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Foreign Law - Countries and Regions: France


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France has a civil law system, legislation as the main source of law, most of it codified.  The government of France is based on the Constitution of the Fifth Republic of 1958. There is a bicameral legislature, a strong executive under an elected President and a Prime Minister appointed by the President from the majority in the National Assembly. France is a unitary state divided into 22 regions.

France has a bicameral parliament, consisting of the Assemblée Nationale and the Sénat. Legislation consists of lois (statutes), règlements, and décrets (regulations). By French law (ordinance no. 2004-164), French acts and regulations must be published on the internet to be enacted. Laws and decrees are published in the official gazette, the Journal Officiel de la République francaise. There is an extensive system of codes, including the Code civil, the Code penal, and the Code de commerce.

There is a Conseil Constitutionnel  which reviews the constitutionality of laws and treaties before enactment or ratification. The courts of last resort are the Cour de Cassation for appeals of judicial decisions, and the Conseil d’État for appeals from the administrative courts.

Legifrance has an English language guide to the French legal system for Europa's e-justice portal. The Ministry of Justice has an English language guide to the French legal and judicial system. There is also background and history on the French legal system in the Foreign Law Guide database.  For a more comprehensive guide to the French legal system, see John Bell, Sophie Boyron, & Simon Whittaker, Principles of French Law (2d ed. 2008), available at KJV233 .B45 2008 and in Oxford Scholarship Online.

French Constitution

The Constitution of October 4, 1958 is available in French and in English translation in multiple online sources:

  • Assemblée Nationale: The Constitution of October 4, 1958 is available in English translation.
  • Conseil Constitutionnel: The French Constitution in French and several translations (including English)., with basic information, amending laws, and previous constitutions.
  • Hein Online's World Constitutions Illustrated: The current consolidated text in French and English, previous amendments and Constitutions, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and other historical documents, and commentaries and scholarly articles on French constitutional law.
  • Oxford Constitutions of the World: The current and previous constitutions in French and in English translation, with constitutional overview and bibliography.

French Case Law

Conseil Constitutionnel:  Select decisions in English translation.  The Constitutional Council reviews statutes for constitutionality.

Cour de Cassation: Select decisions. The Cour de Cassation is the highest judicial court, equivalent to a Supreme Court.

Legifrance:  Legifrance has judgments of the Conseil Constitutionnel and Cour de Cassation, and selected decisions of the Courts of Appeal and Courts of First Instance. Jurisprudence can be searched by court, case number, date, and full text.  Decisions are available in html with links to RTF.

vLex Global has judgments of the Cour de Cassation,  Conseil Constitutionnel, Conseil d’État, and other courts and tribunals.  vLex is also a source for books and journals on French law from Éditions Universitaires Européenes.

Lexis has La Semaine Juridique, which includes articles and summaries of French case law, sometimes with full-text of opinions and explanatory notes, and La Semaine Juridique: Enterprise et Affaires with articles on corporate law and tax.  The MacMillan Law Library has the set in periodicals from 1984-2008.

Legalis:  Includes caselaw on copyright, defamation, privacy, and e-commerce

Juricaf: French-language caselaw site.  Search court decisions from 42 countries, including France, Canada, and other Francophone countries (mostly in Africa).  Search by individual country or across jurisdictions, full-text or by fields.  Includes links to the case on official sites.  For France, Juricaf includes the Conseil Constitutionnel, Cour de Cassation, Conseil d'Etat, and city and city and regional courts.

Service-publicLinks to French public information websites.

French Legislation

Legifrance: Journal Officiel de la République francaise. Html with links to pdf. Search or browse treaties, legislation, and regulations by theme or subject using Rechercher un thème.

Legifrance: The French codes are available in French, for browsing or searching, with some in English translation (with links to amending laws in French).

The authenticated electronic Journal Officiel ("Le Journal Officiel Électronique Authentifié") includes issues by date.

vLex Global has the Journal Officiel and secondary source publications on French law.

Lexis has the Journal Officiel from 2000 up to April 2008. From Lexis Advance, go to Research>>Find Laws by Country or Region.

Codes published by Dalloz: Commercial versions of the French codes. Civil, Commerce, Pénal, Administratif.   The MacMillan Law Library has the print codes in the 1948 editions through the 1995-1996 editions, in the Granger Hansell Room.

The MacMillan Law Library also has in its print collections the Recueil Dalloz for 1962-2013, a weekly publication of legislation and select court decisions with commentary, and La Semaine Juridique for 1984-2008, a weekly publication of legislation and select court decisions.

Other Research Guides

NYU GlobaLex: Researching French Law

Georgetown Law Library: French Legal Research

Law Library of Congress: Legal Research Guide: France

Charles Szladits & Claire Germain, Guide to Foreign Legal Materials: French (1985). Available in Hein Online's Parker School Studies in Foreign and Comparative Law.

Subject Guide