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French law: Legal system

Subjects: Law, Law - French Legal

Introduction to the French legal system

Free online introductions are A propos du droit and its English translation About law, both from Légifrance.

English language introductions to French law available in the LawBod include the following:

French legal system : quick facts

France is a republic, in its fifth manifestation since the Révolution (1789).

The current constitution is dated 4 October 1958 (though since revised - most recently 2008).

The head of state & the executive is the Président (the Elysée Palace) elected directly by the people for a term of 5 years.

The head of the administration is the Prime Minister (Hôtel Matignon), appointed by the Président after nomination by the majority party in the National Assembly.

The Parlement has 2 chambers the Assemblée nationale  (Palais Bourbon) and the Sénat (Luxembourg Palace). Statutes (lois) must pass both chambers.

The executive has the power to enact règlements: called décrets if they emanate from the President or Prime Minsiter, arrêtées if emanating from the lower branches of the executive. These clarify or add detail to parliament's statutes. The government can initiate autonomous ordonnances, but these require to be validated by parliament in due course.

The Conseil Constitutionnel reviews laws, treaties and standing orders to make sure they do not contravene the Constitution.It also polices elections and referenda.


The French legal system is part of the civil law tradition.

French court structure - en bref!

There are 2 streams of law courts:

1) The civil & criminal courts - Juridictions judiciaires/Ordre judiciaire

Cour de Cassation is the highest court. It has 1 chamber devoted to criminal appeals, 5 to civil cases. The Chambre Mixte can be convened to hear cases when the division is not clear. The Assemblée Plénière can be convened to hear cases of particular import. When the Cour holds that a lower court has decided incorrectly, the original decision is quashed and the case itself is reheard in a different Court of Appeal.

Cour D'Appel. There are 35 such courts across France.

Lower Courts (Civil): Juge de Proximité (small claims), Tribunal d'Instance (medium claims), Tribunal de Grande Instance (large claims), Conseil de Prud'hommes, Tribunal de Commerce, Tribunal Paritaire des Baux Ruraux, Tribunal des Affaires de Sécurité Sociale.
Lower Courts (Criminal): Juge de Proximité, Tribunal de Police, Tribunal Correctionnel, Cour d'Assises

2)The administrative law courts - Juridictions administratives / Ordre administratif

(Lowest to highest) Tribunal Administratif - Cour d'Administrative d'Appel - Conseil D'État


Tribunal des conflits


Judges from the Cour de Cassation and the Conseil D'État, together with the current Minister of Justice decide on conflicts of jurisdiction.