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Hauser Global Law School Program, New York University School of Law

Mirela Roznovschi, Editor


Researching French Law
By Stéphane Cottin and Jérôme Rabenou
2nd ed. published May 2005 on
http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/france.htm

Stéphane Cottin is the chief registrar of the Constitutional Council of France. Formerly, he was the creator of
the documentation office, then of the website of the institution. He teaches legal research to both students in
the Institut d'études politiques de Paris (Sciences-Po) and professionals with the Association of French
Documentation Specialists (ADBS). He received an LL.M from Lille II University, a master's degree in Public
Law, and a master in Library Science from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques of Paris (Sciences Po Paris).
He has published several articles in French and in English in law reviews, and several books, including a
guide, 'Petit guide d'accès à l'information juridique française'.
Jérôme Rabenou is the webmaster of the French Constitutional Council. He created the first French legal
newsgroup (news:fr.misc.droit), website (http://www.rabenou.org) and mailing-list
(http://listes.cru.fr/wws/info/droit-net). He received an LL.M in business law from the University Paris-
XIII.
Update to an article previously published on LLRX.com, February 15, 2001 <http://www.llrx.com/features/french.htm>

Table of Contents
Basic Structure of the French Legal System........................................................................................2
Government Structure.....................................................................................................................................................2
Types of Legislation........................................................................................................................................................2
The Court System...........................................................................................................................................................2
Parliament.............................................................................................................................................2
Official Websites..................................................................................................................................3
Ministries (departments).......................................................................................................................3
Local Communities..............................................................................................................................3
Other (Semi) Government Institutions and Independent Administrative Authorities..........................4
Legislation............................................................................................................................................4
French.............................................................................................................................................................................4
Case Law..............................................................................................................................................5
EnglishTranslations.........................................................................................................................................................5
Law Faculties........................................................................................................................................5
Law Libraries........................................................................................................................................5
Literature..............................................................................................................................................6
General............................................................................................................................................................................6
Civil Law........................................................................................................................................................................6
Constitutional and Administrative Law..........................................................................................................................6
Criminal Law..................................................................................................................................................................6
Law Dictionaries.............................................................................................................................................................6
Citation.................................................................................................................................................7
Discussion Lists and blogs...................................................................................................................7
Miscellaneous Legal Sites....................................................................................................................7

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Basic Structure of the French Legal System
The French Republic (la République Française) is ruled by the Constitution of the Fifth Republic (October
4th, 1958). A more detailed description of the French legal system is given by Claire Germain in her French
Law Guide.

Government Structure
France is a centralized country ruled by a semi-presidential system, called 'rationalized parlementarism'. The
Head of the State (le Président de la République, Jacques Chirac since May 1995, re-elected in 2002) is
elected by direct universal suffrage every 5 years (revision of the Constitution in September 2000). The
President designates a Prime minister from the parliamentary majority. Parliament shall comprise the
National Assembly (Assemblée nationale) and the Senate (Sénat). They both pass the statutes.

Types of Legislation
France is ruled by a strict hierarchy of norms. An overall norm is the Constitution (traditionally merged with
declarations of rights of 1789 and 1946). Under this text, Parliament should pass the statutes (les Lois), with
an internal hierarchy: institutional act (loi organique), ordinary act (loi ordinaire), and ordinance
(ordonnance).
The executive power has the right to enact regulations (règlements) which are called décrets (for Prime
Minister and President of the Republic) and arrêtés (for the rest of the executive branch). Statutes and non-
individual decrees have been numbered according to the form "99-1234" since 1945. Since 2000, cases are
named according to the form "2000-1234". All Statutes and decrees, and the most important arrêtés, are
published in the official gazette "Journal officiel de la République française, édition lois et décrets", and
receive unique reference numbers (since 1987: a NOR for normalized). It might be useful for some databases.
Since June 2004, French Law could also be published electronically.

The Court System


The French judicial system is historically strictly divided in two separate bodies: judiciary (ordinary) law and
administrative law. At the top of the judiciary courts (concerning civil, trade, labor and criminal laws) there is
a Supreme Court of Appeals or Cour de Cassation: 80 judges are appointed by the President of the Republic
from nominations of the High Council of the Judiciary. For the record, there are also 35 courts of appeals, 181
tribunaux de grande instance, and 478 tribunaux d'instance (the lower level). At the top of the
administrative courts (concerning the litigations involving public sector), there is the Council of State or
Conseil d'Etat, with 8 cours administratives d'appel and 36 tribunaux administratifs.
The Constitutional Council, or Conseil Constitutionnel, is in charge of the constitutional review of the
statutes before they are enacted (in abstracto control) and of the control of national elections (Parliament,
President of the Republic, Referendum). The Constitutional Council consists of nine members: three
members appointed by the president, three members appointed by the president of the National Assembly,
and three appointed by the president of the Senate. In addition, former Presidents of the Republic are ex
officio members of the Constitutional Council.
For a comprehensive presentation, see the website of the Justice Department.

Parliament
The French Bicameral Parliament, or Parlement, consists of the Senate, or Sénat, (331 seats - 304 for
metropolitan France, 15 for overseas departments and territories, and 12 for French nationals abroad;
members are indirectly elected by an electoral college to serve nine-year terms; elected by thirds every three
years: a reform conducted from 2004 to 2011 will lead to a six-years term and a renewal by half every three
years) and the National Assembly or Assemblée Nationale (577 seats; members are elected under a single-
member majoritarian system to a serve five-year term)

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The "French Republic's number three assembly" can be found in the Conseil économique et Social.

Official Websites
• Legifrance: Public Service of the dissemination of the Law. Contains the official gazette from 1990,
statutes and decrees from 1978, all the official codes (some of them are translated into English and
Spanish), links toward other official sites.
• Service-Public: "Its design is focused on answering users' needs and on simplifying user's relations
with Government agencies and services. For now you have access in English to public sites (local,
national, European, International organizations, Foreign states)". This website includes the guide
"your rights and procedures" which informs - in French - the user about his rights and obligations
and directs him to relevant organizations. It comprises 2,400 sheets grouped by subject and 1,500
answers to frequently asked questions.
• Vie-Publique.fr: Official or governmental information for French citizens. Portal of all the public
policies.

Ministries (departments)
Several websites maintain lists of French ministries (departement = ministère) and offer English access:

• http://europa.eu.int/abc/governments/france/index_en.htm
• http://www.premier-ministre.gouv.fr/en/acteurs/gouvernement/
• http://lessites.service-public.fr/cgi-bin/annusite/annusite.fcgi/nat1?lang=uk (or directly
http://lessites.service-public.fr/cgi-bin/annusite/annusite.fcgi/nat5?stheme=MIN&lang=uk)

Note that ministries are regulatory producers, and most of them give access to legal material in their own
areas of competence.
Find here some important departments with English Internet access:

• Ministry of Justice - (English access)


• Ministry of the Interior - (English access)
• Ministry for Economy, Finance and Industry - (English access)
• Ministry for Foreign Affairs - (English access)

Local Communities
The General Directorate of Local Authorities - DGCL - belongs to the Ministry of Interior.
You can also find English access to some useful explanations on http://lessites.service-public.fr/cgi-
bin/annusite/annusite.fcgi/loc1?lang=uk
France is divided into several administrative levels, the most important are: Région (22), Département (96),
Canton (app. 4000), Commune (app. 37500). The 22 regions are Alsace, Aquitaine, Auvergne, Basse-
Normandie, Bourgogne, Bretagne, Centre, Champagne-Ardenne, Corse, Franche-Comté, Haute-Normandie,
Ile-de-France,Languedoc-Roussillon, Limousin, Lorraine, Midi-Pyrénées, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Pays de la
Loire, Picardie, Poitou-Charentes, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, and Rhone-Alpes. Metropolitan France is
then subdivided into 96 departments. France counts also 4 overseas departments (French Guiana,
Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion), 5 overseas territorial collectivities with special status (Mayotte, Saint
Pierre and Miquelon, French Polynesia, Wallis & Futuna and New Caledonia).

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Other (Semi) Government Institutions and Independent
Administrative Authorities
A comprehensive list of Independant administrative authorities is hold on the official portal Légifrance
Here is a selection of some of these websites, especially those with some information for English-speaking
readers:

• Telecommunications Regulation Authority (Agence de régulation des Télécommunications)


(English access)
• Data Inspection Board (Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés) (English access)
• Broadcasting Control Authority (Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel) (English access)
• Ombudsman (Médiateur de la République)
• Stock exchange control authority (Autorité des marchés financiers) (English access)
• National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies - INSEE (English access)

Legislation

French

Paid Subscriptions
French legislation is officially published (paper) in the Journal officiel (official gazette) and in several official
bulletins. Since June 2004, French Law has also been officially published electronically.
The collected texts of the legislation in force are also available in private editions of 'Codes'. Law topics are
shared by several editors: some famous editors are Dalloz (with red books), Litec, Francis Lefebvre, Juris-
Classeur (with the most comprehensive offer: "codes et lois").
The official service named "Service Public de Diffusion du Droit par l'Internet" (Public service for the
Dissemination of Law through the Internet) is now provided on a free and open basis (free for use, and with
light license fees for commercial re-edition) by the Government via Légifrance. Some other private editors
offer practically the same services with associated fees : Juris-Classeur (French division of Reed-Elsevier),
Lamy (French division of Wolters-Kluwer) and Lexbase, for example. WestLaw is represented in France
mainly by the Transactive company, but doesn't offer (yet ?) comprehensive access to French Law.

Free Internet Services


Legifranceis offering the content of the 'Journal officiel' since 1990, and also the consolidated text of every
Acts (Lois) and decrees (décrets) since 1978, and some (the most important) of them before. The oldest one is
from 1536!
The private portal droit.org offers another practical way to access French legislation (English access).
English Translations

Printed Sources

• French Law, Constitution and Selective Legislation, Freshfields & Vivian Curran: Juris Publishing,
Inc., New York
• Sourcebook on French Law, by Pollard David, Cavendish Publishing Ltd, 1998, ISBN 1-85941187-8

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Internet Sources
They are very rare. Nine codes (out of more than seventy-five) and two main acts are on the official portal
Legifrance: Civil law, Civil procedure law, Intellectual Property law, Post and Telecommunication's law,
Insurance law, Procurement contract law, Criminal law, Criminal procedure, Trade law, Consumer law. Some
institutions, like the Bank of France or the Ministry of Justice, offer unofficial translations of legal materials.
You can see also the works of Stephanie Burke (Harvard), Mirela Roznovschi (NYU), and "French Law in
action" Claire Germain (Cornell).

Case Law
French

Paid Subscriptions
The official service is no longer (see above) conceded by the Government to ORT, with Jurifrance. Since
2002, the "Service Public de Diffusion du Droit par l'Internet" (Public service of Dissemination of Law
through the Internet) has provided caselaw of the three supreme courts (Cour de cassation, Conseil d'Etat,
Conseil constitutionnel). The decisions are available in full text since 1986, and in selection from the early
1960s. Private editors offer practically the same services with associated fees (http://www.lamyline.com;
http://www.lexbase.fr). For the other courts (Courts of Appeal...) a fee-based service is available from
Jurisdata for selected decisions from 1980.

Free Internet Services


Legifrance gives the list of official websites proposing case law. Another way to access this list is via droit.org.

EnglishTranslations
English translations of French case law are scarce. There are a few periodicals, however, that publish English
summaries of case law. The Constitutional council has been providing English summaries of its caselaw
since 1989 in his Yearbook (ed. Dalloz). Some international organizations may offer some selected caselaw. A
good example is the International Association of Supreme Administrative Jurisdictions in the Recueil de
décisions des hautes juridictions administratives / Selection of decisions of Supreme Administrative
Jurisdictions, or for the Commission for Democracy through law (Venice Commission) in his Bulletin on
Constitutional Case-Law.
The Institute of Global Law (Pr. Basil Markesinis, Universty College of London) gives short summaries of
French legal caselaw. The English translations of legal decisions include cases from the Conseil d'Etat, the
Cour de Cassation and the Conseil Constitutionnel, the latter of which provides directly through its website
some English-translated full text of decisions: see http://www.conseil-
constitutionnel.fr/langues/anglais/essential.htm.

Law Faculties

• List of French universities: http://www.education.gouv.fr/sup/univ.htm


• List of French-speaking law faculties on the portal "Droit Francophone"

Law Libraries
The most important law library in France is Cujas (University of Paris Pantheon-Sorbonne). The whole
catalog of the library (4 million items) is online. Others libraries have electronic access, including the
National Library, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, (direct access to the selection of legal ressources), or

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for example, Sciences-PoParis.

Literature

General

• French Legal System, by Andrew West, Yvon Desdevises, Alain Fenet, Oxford University Press,
2005, 377 pages, ISBN 0-406-90323-9
• French Legal Method, by Eva Steiner, Blackstone Press, 2002, 254 pages, ISBN 1 84174185 X
• Learning French Through The Law, by Vivian Grosswald Curran, Professor of Law at the
University of Pittsburg School of Law, A publication of the Parker School of Foreign and
Comparative Law, Columbia University. 300 Pages ISBN 0-9650295-0-6
• Principles of French Law, by John Bell, Sophie Boyron, Simon Whittaker, Oxford University Press,
1998, ISBN 0-19876395-6
• French substantive law, by Dadomo Christian and Farran, Sweet & Maxwell Ltd, 1996, ISBN
0421525509
• Introduction to French Law, by Dickson Brice, Financial Times Prentice Hall (a Pearson Education
company), 1994, ISBN 0273601407

Civil Law

• The French Civil Code by John H. Crabb (Translator) 2002, Kluwer Law International; ISBN 90
6544797 0

Constitutional and Administrative Law

• French Administrative Law : L. Neville Brown, John S. Bell With the Assistance of Jean-Michel
Galabert, 1998, Oxford Univ Pr; ISBN 0198765134

Criminal Law

• The French Penal Code of 1994 As Amended As of January 1, 1999 (American Series of Foreign
Penal Codes, 31) by Edward A. Tomlinson 1999) Fred B Rothman & Co; ISBN 0837700531

Law Dictionaries

• English-French Glossary of Legal Terminology, Terms Commonly Used in Public and Private Law
by L. Pollak 1996 Carswell Legal Pub; ISBN 0459233459
• The most common French law dictionary is Vocabulaire Juridique, by Gérard Cornu, ed. PUF,
2000, ISBN 2-13-050600-3

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Citation
There is no official method of legal citation in French. Private and public editors have their own systems,
their own abbreviations. However, on this excellent website, you will find some examples and practical
exercises of translation of French legal citations:

• http://jurisguide.univ-paris1.fr/Methodes/juripremiercycle.htm
• http://jurisguide.univ-paris1.fr/Ressources/Abreviations.htm

At the European level, some initiative has to be mentioned here:

• the "Code de rédaction interinstitutionnel" (communitarian law):


http://publications.eu.int/code/fr/fr-000400.htm (English version:
http://publications.eu.int/code/en/en-000400.htm)
• http://publications.eu.int/code/fr/fr-5000400.htm list of French acronyms in EC sector

For information on legal bibliography (Canada): http://www.bib.umontreal.ca/DR/guides/guide9.htm


Finally, you can find below some URLs on how to refer to a document in a legal thesis or article:

• http://csidoc.insa-lyon.fr/sapristi/;
• http://www.univ-nancy2.fr/GREFIGE/theses/3/th_info.htm

Discussion Lists and blogs


Several French law lists have been created. Most of them are not really discussion lists, but one-way lists.
Discussion lists, properly speaking, can be found athttp://listes.cru.fr/wws/lists/droit or on the
"Francopholistes."
Five Usenet newsgroups concern legal matters: news:fr.misc.droit,news:fr.misc.droit.famille (Family issues),
news:fr.misc.droit.immobilier (Real Estate), news:fr.misc.droit.travail (Labor) and
news:fr.misc.droit.internet. Caution: they accept only French-written news.
The list of the association "Juriconnexion" could be useful of legal librarians, and the "Droit-net" list is also
well known for the quality of the debates, but they are both exclusively French-speaking.
French «Blawgs» are becoming more and more important: for an almost comprehensive list, frequently
updated, see on the blog Docenvrac.

Miscellaneous Legal Sites


Here is a selection of French legal "portals"(list of French legal websites):

• Droit.org (unofficial but comprehensive French legal portal)


• Le village de la justice (Juriguide)
• La porte du droit
• Rabenou (this author stopped updates, but this website has been a model for other French legal
websites)
© 2005, Hauser Global Law School Program, New York University School of Law