French Law Guide

by Professor Claire M. Germain

Claire M. Germain is the Edward Cornell Law Librarian and Professor of Law at Cornell Law School. She received her Licence-ès-Lettres and LL.B. from the University of Paris, France, M.C.L. from Louisiana State University, and M.L.L. from the University of Denver. Her teaching and scholarly interests include foreign and international law and legal research. She teaches a seminar in French law, and legal research courses to first-years and upper-class students. She is actively involved in all aspects of legal information, from rare books to cyberspace, particularly digital law issues, and the use of computer technology for research and teaching. She is Vice President/President Elect of AALL (American Association of Law Libraries). She frequently speaks on comparative law and legal research topics in the United States, Europe, and Canada. She teaches classes on the use of the Internet for legal research, most recently in Paris, France, and Barcelona, Spain. She is the author of two books, Germain's Transnational Law Research (Transnational, loose-leaf, 1991- , winner of AALL's 1992 Joseph L. Andrews Award) and Guide to Foreign Legal Materials: French (with Charles Szladits, Oceana, 2d ed., 1985), and numerous articles.

Where to Start

  • History

The French legal system belongs to the civil law tradition, like most continental European countries. It has a rich history. France is often classified as part of the Romano-Germanic family of law, because of its historical links with both Roman law, revived in the universities since the 12th century, and Germanic customary law. From the thirteenth century on, the Northern part of France was under the influence of droit coutumier (Germanic tribe customs), and the Southern part was controlled by droit écrit (Roman law influence). During the period from the 16th century to the Revolution, known as the Ancien Régime (ancien droit), France emerged as a nation-state, under the strong centralization of royal authority. The sources of law of that period included coutumes locales (local customs), Roman law, canon law, royal ordinances, the caselaw of the Parliaments, and doctrinal writings (doctrine). Law was taught in the universities. Academic writers exercised an important influence on the development of a droit commun (jus commune) through systematic expositions of the law. Charles Dumoulin, in the 16th century, wrote an influential commentary on the Custom of Paris (1559) and synthesized Roman law with contemporary practice. In the 17th century, Jean Domat, in his seminal work "les lois civiles dans leur ordre naturel," (1689) systematically expounded principles of Roman law, holding them out as a coherent body of legal rules in accordance to principles of natural law. Robert Joseph Pothier wrote several treatises on the whole of private law, and exercised an immense influence on the drafters of the code civil especially in the area of obligations. The natural law movement of the 17th and 18th centuries led to the concept of law systematized and founded on reason. These influences led to the codification movement.

The period of the Droit intermédiaire (1789-1803, between the Revolution and Napoleon), saw a period of tumultuous and violent alteration to the social order. In the midst of much blood shed, it abolished ancient privileges, established equality before the law, the guarantee of individual liberties, and the protection of private property. It introduced a fundamental break with regard to constitutional law, with the introduction of a written constitution separating legislative, executive and judicial powers, and establishing a dual court structure, regular and administrative courts. Napoleon's major achievement was the drafting of the Code civil des français, as well as four other codes which unified private law, while public law (administrative and constitutional law) developed in the 19th century. Some good books on French legal history are Ellul, J. (1999), Histoire des institutions, and Olivier-Martin, F. (1948, 1992 reprint), Histoire du droit français, des origines á la Révolution (Olin Library KJV252 .O43 1984).

  • Today

France is a Republic and a unitary state, with a tradition of a strong centralized state. Decentralization laws in the 80's have introduced true local government structures, with a transfer of power from centrally appointed government representatives to locally elected representatives of the people, within the 26 regions (22 metropolitan and 4 overseas "Outre-mer" ones: Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion and French Guyana), 100 departments, overseas territories (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis, and Futuna) and territorial collectivities (Mayotte, in the Comoro group, and St. Pierre and Miquelon, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence). For a good map and statistical information on France, see the CIA World Fact Book's entry.

  • English Language Introductions

Several recent English-language introductions, mainly British ones, are very useful, including West, Andrew et al. (1992), The French Legal System: An Introduction (London: Fourmat) (Cornell Law Reserve, KJV233 .F87 1992), Dadomo, Christian & Susan Farran (2d ed.1996), The French Legal System (London: Sweet & Maxwell) (Cornell Law KJV 233 .D12 1996), Dadomo, Christian. (1997), French Substantive Law: Key Elements (London: Sweet & Maxwell) (KJV233 .D12 F87 1997), Bell, John (1998), Principles of French Law (Oxford: OUP)(KJV 233 .B45x 1998), Dickson, Brice (1994), Introduction to French Law (London: Pitman), Kahn-Freund, Otto, Claudine Levy & Bernard Rudden (1991), Sourcebook on French Law (Oxford: Clarendon) (Cornell Law KJV233 .K12 1991), Pollard, David (1998) Sourcebook of French Law (2d ed, London: Cavendish) (KJV233 P77 1998), Cairns, W. & R. McKeon (1995), Introduction to French Law (London: Cavendish)(Cornell Law KJV234 .C13 1995), and Weston, Martin (1991), An English Reader's Guide to the French Legal System (New York: Berg) (Cornell Law KJV234 .W53 1991) the latter two with a special focus on linguistic problems. Elliott, Catherine & Catherine Vernon (2000), French Legal System (Harlow, Essex, England: Longman) (KJV 234 .E451x 2000), and Elliott, Catherine et al. (1998), French Legal System and Legal Language: an Introduction in French (London; New York: Longman) (KJV 234 .E45x 1998) are less scholarly, but are very practical for students interested in the French legal system, as well as Curran, Vivian (1996) Learning French Through the Law : a Comparative French/English Treatment of Terms in a Legal Context (Yonkers, N.Y.: Juris).

Business law guides include Campbell, Charles et al. (1999), Business Operations in France (Washington, D.C.: BNA. Tax Management Portfolios: Foreign Income N0. 961-2d) (also on LEXIS and WESTLAW), Doing Business in France (by the law firm of Siméon Moquet) (New York: Matthew Bender, 1983- . 2 vols) (Cornell Law KJV2199 .D65), French Tax & Business Law Guide (1994- .) (Levallois: Francis Lefèbvre .Chicago: CCH) (Cornell Law KJV2199 .F87), France: Business Law, Taxation, Social Law (3d ed 2000) (Levallois: Francis Lefèbvre) and Investing, Licensing and Trading Conditions Abroad's chapter on France (New York: Business International, current. Also on LEXIS and WESTLAW). Other books include Mesnooh, Christopher (1999), Law and Business in France: A Guide to French Commercial and Corporate Law (Boston: Nijhoff).

Older works include the excellent chapter by Blanc-Jouvan, Xavier & Boulouis, "France," in the International Encyclopedia of Comparative Law (Tubingen: Mohr, 1973- .) (Cornell Law K48 .I615), and such classics as David, René (1980), English Law and French Law (London: Stevens) (Cornell Law K584 .D24), Amos & Walton (1967), Introduction to French Law (Oxford: Clarendon) (Cornell Law KJV450 .A52 1967), David, René & H.P. De Vries (1980), The French Legal System, David, René (1972), French Law: Its Structure, Sources, and Methodology (M. Kindred, transl. Baton Rouge, La: LSU. Press) (Cornell Law KJV284 .D78 1972). Atias, Christian (1987), The French Civil Law: An Insider's View (Alain Levasseur, transl. Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press) (KJV450 .A87 1987) is also good. These older books contain much historical interest and expounds the principles of French law. They are to be used with caution because they can be misleading as to contemporary French law.

Introductions to French law can also be found as part of more general works on comparative law (treatises or casebooks), including treatises such as Young Raymond (1998), English, French, and German Comparative Law (1998) (KJC 147 .Y68x 1998), and Zweigert, Konrad & Hein Kötz (1998), Introduction to Comparative Law (3d ed , Oxford: Clarendon) (K583 .Z97 1998), and casebooks such as Schlesinger, Rudolf et al. (1998), Comparative Law: Cases, Texts and Materials (Mineola, N.Y.: Foundation Press), and Glendon, M. A., M. Gordon, & C. Osakwe (1994), Comparative legal traditions: Text, Materials, and Cases (2d., St Paul, Minn.: West). Also, such classics as David, René (1985), Major Legal Systems in the World Today (3d ed. London: Stevens), Lawson, F.H. (1953), A Common Lawyer Looks at the Civil Law (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Univ. Michigan Law School). Useful information on French law can also be found in books dealing with various legal subjects on a multi-jurisdictional basis, e.g., French labor law in the International Encyclopedia for Labour Law and Industrial Relations (Roger Blanpain, ed. Kluwer, looseleaf, 1977- .). The reader is referred to the subject part of Germain's Transnational Law Research (Germain, Claire. Ardsley-on-Hudson, NY: Transnational Juris Publishers, 1991- .) (Cornell Law loose-leaf) for specific information.

  • French language introductions

In French, for an overall panorama of French law, Guimezanes, Nicole (1999), Introduction au droit français (2d ed., Baden-Baden: Nomos) (Cornell Law KJV233 .G96) is very good and current. Other excellent French introductions include Terré, François (1998), Droit civil. Introduction générale (4th ed., Paris: Dalloz, Précis series) (Cornell Law KJV 284 .T32 1998), explaining the structure of French law, as well as Perrot, Roger (1998), Institutions judiciaires (8th ed., Paris: Montchrestien, Domat Droit privé) (Cornell law KJV 3775 .8 .P47 1998), and Vincent, Jean et al (1996), La justice et ses institutions (4th ed., Paris: Dalloz, Précis series) (Cornell Law KJV 3869 .J96 1996), the latter two dealing with the administration of justice, the courts, and the legal professions in France, including statistics and charts.


France has had fifteen different constitutions since the first one of 1791. The current one is the Gaullist Constitution of 1958, adopted by the Referendum of September 28, 1958 and promulgated on October 4, 1958. It provides for a strong executive to share power with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected every five years by direct universal suffrage, is chief of state and in control of the executive power. The government is being represented in parliament by the prime minister (appointed from or by the National Assembly) and cabinet ministers. The parliament consists of the directly elected National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) and the Senate (Sénat), elected by indirect suffrage. The Constitution is superior to all other statutes but can be amended by the legislature, subject to special majority and other rules, set out in Art. 89 (1958 Constitution).

The Constitution can be amended if both the Assemblée Nationale and the Senate agree on the wording of the amendments, which have to be voted upon by a three-fifth majority. A recent development is the constitutionalization of French law, and a developing body of case law from the Conseil constitutionnel since 1971. Current constitutional law is actually composed of four sources, and referred to by the courts as the bloc de constitutionnalité, as follows: (1) the text of the 1958 Constitution itself; (2) its Preamble, which refers to the French commitment to the Rights of Man and principles of national sovereignty enshrined in the 1789 Déclaration, reaffirmed and complemented by the Preamble of the Constitution of 1946; (3) the Preamble to the 1946 Constitution itself which contains a long list of political, economic and social principles; (4) The 1946 Preamble itself refers not only to the 1789 Déclaration, but to Les principes fondamentaux reconnus par les lois de la République.

Online English language translations

These four documents are available online in the English language translation on the governmental web sites of the National Assembly (Preamble to 1958 Constitution and Text of the Constitution) and of the President (1789 Declaration and Preamble to 1946 Constitution). Since the Constitution is frequently amended, it may take a while for the latest amendments to be added to the English text.

Print sources

Two looseleaf services offer an English translation of the 1958 Constitution and the other documents mentioned supra: Bermann, De Vries, & Galston (1981- .), French Law: Constitution and Selective Legislation (Huntington, N.Y.: Juris), and Blaustein & Flanz, eds. (1971- .), vol. VI of Constitutions of the Countries of the World (Dobbs-Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana). The text of earlier French constitutions can be found in Duguit, Les constitutions et les principales lois politiques de la France depuis 1789 (7th ed. by G. Berlia, Paris: LG.D.J., 1952), and Debbasch & Pontier (1996), Les Constitutions de la France (3d ed. Paris: Dalloz). The text of the current constitution can be found in Avril (1996) La Constitution de la République Française. Textes et révisions. The first edition of the Code constitutionnel (1995) contains an annotated version of the text of the Constitution of 1958, the Déclaration of 1789, and of the Préambule of 1946, as well as other relevant texts.

Useful books on constitutional law include Bell, J. (1991), The Birth of Judicial Politics in France (New York: OUP), Bell (1992), French Constitutional Law (New York: OUP), Debbasch, C. (1983), Droit constitutionnel et institutions politique (Paris: Economica), Prélot (1990), Institutions politiques et droit constitutionnel, Lavroff, D. (1999), Le droit constitutionnel de la Ve République, (Paris: Dalloz, Précis series) and Colliard, C. (1995), Libertés publiques, (Paris: Dalloz) as well as Lebreton, A. (1999), Libertés publiques et droits de l'homme.


Article 55 of the 1958 Constitution states that duly ratified or approved treaties and agreements have an authority superior to that of parliamentary statute. Treaties are first published in the Journal Officiel, Lois et décrets edition, which is the only official source.

Online Sources

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides a database of treaties, which can be found online free on Legifrance. It includes bibliographic references to the published sources, and the full-text of some of the treaties. There is a clear statement that the official text is the one published in the Official Journal. A fuller database is available for a fee at Lamyline.

Print Sources

Surbiguet, M. & D. Wibaux (1982), Liste des traités et accords de la France en force au ler Janvier 1982 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale) allows researchers to find out treaties in force up to 1982. Pinto, R. & H. Rollet (1976), Recueil général des traités de la France (Paris: Documentation française), is an extremely valuable publication. For recent treaties, the Recueil des traités et accords de la France (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1981- .) is published fortnightly and cumulates annually. New treaties can also be found in Journal de droit international (Clunet). For information on older treaties, the two important collections are De Clercq (1864-1917), Recueil des traités de la France (Paris: Amyot, Pedone, 23 vols), covering the period from 1713 to 1906; and Basdevant (1918-22), Traités et conventions en vigueur entre la France et les puissances étrangères (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 4 vols.) which covers treaties in force in 1918.


Statutes and Regulations

Legislation (loi) in France in its broad meaning consists of the treaties, Constitution, codes, statutes and regulations. In its narrow meaning, the term legislation refers to parliamentary statutes, as opposed to regulations. Since the Constitution of 1958, the domain of parliamentary statutes (lois) is restricted to a limited number of matters, as set out in Art. 34 (1958 Constitution) (e.g., Parliamentary laws shall establish the rules concerning civil rights, nationality, status and capacity of persons, inheritance, crimes and criminal procedure, taxes and currency. They shall also determine the fundamental principles of education, property rights, labor law, and social security). All other legislation can be enacted by the executive by means of regulations (règlements) which can be autonomous (art. 37) or taken to implement a statute (art. 21). In addition, the government can legislate within the legislative field of competence via ordinances (ordonnances) (Art. 38, lois d'habilitation that authorize the measures for a limited time, to be ratified by parliament) and presidential decisions (Art. 16 on emergency powers).

The regulations (règlements) are called a décret (if taken by the President or the Prime Minister) (autonome or d'application), arrêté (ministériel, préfectoral or municipal) (if taken by a minister, a prefect or a mayor), or circulaire (no force of law but can be reviewed by administrative courts). Because of the long tradition of the preeminence of legislation as the legislative expression of the will of the people, before 1958 French courts could not question or review the constitutionality of a duly enacted and published act. Since the Constitution of 1958, and the creation of the Conseil constitutionnel, the constitutionality of parliamentary statutes can be reviewed before they are enacted, but not a posteriori. The Conseil constitutionnel has now developed a growing body of constitutional cases, which has led to the "constitutionalization" of French law. This marks a fundamental change in French law, which is accompanied by the "Europeanization" of French law, since European Union law is immediately applicable in French law.

Statutes and regulations are published and come into force upon publication in the Journal Officiel de la République Française (Official Gazette) (cited as J.O.), which appear daily. (Unless otherwise provided, a loi or décret will come into force in Paris one clear day after publication, and in the provinces one clear day after the arrival of the Journal Officiel). The Lois et Décrets de la République Française part is the official gazette in the proper sense of the word and contains the text of statutes, decrees, circulars and notices.

The new laws and regulations are also available in commercial publications, particularly the three legal reviews, which contain a separate part on legislation, the Recueil Dalloz-Sirey, (Print, and also CD-ROM) the Gazette du Palais, (detailed index on CD-ROM) as well as the Jurisclasseur Périodique (J.C.P.).

Bills and parliamentary debates and documents can be found in the Journal Officiel. Since June 4, 1996, the Senate publishes the verbatim text of its debates on its web site. You can now watch Senate debates live with real audio. The National Assembly also publishes its debates. Both sites provide useful information and pictures on the two legislative bodies and are bound to grow.

Codes and Commentaries

In spite of the great mass of special statutes and regulations, the codes are still the basis of the French legal system. The five original Napoleonic codes were the Civil Code, Code of Civil Procedure, Code of Commerce, Criminal Code, and Code of Criminal Procedure (instruction criminelle).

English Language Translations of Codes and Statutes, Online and Print

A number of English language translations of codes and statutes are available on Legifrance.

In print, English-language translations of selected provisions of the various codes can be found in Bermann, George et al. (1981- .), French Law: Constitution and Selective Legislation (Huntington, N.Y.: Juris, looseleaf), as well as in general translation services such as Commercial Laws of Europe (London: European Law Center/Sweet & Maxwell, monthly, 1978- . Now also on Westlaw) and Commercial Laws of the World - France (Gainesville, Fla.: Foreign Tax Law Association, looseleaf,1970- .). European Current Law (1992- .) (London: European Law Center/Sweet & Maxwell, Monthly) is a useful abstracting service for European legislation and case law. The Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory provides a useful digest of the laws of France, with citations to primary sources (also on Lexis).

Online Sources

Current codes, statutes, and regulations can be found online free on Legifrance, and for a fee at Lamyline and Lexbase. The Journal Officiel is available free from from 1990 on. Since 2004, the online version has become the official version of the Journal Officiel.

A private service also provides legislation with an English access, at

Although most texts are published mainly in the Official Journal, some texts are also published in the official bulletins of the various ministries, and available online on the various online services mentioned above.

Print Sources

For comprehensive access to all the laws in force, the looseleaf Juris-Classeur Codes et Lois contains both private and public laws, codified and uncodified, with good indexes, including a Fichier législatif et règlementaire which provides subject access to the laws and regulations. Juris-Classeur Codes et Lois: Droit Public et Droit Privé contains in chronological order all public and private laws legislation in 24 volumes, except for taxation, which is dealt with in a separate set.

If you know which code to use, the annotated, "red" Petits Codes Dalloz (published since 1902) on the major subject are very popular, and many updated annually. They contain digests of leading decisions and case notes and bibliographic references to doctrinal writings in law reviews, and a cross-reference to the place where the provision is discussed in the Répertoire Dalloz the encyclopedia. They also include the text of statutes and decrees that have been inserted into the codes, whether they are incorporated into it and form new articles, or simply stand alone, and are juxtaposed to the related code articles, as a convenience from the publisher. A newer competitor, Editions Litec, produces a series of annotated codes, Codes bleus, annotated and with cross-references to sister publications, and Codes oranges, annotated and commented. The numerous official codes published by the Journal Officiel are not used much because they only contain the plain text of the law. It is also important that not all the laws are inserted in the codes.

If not in the codes, legislation can be found in the Journal Officiel or the legal reviews (Recueil Dalloz, Gazette du Palais, and Semaine juridiqueJ.C.P.).

Civil Code and Treatises
The most eminent code is the Civil Code, called the Code civil des français, or later, the Code Napoléon. There is a current English translation of the civil code (C.C. or C.Civ.), Crabb (1995), The French Civil Code, selected articles in Bermann, De Vries, & Galston (1981- .), French Law: Constitution and Selective Legislation (Huntington, N.Y.: Juris), and several French language editions, including the new Mégacode civil Dalloz, which, in addition to the information contained in the regular "red" Dalloz codes, has additional annotations from various databases. Among the many works on civil law, Nicholas, N. (1992), The French Law of Contract (Oxford: Clarendon), Carbonnier (1995), Droit civil (Paris: P.U.F.), Mazeaud (1998-), Leçons de droit civil (Paris: Montchrestien), Marty & Raynaud (1986- .), Traité de droit civil (Paris: Sirey), Ghestin, J. (1994), Traité de droit civil (Paris: L.G.D.J.), and Weill, A. (1996), Droit civil (Paris: Dalloz) and Terré, F. (1998), Droit Civil (Paris: Dalloz Précis series) stand out. A good book on intellectual property is Colombet, C. (1994), Propriété littéraire et artistique et droits voisins (Paris: Dalloz Précis series).

Code of Civil Procedure and Treatises
The code of civil procedure (Code de procédure civile) (C.P.C.) of 1806 was replaced by the New Code of Civil Procedure (Nouveau code de procédure civile N.C.P.C.) in 1976. It is supplemented by related laws, such as the law on court organization and the status of judges and the Code of Judicial Organization (Code de l'organisation judiciaire) (from the Cour de cassation). Selected English language translations are available in Bermann, George et al (1981- .), French Law, and de Kertstrat & Crawford (1978), New Code of Civil Procedure in France: Book 1/Nouveau code de procédure civile: livre 1 (Dobbs-Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana), somewhat out-of-date. Herzog, P. (1967), Civil Procedure in France (The Hague: Nijhoff) is now out-of-date, but presents a good discussion of the principles of French civil procedure. The standard treatise by Solus & Perrot (1961), Droit judiciaire privé (Paris: Sirey), is dated. Shorter standard textbooks include Vincent, J. & Guinchard, S. (1994), Procédure civile (Paris: Dalloz), Cadiet, L. (1966), Droit judiciaire privé (Paris: LITEC), Héron, J. (1995), Droit judiciaire privé (Paris: Domat Précis series), and Couchez, G. (1994), Procédure civile (Paris: Dalloz-Sirey).

Commercial Code and Treatises
The commercial code, Code de commerce of 1807 (C. Com.) was replaced by a new Code de commerce in 2000. The major commercial law treatises, which cover commercial law, but also corporation law, competition law, banking and stock exchange, as well as bankruptcy, include: Jauffret & Mestre (1995), Manuel de droit commercial (Paris: L.G.D.J. Montchrestien), De Juglart & Ippolito (1992- .), Traité de droit commercial (Paris: Montchrestien), Ripert (1994-), Traité élémentaire de droit commercial (by Roblot. Paris: Paris: L.G.D.J.), Pedamon & Merle (1994), Droit commercial (Paris: Dalloz Précis series), and Dekeuwer-Defossez (1995), Droit commercial (Paris: Domat Précis series). Practitioner-oriented texts include the collection Francis Lefèbvre of "amémentos pratiques," e.g., Droit des affaires (1995), Sociétés commerciales, (1996), updated frequently, as well as the series Joly sociétés, and the Delmas Encyclopédie des affaires series.

Criminal Code and Treatises
The Penal Code of 1810 (Code pénal) (C. Pen.) was replaced by a new Code in 1994. A new code of criminal procedure (Code de procédure pénale) (C. Proc. Pén.) of 1959 replaced the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1810. Important criminal law texts include: Pradel, J. (1995), Droit pénal (Paris: Cujas), Pradel, J. (1995), Droit pénal comparé (Paris: Dalloz, Précis series), Stefani, Levasseur & Bouloc (1994), Droit pénal général (Paris: Dalloz Précis series), and (1995) Procédure pénale (Paris: Dalloz Précis series).

Other Codes
In addition to the five original codes, others were more specialized, (e.g., forestry and rural code). Beside these true codes, other codes represent the official or unofficial consolidation of diverse statutes and regulations concerning one subject matter. Among the more important of these consolidated "codes" are the Code du travail (labor), Code général des impôts (tax), Code des douanes (customs), Code du blé (wheat), Code du vin (wine), Code de la santé publique (public health), and code de la sécurité sociale (social security). There are also unofficial collections of various laws concerning one subject, like the Code administratif (administrative), code des sociétés (corporations), Code de la copropriété (co-ownership), and code de l'environnement (environment).

Administrative Code and Public Law
On French public law, the Code administratif is an unofficial compilation of statutes. English language texts include include Bell, J. (1992), French Constitutional Law (Oxford: Clarendon), Brown & Bell (1993), French Administrative Law (Paris: Oxford: Clarendon), and the classic Schwartz, B. (1954), French Administrative Law and the Common Law World (New York: NYU Press). De Laubadère, A. (1994- .), Traité de droit administratif (Paris: L.G.D.J.) is the standard text.

In private international law, the leading texts are Batiffol, H. & Lagarde, P. (1994), Traité de droit international privé (Paris: L.G.D.J.), Loussouarn, Y. & Bourel, P. (1993), Droit international privé (Paris: Dalloz Précis series), and Mayer, P. (1994), Droit international privé (Paris: Domat Précis series). A good book on French labor law is Lyon-Caen, G., Pélissier, J. & Supiot, A. (1994), Droit du travail (Paris: Dalloz Précis series) .


Statutes and regulations are cited by date and numbered, e.g., Loi 96-516 du 14 juin 1996 (Law of June 14, 1996). Since 1945, they are also numbered, e.g., Décret 96-532 du 14 juin 1996. The first number indicates the year (19)96 and the second number the serial number of the text cited in this way. Codes are cited by indicating the number of the article followed by the abbreviated title of the code, e.g., art. 2101 C. Civ. The newer codes have separately numbered parts according to the nature of the texts, parliamentary laws (Art. ..., or Art. L...), décrets (Art.D...), and règlements (Art. R...). These parts may be followed by a list of non-codified related texts in chronological order.

Court decisions


In theory, case law is not an authoritative source of law and judges are prohibited from setting precedents (Art. 5 Civil Code). In reality, case law exercises an important influence on the development of law. Another fundamental tenet of the French judicial system lies in the duality of the court system: Judicial civil and criminal courts (also referred to as ordinary or regular courts) govern disputes among private individuals. Administrative courts govern disputes any time the State is involved. Each court system has its own hierarchy and judges and applies its own law. The Cour de cassation is the highest judicial court, and the Conseil d'Etat the highest administrative court.

Generally speaking, there has never been a comprehensive official system of reports of judicial decisions in print. Online, not many decisions are available free of charge yet, but it is changing. The governmental portal site points to the various official court web sites, which, however, vary in their coverage of court decisions, even though they provide useful information. Very selected, important decisions are now available online free from the official court web sites. A much larger database of cases is available from the fee-based commercial online services. The Cour de cassation, Conseil d'Etat, Tribunal des conflits and Conseil constitutionnel decisions are available in full text on

The most frequently used collections of reports are the well-indexed legal reviews, which contain a large selection of decisions of all courts - civil, criminal, and administrative, the Recueil-Dalloz (D.), now available in CD-ROM, Semaine Juridique (J.C.P.), and Gazette du Palais (G.P.). The web site of the Gazette du Palais at includes the indexes of doctrinal writings and cases reported since 1997, very useful to conduct research in the documents still only available in paper.

Many decisions in special fields of the law can be found in the specialized periodicals. The online databases haves extensive libraries, which, however, include the text only, and do not provide access to the casenotes written by learned commentators that are essential to the understanding of the impact of a particular decision.

English language translations of cases can be found in print in various casebooks, in a very selected form. Online, few cases are available, they can sometimes be found as part of European Commercial Cases (London: European Law Centre, now also on Westlaw. Two web sites provide useful translations and other information. There is an ongoing project at the University of Edinburgh, under Prof. Joelle Godard at There is a newer site under Professor Basil Markesinis, University College London, at

Cour de cassation

Online Sources
Selected important decisions (currently over a hundred) are now available free on the court web site. A few include not only the decision itself, which, in the French tradition, is always very succinct (one page or less), but the helpful report of the juge rapporteur, the judge in charge of the case, and the recommendations of the Avocat Général, the judge representing the public interest, as well as other useful information. A fuller collection of cases (only the decision, without the judges' reports) is available for a fee from

The official Cour de cassation web site,  contains annual reports since 1997, a selection of important decisions in civil, criminal, commercial, and social cases, as well as the Bulletin d'information de la Cour de cassation (BICC) since April 1995 in full text (you can subscribe to the E-version), and a current awareness part.

Print Sources
In print, Cour de cassation cases are reported in an official set, Bulletin des arrêts de la Cour de cassation in two series, civil (Bull. Civ.) and criminal (Bull. Crim.). About two-thirds of the Cour de cassation decisions are reported. Most researchers consult the decisions on the well indexed three legal reviews, Recueil-Dalloz (D.), now available in CD-ROM, Semaine Juridique (J.C.P.), and Gazette du Palais (G.P.) which, in addition to the decisions, contain helpful commentaries, in the form of the judges' reports (judge in charge of the case and judge representing the public interest) and case annotations written by scholars or judges, which retrace the background and comment on the impact of the case.

Council of State (Conseil d'Etat)

Online Sources
Online, selected recent cases are published in full-text on the Council web site. A fuller collection of cases is available for a fee. See.

The official Council of State web site at includes selected recent cases in full text, a glossary, and summaries of reports, also practical information (such as litigation costs).

Print Sources
In print, the Conseil d'Etat (C.E.) decisions are published in the Recueil Lebon (Rec. Lebon) (Paris: Sirey), a semi-official, private publisher under the sponsorship of the Conseil d'Etat. Tribunal des conflits (T.C.) decisions, which decide on conflicts between judicial and administrative courts, are included. Most researchers consult the decisions on the well indexed three legal reviews, Recueil-Dalloz (D.), now available in CD-ROM, Semaine Juridique (J.C.P.), and Gazette du Palais (G.P.) all of which, in addition to the decisions, contain helpful commentaries.

Constitutional Council

Online Sources
Online, the decisions of the Constitutional Council are published on the web site. Constitutional Council (Conseil constitutionnel) publishes recent decisions in full text, with current news, a review Les cahiers constitutionnels, and links to foreign supreme courts.

Print Sources
Conseil constitutionnel (C.C.) decisions are published in Recueil des décisions du Conseil Constitutionnel.

Key Internet Sources

The landscape of online databases in French law has profoundly changed over the past three years, because of a concerted effort of the French government to provide much official information to its citizens over the Internet. This new government policy has resulted in an explosion in the number of governmental web sites, facilitated by the tradition of centralization, currently consists of some 3,200 public web sites, about 1,700 from local governments. Many of these sites have a part in English. The principal web sites have been classified as follows:

  • The two official, governmental portal sites are Legifrance and Service public.

  • The major individual governmental web sites cover the following branches of government: executive (President, Prime Minister), legislative (National Assembly, Senate), and judiciary (Cour de cassation, Conseil d'Etat, Conseil Constitutionnel), as well as ministries, and the independent administrative agencies ("authorities").

  • The major commercial web sites are Lamyline and Lexbase.

  • Other selected sites cover the legal professions, legal publishers, and legal education.

Governmental Sites

Portal Sites

Governmental portal to French law on the Internet. In October 2000, the French government made a commitment to create a public service for access to law, to provide all legal databases free on the Internet in 2002. It has already expanded its offerings on this free web site. It contains much useful information, and it also has a very useful feature of pointing to other web sites with a short description, e.g., to the Cour de cassation with current news, important decisions (currently over a hundred ones). It contains the database of the Journal officiel going back to Jan. 1, 1990; the laws and decrees currently in force; the labor conventions (Conventions collectives). In addition, it provides a free subscription service to the online Journal officiel. It points to the other governmental web sites which include: a database of French bilateral and multilateral treaties and agreements, called "Pacte," on the site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The information on each treaty includes the title, date of signature, and references to published sources. The full text is included for a number of treaties. 12 official bulletins can be consulted on the web sites of the various ministries the reports, recommendations, and decisions of certain independent administrative authorities are broadcast on their sites.

Service public
Another new governmental web site is a portal to French administration, with a complete listing of public web sites. Geared toward citizens and making their lives easier. E.g., most forms now online, tips on administrative formalities, how to register at the university (most are state run), request a passport, construction permit, succession request, etc. Under "Rapports publics," contains a useful list and full text of governmental reports, and upcoming studies and reports, like Conseil d'Etat. Mission on the international influence of the French legal system, "Mission sur l'influence internationale du système juridique français," requested by Lionel Jospin, Prime Minister, in December 2000.

French Embassy in Washington D.C.
Run by the French embassy in Washington, D.C., is a good starting point for English speakers to find information about the French government, trade and investment. Daily updates about French current events. Large sections on culture, travel and education, profile of france, summaries on government, telecommunications, economy, education, etc.

Individual Governmental Sites

Commercial Sites (Fee-based)

Commercial fee-based online service of the Lamy publisher. This great database of statutory and case law used to be available on Lexis until about May 2000, when it went off because of the publishers' merging with another company. Lamy is now part of the Wolters-Kluwer group.
The site contains the full text of the Journal Officiel since 1955, as well as the codes, statutes, and regulations since 1980, and the official bulletins of the various ministries (e.g., Labor and Employment), labor conventions (conventions collectives), written ministerial responses (Réponses ministérielles écrites) since 1970), Official Journal of the European Communities, Series L, since 1952. Treaties and agreements (Traités et accords) since 1564. Contains French and European case law, including Constitutional Council decisions (Conseil constitutionnel) since 1958, Tribunal des conflits since1964, Conseil d'Etat since 1964, Administrative courts of appeals since 1989, Cour de cassation, except for the criminal chamber, since 1959, Cour de cassation, criminal chamber since 1970, and selected Court of appeals decisions; European Court of Justice decisions since 1954, Court of First Instance, Court of justice of the European Association of Free Trade since 1994, and European Court of Human Rights decisions since 1960. Cost: for access to texts, it costs FF 500 per month or FF 140 per search, no matter the number of documents.

Commercial fee-based online service.

Other Portal Sites

University and Private Free Portal Sites

Cujas Library. Bibliothèque Cujas
Great library and great web site, with lots of references.

Private, free online service. Contains many links to useful sites, information on constitutional law, the Official Journal, doctrinal writings.
Private free portal for French law, includes official texts, cases and doctrinal writings, with an international law part.


University of Saarbrucken

Law Schools

A French law schools list is available.

Legal Professions

Paris Bar (Barreau de Paris)
Présentation, informations pratiques pour les justiciables (notamment le coût du recours à un avocat).

Cabinets d'avocats
Annuaire des cabinets d'avocats en France (français).

Confédération nationale des avocats

Ordre des avocats au Conseil d'Etat et à la Cour de cassation

Notaires Conseil supérieur du notariat Notaires de France

Ecole nationale de la magistrature - ENM

Law Publishers

Publishes weekly Recueil Dalloz. Now available on the Internet in full text since 1990.

Editions du Juris-classeur
Publishes the weekly Semaine juridique.

Editions Joly

Editions Legislatives

Francis Lefebvre

Gazette du Palais
Includes a useful free weekly current awareness service press review (revue de presse) bibliography of twenty legal reviews, including commentaries of cases, articles, etc. and one fee based "Dalloz Actualite."

Documentation francaise


Petites Affiches

Presses Universitaires de France

For a more extensive list, see.

Misc. Other Selected Web Sites

In addition to the selected ones listed below, you may want to check the great site of the Bibliotheque Cujas, which maintains an annotated list. See.

Ombudsman. Médiateur
Presentation of mediator, with reports. All reports since 1978 available in full text . See.

Journal Officiel
For the daily Official Journal - see.

French Center of Foreign Commerce. CFCE, Centre français du commerce extérieur

National Institute of Industrial Property. INPI, Institut National Propriété Industrielle

More information


  • Print Dictionaries
  • Language

    Baleyte, Jean, et al. (2000) Dictionnaire économique et juridique. Economic and Legal Dictionary (5th ed. Paris: L.G.D.J.) Provides both a French to English and English to French translation, as well as Dahl, Henry (1995) Dahl's Law Dictionary: French to English/ English to French: an annotated legal dictionary = Dictionnaire juridique Dahl (Buffalo, N.Y.: Hein);

    In French

    Le droit de A à Z : dictionnaire juridique pratique (1998) (3d ed. Paris : Éditions juridiques européennes); Robert, Paul (1993), Le nouveau petit Robert: dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française (Paris: Dictionnaires le Robert); and Vocabulaire juridique. (1998) G. Cornu, dir. (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France) are excellent.


    Kavass, Igor & Mary Prince (1991) World Dictionary of Abbreviations (Buffalo, N.Y.: Hein);

    Prince, Mary (1997) Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Citations (Buffalo, N.Y.: Hein) provides a guide to the proper form of citation in U.S. publications. Sprudzs, Adolf (1967). Foreign Law Abbreviations: French (Dobbs-Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana) is still useful.

Library Catalogs

The best is the one from the Cujas Library in Paris. See.
For U.S. libraries, you may want to use the catalog of Cornell University Library. See.

More Research

More information on research sources is provided at the original site under "More Information." It includes information on French government documents, encyclopedias, directories, bibliographies, indexing and abstracting services, current information sources, journals (law reviews), news information, business and financial information, statistics, and legal literature.