Judicial organization and competence. – According to Internetsailors, the French judicial system is founded on the principle of the separation of powers; but after the revolution this principle was not always faithfully respected.
From the beginning of the revolutionary period, the Constituent Assembly established, in the law of 16-24 August 1790, the essential principles of the new judicial regime: equality of all citizens before justice, double degree of jurisdiction, unity of the jurisprudence consecrated by existence of a court of cassation. The judges were then electives and the arbitration particularly in honor. This organization was modified under the Empire by a series of laws, the most important of which is that of April 20, 1810; these laws abolished the election of judges, organized their appointment by the executive power, and established appellate courts as a second degree of jurisdiction. Since then, the judiciary has changed very little.
The court of common law is the court of first instance (a court for each district, except for those where the population is too low), with ultimate jurisdiction up to the value of 7,500 francs (decree-law of 28 March 1934). When there is an appeal, it is brought before a special court: there are 27 courts of appeal.
Alongside these common law jurisdictions there are three exceptional jurisdictions: 1. the Juge de paix, competent for less important matters (up to 1500 francs in the last resort and up to 4500 francs in first instance, with appeal to the civil court), there is a single judge, and there is one for each canton; 2. the commercial tribunal, one for each district, made up of judges elected by the traders and chosen from among them; they have jurisdiction only for commercial affairs, but unlimited in value and subject to appeal before the courts of appeal; 3. the Board of Arbitrators, made up of judges elected by entrepreneurs and workers, to judge small disputes relating to employment contracts; the appeal goes to the civil court.
Above the various judicial bodies is the Court of Cassation, charged with maintaining the unity of jurisprudence. It does not rule on the fact, but exercises only the control of legitimacy; following the cassation of a sentence, the dispute is referred to another jurisdictional body of the same grade as the one from which the cassata sentence issued; if the latter decides in the same sense as the first, the dispute can be submitted again to the Court of Cassation, which, in joint sections, can either reject the appeal or quash for the second time, referring to a third judicial body which, this time, he must abide by the maxim provided by the supreme court.
In principle, every trial is brought before the court of the defendant’s domicile. However, this rule has many exceptions, and in particular disputes relating to real estate depend on the court in whose district the real estate is located, and those relating to a succession are compulsorily brought to the court of the place of opening of the succession, i.e. of the last domicile of the deceased.
Rules of civil procedure. – The revolution had tried to organize a simplified procedure to the extreme; but this had to be renounced and the Code de procédure civile of 1806 had in many points to return to the rules of the ordinance of 1667. Various subsequent laws attempted to modernize the procedure; but a general reform is still under study.
The procedure is dominated by the principle of orality and publicity; the judge knows the dispute on the basis of the allegations of the parties; however the witnesses are heard before a judge delegated for this purpose and their depositions are delivered in writing. The judge is passive: it is up to the parties to assert their means of attack or defense.
The process begins with a preliminary conciliation before the president of the court, except in urgent cases in which the loaves are dispensed. If the parties have not reconciled, the plaintiff calls his opponent before the court by deed of usher (summons). The dispute is then brought before the judge at the court hearing and ends with a sentence.
Various means of appeal are open against this judgment. The appeal, in order to have a first-degree sentence reformed, is brought before the higher level of jurisdiction. Opposition occurs when one of the parties fails to attend the trial: it is brought before the same court as the first instance. The revocation is open in all cases in which the judge’s decision has been distorted by maneuvers or by an error of fact; is presented at the same level of jurisdiction. Finally, an appeal in cassation is authorized only for the violation of the law against a decision made in the last resort and is presented to the supreme court.
With one of the decree-laws of October 30, 1935, an effort was made to speed up the procedure before the civil courts. Above all, it has been established that every case is particularly followed by a judge, charged with avoiding delays and vested with the right to impose certain specific educational measures; this provision marks a significant step towards the regime of procedure directed by judges and no longer by lawyers. Furthermore, the decree abolished some proceedings which had the sole practical consequence of delaying the resolution of the trial.