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French Legal Resources  

Last Updated: May 15, 2017 URL: http://libguides.law.rutgers.edu/content.php?pid=702841 Print Guide RSS Updates
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Library & Online Resources

Prepared by Molly Brownfield
Revised November 6, 2006

I. INTRODUCTION
    (A) Scope
    (B) Research tips
    (C) Potential research difficulties
    (D) General background on French legal system
II. INTRODUCTORY RESEARCH MATERIALS
    (A) English language introductions to French law
    (B) English language treatises on French law
III. PRIMARY SOURCES OF FRENCH LAW
    (A) The French Constitution
    (B) Legislation
        (1) Statutes (Lois), Regulations (Règlements), and Ordinances (Ordonnances)
        (2) Codes
    (C) Treaties
IV. SECONDARY SOURCES OF FRENCH LAW
    (A) Case law
    (B) French Law Reviews and Periodicals in Rutgers Law Library
V. ADDITIONAL ELECTRONIC RESOURCES
VI. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

(A) Scope

This guide is intended to serve as a starting point for attorneys and law students who wish to research French law at the Rutgers Law Library at Newark, or via electronic resources. The guide is geared towards those who are not familiar with the French legal system and who speak little or no French. Though it does not provide each and every available source dealing with French law, the guide does provide a thorough sampling of available research resources.

This guide is organized in such a manner as to provide some general background information on the French legal system before moving into actual research sources. Following this is information about legal resources for France. As in the United States, France recognizes primary sources of law – those that are authoritative, and secondary sources of law – those that are persuasive.  This guide is broken down to reflect these two categories. Both electronic and print resources are discussed in each section, as well as tips for citation formatting. Electronic resources mentioned throughout the guide are freely accessible, though the final section of the guide does include information on select commercial electronic resources.

(B) Research tips

Researchers should try to define from the outset what they wish to accomplish through their research. If the task at hand is simply trying to locate the text of a specific provision of the French Commercial Code, then the researcher is advised to proceed to the Legislation segment of this guide. If the goal is simply to gain background knowledge, the researcher may read over the introductory section on the general background of the French Legal System, as well as the summaries of each section.

Tips for electronic resources:

It is useful for the researcher to have a list of key terms that they can plug into electronic search engines. For the most part, these terms can be simple and relate specifically to the desired topic, such as “France,” “trademark law,” “French courts,” etc. Both Westlaw and Lexis (discussed under Commercial/Fee-based sites) provide a choice in methods of searching for information.  The “Terms & Connectors” option permits Boolean searching and requires the researcher to enter search terms joined by connectors, or symbols placed between the search terms to specify the relationship between them. One can also use the root expander and the universal character to ensure that a search retrieves different forms of the entered search terms. The “Natural Language” option is a broader mechanism in that it allows whole search phrases to be entered, but this may cost the researcher more time in finding useful results.

One excellent electronic resource for French law is Legifrance. Legifrance, which will be referenced later in this guide, is a free French database that contains statutes and decrees from 1978, all the official codes, and links to other official sites. This is a useful source, though it does illustrate one problem in French legal research, which is that not all parts of the site are available in English. This is one of the few areas where researchers can access case law of the highest French courts (le Conseil Constitutionnel), but only in the French language.

Tips for print resources:

Most French legal materials are located in the Rutgers Law Library on the 2nd floor in the area of “Foreign Materials by Country” under the KJV call numbers. The following is a sample list of pertinent subject terms to use when searching for French print resources in the online catalogue of Rutgers Law Library at Newark:

Print resources: Library of Congress subject headings for sources of French law

Law – France
Justice, Administration of – France
Commercial Law – France
Civil Law – France
Constitutional courts – France

*Note – This is a basic list of subject headings, but many others exist.

In addition to searching by subject heading, researchers can search via keyword through the Keyword search option in the online catalogue of Rutgers Law Library at Newark. This can be a useful technique when the researcher has a vague idea of his topic, but does not know exactly what subject it would fall under. Examples of keywords to use in keyword searches are noted above in tips for electronic resources.

(C) Potential research difficulties

The main problem with researching the French legal system is that many of the resources are entirely in French. English translations can be found for some sources, and the French government is working towards making more information available in English. However, finding these versions may require more in-depth searching, and certain French web sites that purport to have an English version will not contain the full English translation. The best way to handle this problem is first to see if a French web site does offer an English translation. If it does not, then move on to another site. If it does, then click on the link to the English translation to ensure that the link is still a good one and that the translation is complete.

Another problem is in locating reports of French case law. It is difficult to locate the texts of case decisions online without paying a fee. English translations of French cases are especially scarce and not very accessible online. Some coverage of court decisions can be found on the official web sites for the courts, but these are largely or all in French.

Finally, proper citation format can prove difficult for researchers unfamiliar with citing the laws of foreign jurisdictions. In order to alleviate this difficulty, this guide includes citation format reference information.

(D) General background on French legal system

France has a civil law legal system as opposed to common law. Common law is law derived from judicial decisions and operates as the legal system for many countries including the United States. Civil law stems from the Roman law of Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis, proceeding from broad legal principles and the interpretation of doctrinal writings.  

Researching French law, therefore, follows a different methodology from that used for researching United States law. In France, the focus is on codified law rather than on civil case law and precedent. It is important to note that although France's system is based on civil law, case law does still play an important role in practice. Although French case law is not officially recognized as an authoritative source of law, it is still crucial to the development of the law.

II. INTRODUCTORY RESEARCH MATERIALS

(A) English language introductions to French law

In order to gain a basic understanding of the legal materials of any country, it is a good idea to consult introductory materials. Researchers should try consulting an English language introduction to French law to prepare for the differences between the legal system in France and that of the United States.

Amos and Walton's Introduction to French Law by F H. Lawson, A. E. Anton, and L. Neville Brown (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967).
Location: Call # KJJ

French Law; its Structure, Sources, and Methodology by René David; Translated by Michael Kindred (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972). Location: Call # KJJ

Introduction to French Law by Brice Dickson (London: Pitman, 1994).
Location: Call # KJV233 .D52 1994.

A Sourcebook on French Law: Public Law--Constitutional and Administrative Law: Private Law--Structure, Contract by Bernard Rudden, Claudine Lévy, and Sir Otto Kahn-Freund (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
Location: Call # KJV233.R83 1990

The French Legal System by Christian Dadomo and Susan Farran (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1996).                                                                                                   
Location: KJV233 .D32 1996

Principles of French Law by John Bell, Sophie Boyron, and Simon Whittaker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
Location: Call # KJV 233 B45 2000

(B) English language treatises on French law

For a more in-depth overview, researchers should try consulting an English language treatise on French law.

French Administrative Law. 3rd ed. by L. Neville Brown and J. F. Garner (London: Butterworths, 1983).
Location: Call # KJJ

French Constitutional Law by John Bell (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
Location: Call # KJV 4390 B45 1992

III. PRIMARY SOURCES OF FRENCH LAW

(A) The French Constitution
The current French Constitution is the Gaullist Constitution, which was adopted in 1958 and is superior to all statutes. It can, however, be amended by Parliament as permitted by Article 89 of the Constitution. The Constitution organizes the system of power and sets out the different roles. Under this system, the executive shares power with a bicameral legislature, or Parliament. The president, who is Chief of State and at the head of the executive power, is elected for five years by universal suffrage. The Parliament consists of two bodies, the Assemblée Nationale, or National Assembly, and the Sénat, or Senate.

Constitutional law is composed of four sources, and referred to by the courts as le bloc de constitutionnalité.  The four sources include: (1) the text of the 1958 Constitution itself; (2) the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789; (3) the Preamble to the 1946 Constitution which contains a long list of political, economic and social principles; and (4), the fundamental principles of law recognized by the laws of the Republic, or les principes fondamentaux reconnus par les lois de la République, which are referred to in the Preamble to the 1946 Constitution.

Electronic resources:

The 1958 Constitution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen are available online in English translations on the governmental web sites of the National Assembly and of the President at:

http://www2.assemblee-nationale.fr/langues/welcome-to-the-english-website-of-the-french-national-assembly

http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/connaissance/constitution.asp

 

*Note - Since the Constitution is frequently amended; it may take a while for the latest amendments to be added to the English text. Other electronic resources include:

Legifrance (Official version in French) at:
https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/Droit-francais/Constitution

Print resources:

Rutgers Law Library has several useful French constitutional documents in print format.  English translations of French constitutional materials are available in multi-jurisdictional collections, which include two looseleaf services:

French Law: Constitution and Selective Legislation by George A. Bermann, Henry P. De Vries, and Nina M. Galston (New York: Transnational Juris Publications 1981-).
Location: Call # KJV4158 .B476

Constitutions of the Countries of the World by A.P. Blaustein & G.H. Flanz (New York: Oceana Publications 1971-).
Location: Call # K3157.A2 .B43
Citation format:

See Rule 20.4 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation on Foreign Constitutions

(B) Legislation

(1) Statutes (Lois), Regulations (Règlements), and Ordinances (Ordonnances)

In France, the legislative power belongs to the Parliament, which consists of l'Assemblée Nationale (the National Assembly) and le Sénat (the Senate). A broad definition of legislation in France encompasses the Constitution, treaties, statutes, regulations, and the codes. The domain of parliamentary statutes (lois) is limited to certain areas. Legislation outside of those areas (set forth below) can be enacted by regulations, which fall within the executive area of power.  A statute, unlike a regulation, requires official promulgation by the President of the Republic.  Statutes normally come into force the day after they are published in France’s Journal Officiel (JO).

As dictated by Title V, Article 34 the 1958 Constitution, the domain of parliamentary statutes is limited to the following areas:

Civil rights
Nationality
Status
Capacity of persons
Crimes and criminal procedure
Currency
Inheritance
Taxes

Parliamentary statutes also determine the fundamental principles of education, property rights, labor law, and social security. Laws on subjects outside of those listed fall within the Executive domain; also dictated by Title V, Article 34 of the 1958 Constitution.

A regulation, or règlement, is the general term for impersonal measures taken by an administrative authority.  Regulations fall into two main categories. Décrets are those issued by the President or the Prime Minister. Arrêtés are issued by a minister, a regional prefect or a mayor.

Ordinanances, or ordonnances, are provided for in Article 38 of the 1958 Constitution.  Under this provision, the government may request Parliament for authority to issue ordinances for a limited period of time.  Ordinances have the nature and force of law and come into force as soon as they are published, but they will lapse if a statute is not passed to ratify them before the set time period expires.

Electronic resources:

Statutes and regulations are published in the Journal Officiel de la République Française, which is available (in the French language) at: http://www.jura.uni-sb.de/france/adminet/jo/. Publication of the Journal Officiel is available online from 1998 and continuing through the present, with some limitations in coverage.

Citation format:

See Rule 20.5.2 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation on Statutes in Civil-Law and Other Non-Common-Law Jurisdictions back to top

(2) Codes

Codes are the basis of all France law, in accordance with civil law tradition. The most prominent codes in France are the five original Napoleonic codes:

Code civil
Code de la procédure civile (le nouveau code de la procédure civile, as of 1976)
Code de commerce
Code pénal
Code de procédure pénal

Electronic resources:

Online sources to these five codes, as well as many other French codes, are available in French (official versions) on Legifrance at:
https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/Traductions/en-English/Legifrance-translations.

English translations of select French codes are also available on Legifrance at:https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/Traductions/en-English/Legifrance-translations

Print resources:

The Rutgers Law Library maintains select volumes of the French Codes in its print collection.  Most of these volumes, however, contain outdated versions of the Codes and therefore should not be used unless researchers are undertaking historical research. The following are part of the Petit Codes Dalloz Series and are available in print in the Rutgers Law Library: 

Code Civil (1983-1983)
Call # KJJ

Code Commerce (1983-1984)
Call # KJJ

Code d'Instruction Criminelle (1955)
Call # KJJ

Code de Justice Militaire (1983-1984)
Call # KJJ

Code Penal (1983-1984)
Call # KJJ

Code de Procedure Penal (1983-1984)
Call # KJJ

Citation Format:

See Rule 20.5.2 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation on Statutes in Civil-Law and Other Non-Common-Law Jurisdictions back to top

(C) Treaties

It is important to determine from the outset whether or not there are any treaties that specifically deal with the topic of research. Article 55 of the 1958 Constitution provides that:

Treaties or agreements duly ratified or approved shall, upon publication,
prevail over Acts of Parliament, subject, in regard to each agreement or
treaty, to its application by the other party.

Electronic Resources:

Online sources to select French treaties are available in French (official versions) on Legifrance at https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/Droit-international/Traites   

Treaties are also published in French in the Journal Officiel (or J.O.), which is the official source: http://www.jura.uni-sb.de/france/adminet/jo/

Citation format:

See Rule 21.4 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation on Treaties and Other International Agreements

IV. SECONDARY SOURCES OF FRENCH LAW

(A) Case law

This guide includes information on the three national courts in France: the Cour de Cassation, the Conseil d’Etat, and the Conseil Constitutionnel.  A chart illustrating the French court system is provided at the end of the guide.  For more in-depth information on the French court system, researchers should refer to the chapter on Court Institutions in Principles of French Law by John Bell, Sophie Boyron, and Simon Whittaker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
Location: Call # KJV 233 B45 2000.

(1) Cour de Cassation

The Cour de Cassation, a Supreme Court of Appeals and the court of last instance for civil and criminal cases, resides at the head of the judiciary courts and is located in the Palace of Justice (Palais due Justice) in Paris. The French President has the task of appointing 80 judges from nominations of the High Council of the Judiciary.

Electronic resources:

http://www.courdecassation.fr/
This site provides information about the Cour de Cassation in French, including its annual reports going back to 1997. English translations of the Court's organization, judges, description of the office of the Procurer General, the Court's statistics, review process, and a description of the Court's Commissions and Committees are available at:
http://www.courdecassation.fr/_Accueil/anglais/anglais.htm.

 (2) Conseil d'Etat

At the top of the administrative courts (concerning litigation which involves the public sector), is the Council of State, or Conseil d'Etat, with 7 administrative appellate courts and 35 administrative tribunals.  The Conseil d’Etat’s role is typically to review the decisions of lower administrative courts and to quash decisions in which the law was incorrectly applied.  It also gives advisory opinions on the law during litigation on a request basis.

Electronic resources:

http://www.conseil-etat.fr/
This site provides information about the Conseil d'Etat in French and includes a list of case law decisions going back to 1999.

Citation format:

See Rule 20.3.2 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation on Civil Law and Other Non-Common-Law Cases

(3) Conseil Constitutionnel

The Constitutional Council, called the Conseil Constitutionnel, is not formally a court.  Rather, it is a council charged with handling constitutional review of statutes passed by Parliament. It does not hear cases from individual citizens concerning the constitutionality of statutes; rather, it reviews the constitutionality of statutes on a reference from the President, the Prime Minister, the President of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate, or from deputies or senators.   In addition, the Conseil Constitutionnel controls the national elections for the Parliament and the President of the Republic. There are nine members on the Constitutional Council: 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.

Electronic resources:

Most French case reports are produced by commercial publishers and not many French case decisions are available to researchers on the Internet. Researchers can, however, obtain general information about the courts and the French judicial system via the Internet:

http://www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr/

This site provides information that is primarily in French, however, it does provide English translations of the following at:

http://www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr/conseil-constitutionnel/english/homepage.14.html.

-Texts including Constitution of 4 October 1958, Declaration of Human and Civic Rights of 26 August 1789, Preamble to the Constitution of 27 October 1946, Main texts related to the Constitutional Council and its organization;
-Select Case law and Constitutional Review Decisions  

Citation format:

See Rule 20.3.2 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation on Civil Law and Other Non-Common-Law Cases

(B) French Law Reviews and Periodicals in Rutgers Law Library

Rutgers Law Library provides access to select French law reviews and periodicals in print format.  Researchers should be aware that the majority the Library’s holding in this area are not current, and that many of these publications are in the French language.

Print resources:

Examples of French law review titles and periodicals in Rutger's collection include:

-La gazette du travail (or Labour gazette)                                                                                               Location : Call # PER in Periodicals (2nd Floor)     

-Revue critique de droit international privé
Location : Call # PER in Periodicals (2nd Floor)

-Revue de science criminelle et de droit pénal comparé
Location: Call # CRIMJ in Criminal Justice Library (3rd Floor)

Citation format:

See Rule 20.6 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation on Non-English Language and Foreign Periodicals

V. ADDITIONAL ELECTRONIC RESOURCES

Commercial/fee-based sites:

Researchers should be aware that, although select information on French law can be found using Westlaw and Lexis, the coverage in these two databases is minimal.

-Westlaw (http://www.westlaw.com)

Westlaw contains material on French law that can be found by going to the Directory, clicking on International Materials, and locating France after selecting Databases Listed Alphabetically by Country or Region. The France materials contain databases for Treatises & Commentaries, Regulations, Patents and Trademarks (patents are in French, but have English descriptors below while trademarks are primarily in English), and Business & News. The Treatises & Commentaries database contains a treatise called International Commercial Arbitration, or droit compare de l'arbitrage international, which is in the French language. The Regulations database contains a sub-database for French Environmental, Health and Safety Regulations, which contains all currently available environmental, health and safety regulations available in the ENFLEX database for France. These regulations are in the English language and are current through July 2005. The Business & News database provides access to several French news publications. However, coverage for several listed news sources, including Le Monde and Le Figaro, is no longer being updated.

-Lexis (http://www.lexis.com/)

LexisNexis maintains a database specific to France that is located in its Legal (excluding U.S.) directory. This database includes sub-databases on Recherches en français, English Language Searches, International Arbitration, Mealey Publications, and Treatises. Under Recherches en français - Legislation, researchers can find a link to le Journal Officiel – Lois et Décrets with coverage from 2000 to the present. Lois et Décrets is the principal series of Le Journal Officiel and contains the full text of statutes (lois), decrees (décrets and arrêtés), circulars (circulaires), opinions (avis) and notices. It is important to note, however, that JO materials are in the French language. Also in the French language are the articles published in La Semaine Juridique with coverage from 1995 to the present, available by clicking on Recherche en français - Revues. Lexis provides a thorough English resource under Treatises – namely an English Treatise to doing business in France (published by Matthew Bender). Like Westlaw, Lexis does not currently maintain any English translations of French case decisions.

Under “Area of Law by Topic,” researchers can access more materials on France by clicking on International Trade or International Law. Both of these provide links to the Martindale-Hubbell International Law Digest (current through the 2005 edition) under Treatises & Analytical Materials. This Digest contains a summary of statutory law for 80 countries, including France. The CELEX European Union Cases database, located under Cases, provides access to EU decisions involving France and other member countries in the English language.

VI. CONCLUSION

Researching French law presents many challenges, especially to those who have little or no knowledge of the French language. More resources are being translated into English, however, and this will facilitate French legal research in the future. Keep in mind that the links provided in this research guide are not permanent.

      
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