Official guides to French law and French case law — in English

Mercredi 7 février 2007

American, English, Australian, ... — English speaking — lawyers, law librarians, law professors and law students, may have sometimes thought it difficult to understand the intricacies of French law and its supreme judiciary court, the Cour de cassation.

Now, at least, they have two good, detailed, official explanations available online for free :

- About (French) law, on the Legifrance web site.
In this guide, you will learn not only about the main sources of French law, but also you will get links to their web sites. Here is the table of contents :

« 1. What is law
2. International law sources
3. National Law Sources
4. Publication of Laws and Regulations
5. Codification and Consolidation
6. Case Law
7. Published Legal Information »

- About the Court of Cassation, on the Court web site.
Here are some most interesting extracts, which explain the Cour de cassation mission of not judging facts, but only interpreting the law, and why the French system is not one of case law as known in the anglo-saxon legal world :

« The Court of Cassation plays an essential role in unifying case-law. This function explains the specialised nature of the Court, which never rules on the facts. Its task is thus exclusively to interpret the law, whether with respect to the merits or to procedure, old or new, all of which enhances the importance of its decisions accordingly. [...]
Owing to the very nature of the technique of quashing ("cassation"), which consists in checking each case for the proper application of the law to the decision impugned, the case-law develops gradually, on the basis of the appeals and arguments arising. The practice known as arrêts de règlement ("regulatory judgments") is prohibited at the Court of Cassation, as it is in all other French courts, by Article 5 of the Civil Code, according to which "Courts are prohibited from making a ruling by way of general regulatory provisions on cases submitted to them". The case-law therefore develops little by little as problems are gradually raised by legal arguments. Hence it is by being attuned to French — and now European — society that the Court states the law, adapting it to developments in that society, be they political, social, economic, international, technical or technological. [...]
The resulting flexibility leaves ample scope for a new reading, over time and if required, of how to interpret the law, in light of the changes in society and the way they are perceived. In particular, it makes it possible to fill loopholes in positive law, Article 4 of the Civil Code prohibiting courts from declining to rule on the basis of the silence, obscurity or inadequacy of the law. The Court of Cassation thus has an essential role to play in this respect. Faced with the silence of the law, there are essentially two techniques it can use. One of these is the application of texts to situations not foreseen by the legislator, a possible example being the texts on criminal liability, essentially stemming from the Civil Code of 1804, to motor vehicles traffic. The other technique is the reference to general principles (such as, for example, the rule fraus omnia corrumpit, the theory of unjust enrichment, the rule of abnormal disturbance of neighbourhood or the principle of the rights of defence), naturally provided such a technique does not conflict with a positive law text. [...]
The development of case-law undergoes gradual shifts in direction, but may also take the form of actual reversals of precedent, which by their very nature are exceptional. The justices of the Court of Cassation are at pains to lay down a case-law which is stable, and can thus serve as a yardstick for the trial courts, for litigants and their counsel. Building the law is necessarily a gradual, ongoing process. Moreover, the Court’s authority is at stake. Yet this does not mean that case-law should be cast in stone, as judgments have repeatedly shown. [...] It is only after mature reflection that [...] a reversal of case law is decided upon, for it has repercussions not only on the particular case directly concerned, but also, through a chain reaction, on all pending cases on the same issue. In other words, it has retroactive effect, thus calling into question the practices it condemns. It is therefore understandable that there is a constant concern to strike a delicate balance between the need to adapt the law to changes in society and the need for laws that are lasting. »

You may also find of interest the following detailed guides on French law :

I do not recommend the World Bank Doing Business analysis, since it is a purely economic — not legal — and also somewhat biased point of view, which contains many sheer mistakes. For more on the debate, see :

You might also be interested in the Jurispedia article History of the French judicial system.

And of course, one should not forget the for-a-fee usual resources :

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