© intellectuelle
  • Code de la route
  • Code de la voirie routiere

Unofficial versions of the following are also available:

Annotated Codes

As with any country, annotated codes are generally not available on the Internet, as commercial publishers, the source of most annotated codes, do not make their publications available for free. However the following annotated codes are available on the Internet:

Print annotated codes are likewise available.

Additional Sources

General Information about France on the Internet

European Union

Arbitration and Mediation



Dictionaries are an important reference source when researching the law.

There are also several dictionaries related to French legal research available on the Internet:



  • Dadomo, Christian and Susan Farran, The French Legal System, Sweet & Maxwell, London, 1993.
  • Tortello, Nicole and Pascal Lointier, Internet pour les Juristes, Dalloz, Paris, 1996.
  • Reynolds, Thomas H. and Arturo A. Flores, eds., Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World, Vol. II, AALL Publications Series, Fred B. Rothman & Co., Littleton, Colorado, 1989.
  • Weston, Martin, An English Reader’s Guide to the French Legal System, Berg Publishers Limited, Providence, RI, 1991.
  • Winterton, Jules and Elizabeth M. Moys, Eds., Guides to Information Sources in Law, 2nd ed., Bowker Saur, New Providence, NJ, 1997.

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