French cases : researching docket sheets and full text

Lundi 16 juillet 2007, par Emmanuel Barthe // Portails juridiques officiels - Diffusion des données juridiques publiques

[update on July 20, 2010 : also read this page on the European eJustice portal]

Many Anglo-Saxon law librarian colleagues contact me regarding docket and full text research of French cases, asking whether it is possible to accomplish this online and if not, how to proceed.

Here’s my advice.

The simplest, quickest way (most of the time)

Search your institution’s contact network, locate a French attorney, call her/him and ask her/him to get the docket sheet and/or the full text for you. Try that first, and in most cases you’ll save time.

Now if you have to do it yourself, follow this quick guide.

Which court ?

To know which court, the only way is to query a big French case law database on a global online platform. They are :

But none of these are complete — far from that [1]. So one really had better have the court’s name before starting the research.

Docket sheets

I don’t think you can get the docket sheets [2] — at least yourself — online. Only for some jurisdictions and only if you are a party in the litigation or his/her attorney and you have an e-certificate and it is installed on your computer.

To my knowledge (some details may be partially untrue), access to French dockets online is rather limited and, often, somewhat complicated on the technical side :

  • judiciary jurisdictions :
    • Cour de cassation : accessible only by the specialized attorneys "au Conseil (et à la Cour)"
    • cours d’appel (courts of appeal) : accessible only by the "avoués" [3]. Today, only in the courts of Pau, Versailles and Paris, the "avoué" can transmit to the court’s secretary the procedure documents. That system should — or shall I say : might — be the norm for all courts of appeal in December 2008 [4]
    • Tribunal de commerce (Tcom) de Paris : dockets are accessible online, but only by the parties and their attorney and only through a subscription. See L’abonnement au site judiciaire du greffe pour les avocats on the Tcom’s web site
    • Tribunal de grande instance (TGI) of Paris. Here, they use the e-greffe system : see the user manual for details and functionalities) and this academic work (PDF) (both in French)
  • administrative jurisdictions : at all levels (1st level ("Tribunal administratif", TA), 2nd level ("Cour administrative d’appel", CAA) and the supreme court ("Conseil d’Etat", CE)) dockets are accessible online, but only by the parties and their attorney.

To know more, you may read the post in my blog (in French) : Informatisation de la procédure auprès des juridictions : un point et une bibliographie — Un épisode de notre série "L’e-administration avance (lentement)".

Docket documents

If you are the attorney of one of the parties to a litigation before a French court, you have access to all procedure documents in paper format (and they are generally transmitted to you by mail, anyway), not just the text of the decision of the jurisdiction.

But speaking of online "US docket type" access, it seems that the range of documents available online is much more limited. Only the "avocats aux Conseils" (i.e. attorneys before the Cour de cassation or the Conseil d’Etat) have access to the "pièces de la procédure" through an intranet. The "avoués" in cases before the "cours d’appel" that test the new system also have that kind of access.

But if you are not directly involved in a case, you are not getting anything else than the decision itself, paper format or not. There is, of course, at the Cour de cassation and the Conseil d’Etat, the advocate general’s reasoning and it may be published, but I think that’s all.

Full text

There is an official mini-guide for requesting a copy of a decision of a jurisdiction (in French). It seems to me that it lacks some important information, but it stresses that if you are not one of the parties (or its attorney of course), you may not have access to decisions which are not given in public.

To get a full-text copy of the French judge’s decision, call a colleague who has a subscription to one or more of the first four French legal databases listed above (Legifrance is free). If you don’t have such a colleague or he/she did not find anything on those databases, call a French attorney/lawyer and ask him to get it for you.

If impossible, call the Lexbase CRDL+ service and ask for a quote (warning : normally, a subscription is needed).

See also, in French Law by Steiner, its Appendix I, titled "Where to find cases.

If not possible, I guess you’ll have to do it the "paper way" :

  • get the jurisdiction’s address or fax number through the French Yellow Pages
  • send them (in French) a letter or fax to the "greffe" (the secretary of the jurisdiction) of the court specifying the court chamber, the day the decision was given, the name of the parties and if possible the "rôle" number. Those last two pieces of information are compulsory : either you have a "rôle" number or you have the day + the chamber + the parties’ names. Also, if it is an administrative jurisdiction, you’ll have to pay a fee (in Euros) but it may generally be done afterwards. Get prepared for a two weeks delay at the very least, while the Paris Cour d’appel generally answers with a two months delay. If you are looking for a "Tribunal de commerce" (TCom / commercial, first level jurisdiction) decision, you have first to inquire about the price (which may vary from one tribunal to another), then send a check of the requested amount. The administrative jurisdictions and TCom decisons are generally sent within a few days.

Otherwise, well ... no way.

Keep in mind that copies of commercial and administrative jurisdictions’ decisions are available for a fee. If you are not accustomed to order French decisions, it is recommended to call the "greffe" and ask for price and procedure before you order.

Good luck and, if you are requesting a judiciary civil or criminal decision, be patient. As one famous French poet once wrote : « Patience and the passing of time achieve more than force nor rage. » [5]

Emmanuel Barthe
French law librarian researcher

Notes de bas de page

[1Most (but not all) court of appeal decisions are on those databases starting January 2008. All Cour de cassation since the sixties.

[2The US notion of docket (all info about a case and the state of the procedure at the jurisdiction, with access to the various documents of the procedure and the full text of the decision) does not really exist in France. Of course, the corresponding reality does exist and there is an equivalent : the "rôle" (often referred to as RG or "rôle général"). But the rôle, I think, is more narrow. A correct translation of docket would be : "état du dossier" (one docket) or "état des dossiers en cours" (all the Court’s dockets).

[3The "avoués" are lawyers specializing in procedure before the court of appeal. They actually make it work.

[4According to Jean-Louis Lagourgue, head of the "Chambre nationale des avoués", interviewed by the Petites affiches, Oct. 24th, 2006.

[5Or : « Time will accomplish more than force, And quiet patience more than rage ». « Patience et longueur de temps font plus que force ni que rage. » : Jean de La Fontaine, in Le Lion et le Rat.