Law of France
In academic terms, French law can be divided into two main categories: private or judicial law ("droit privé") and public law ("droit public").

Judicial law includes, in particular:
  • civil law
    Civil law (area)
    Civil law in continental law is a branch of law which is the general part of private law.The basis for civil law lies in a civil code. Before enacting of codes, civil law could not be distinguished from private law...

     ("droit civil"); and
  • criminal law
    Criminal law
    Criminal law, is the body of law that relates to crime. It might be defined as the body of rules that defines conduct that is not allowed because it is held to threaten, harm or endanger the safety and welfare of people, and that sets out the punishment to be imposed on people who do not obey...

     ("droit pénal").

Public law includes, in particular:
  • administrative law
    Administrative law
    Administrative law is the body of law that governs the activities of administrative agencies of government. Government agency action can include rulemaking, adjudication, or the enforcement of a specific regulatory agenda. Administrative law is considered a branch of public law...

     ("droit administratif"); and
  • constitutional law
    Constitutional law
    Constitutional law is the body of law which defines the relationship of different entities within a state, namely, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary....

     ("droit constitutionnel").

Together, in practical terms, these four areas of law (civil, criminal, administrative and constitutional) constitute the major part of French law.

The announcement in November 2005 by the European Commission
European Commission
The European Commission is the executive body of the European Union. The body is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the Union's treaties and the general day-to-day running of the Union....

 that, on the basis of powers recognised in a recent European Court of Justice
European Court of Justice
The Court can sit in plenary session, as a Grand Chamber of 13 judges, or in chambers of three or five judges. Plenary sitting are now very rare, and the court mostly sits in chambers of three or five judges...

 ("ECJ") ruling, it intends to create a dozen or so European Union ("EU") criminal offences suggests that one should also now consider EU law ("droit communautaire", sometimes referred to, less accurately, as "droit européen") as a new and distinct area of law in France (akin to the "federal laws" that apply across States of the US, on top of their own State law), and not simply a group of rules which influence the content of France's civil, criminal, administrative and constitutional law.

Civil Private Law

The term civil law in its general sense refers to private law
Private law
Private law is that part of a civil law legal system which is part of the jus commune that involves relationships between individuals, such as the law of contracts or torts, as it is called in the common law, and the law of obligations as it is called in civilian legal systems...

, e.g., corporate law and the law of contracts, and should be distinguished from the French legal system as a whole, also known as civil law
Civil law (legal system)
Civil law is a legal system inspired by Roman law and whose primary feature is that laws are codified into collections, as compared to common law systems that gives great precedential weight to common law on the principle that it is unfair to treat similar facts differently on different...

 (vs. common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

). The body of statutes and laws governing civil law and procedure are set out in the Civil Code of France. Article 5 of the Civil Code specifically prohibits the practice of case law
Case law
In law, case law is the set of reported judicial decisions of selected appellate courts and other courts of first instance which make new interpretations of the law and, therefore, can be cited as precedents in a process known as stare decisis...

, while Article 4 provides for the punishment of judges who refuse to give sentence if there is insufficient legal material on the idea that it is a refusal of justice.

Criminal Law

French criminal law is governed first and foremost by the Code pénal, or Criminal Code. For example, the Criminal Code formally prohibits violent offences, e.g., homicide, assault, etc., and many pecuniary offences such as theft or money laundering, and provides general punishment guidelines. However, a number of criminal topics, e.g., slander and libel, have not been codified but are instead addressed by legislation.

Constitutional Law

Constitutional law is a branch of public law dealing with :
– human rights as applied in French law
– constitution and functioning of the public authorities and the government and, in particular the relationship between the three constitutional powers, executive, legislative and judiciary.
– relationship between citizens and public authorities, in particular the participation of French citizens to the exercise of public powers.

It fixes the hierarchy of laws and rules within the French legal system and the relationship between these different norms.
Constitutional law became independent from political science and administrative law with the Constitution of 1958 which included the institution of a constitutional court, the "Conseil Constitutionnel".

EU Community Law

Traditionally, Community law has been viewed as a body of rules which are transposed automatically (in the case of a regulation) or by national legislation (in the case of a directive) into French domestic law, be it civil, criminal, administrative or constitutional.

However, in November 2005 the Commission announced that, on the basis of a (somewhat controversial) ECJ court decision (holding that the EU had the right to require Member States to introduce criminal laws because, in the case at hand, it was necessary to uphold EU legislation on combatting pollution), it intended to create a dozen or so EU criminal offences, creating echos of the federal laws which exist in the United States of America. Indeed, the Commission - led by its Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs Franco Frattini - insists that the principle created in the ECJ court decision applies across all policies, not just policies concerning pollution.

Subsequently, in May 2006, the Commission formally submitted to the EU Parliament and EU Council (which have co-decision powers) the first draft directive aiming to put this new prerogative into effect. The draft concerns counterfeiting (for example, of car parts, drugs, or children's toys) and requires each Member State to set the following penalties for what it terms "organised counterfeiters": a period of imprisonment of up to four years and a fine of up to €300,000. The Parliament began its consideration of the draft directive in March 2007.

See also

  • French judicial system in post-Napoleonic France
    French judicial system in post-Napoleonic France
    The French judicial system in post-Napoleonic France was an intricate system of relations between the government and the police/judicial force. Together they helped to minimize crime while successfully fulfilling the guarantees made in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen written in...

  • Legal systems of the world
    Legal systems of the world
    The legal systems of the world today are generally based on one of three basic systems: civil law, common law, and religious law – or combinations of these...

  • Napoleonic code
    Napoleonic code
    The Napoleonic Code — or Code Napoléon — is the French civil code, established under Napoléon I in 1804. The code forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs go to the most qualified...

  • 1825 Anti-Sacrilege Act
    Anti-Sacrilege Act
    The Anti-Sacrilege Act was a French law against blasphemy and sacrilege passed in January 1825 under King Charles X. The law was never applied and was later revoked at the beginning of the July monarchy under King Louis-Philippe.-The draft bill:In April 1824, King Louis XVIII's government, headed...

  • Jules Ferry laws
    Jules Ferry laws
    The Jules Ferry Laws are a set of French Laws which established free education , then mandatory and laic education . Jules Ferry, a lawyer holding the office of Minister of Public Instruction in the 1880s, is widely credited for creating the modern Republican School...

  • Lois scélérates
    Lois scélérates
    The lois scélérates — a pejorative name — are a set of French laws restricting the 1881 freedom of the press laws passed under the Third Republic , after several bombings and assassination attempts carried out by anarchist proponents of "propaganda of the deed".The first law was passed on December...

Further reading

  • Aubert, Jean-Luc. Introduction au droit (Presses Universitaires de France, 2002) ISBN 2-13-053181-4, 127 pages (many editions)
    • One of the 'Que sais-je?
      Que sais-je?
      “Que sais-je?” is a series of books published by the Presses universitaires de France . The aim of the series is to provide the lay reader with an accessible introduction to a field of study written by an expert in the field. As such, they are a good example of haute vulgarisation...

      ' series of "pocketbook" volumes, which provide readable short summaries
  • Cairns, Walter. Introduction to French law (London : Cavendish, 1995) ISBN 1-85941-112-6.
  • Elliott, Catherine. French legal system (Harlow, England : Longman, 2000) ISBN 0-582-32747-4.
  • Starck, Boris. Introduction au droit 5. éd. (Paris : Litec, c2000) ISBN 2-7111-3221-8.
  • Bell, John. Principles of French law (Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1998) ISBN 0-19-876394-8, ISBN 0-19-876395-6.
  • Dadomo, Christian. The French legal system 2nd ed. (London : Sweet & Maxwell, 1996) ISBN 0-421-53970-4.
  • West, Andrew. The French legal system 2nd ed. (London : Butterworths, 1998) ISBN 0-406-90323-9.
  • Reynolds, Thomas. Foreign law : current sources of codes and basic legislation in jurisdictions of the world (Littleton, Colo. : F.B. Rothman, 1989- ) v. (loose-leaf) ; 24 cm. ; Series : AALL publications series 33 ; Contents v. 1. The Western hemisphere—v. 2. Western and Eastern Europe—v. 3. Africa, Asia and Australia. ISBN 0-8377-0134-1 ;
    • For both an overview and pointers toward further study, see the excellent introduction to the "France" section
  • David, René. Major legal systems in the world today : an introduction to the comparative study of law 3rd ed. (London : Stevens, 1985) ISBN 0-420-47340-8, ISBN 0-420-47350-5 ; (Birmingham, AL : Gryphon Editions, 1988) ISBN 0-420-47340-8.
  • Brissaud, Jean. A history of French public law (Boston : Little, Brown, and Company, 1915) Series : The Continental legal history series v. 9 ; Note : A translation of pt. II (omitting the first two sections of the introduction) of the author's Manuel d'histoire du droit français.
    • French legal history appears throughout most of the above.
  • Brissaud, Jean. A history of French private law (Boston : Little, Brown, and Company, 1912) Series : The Continental legal history series v. 3. Note : Translation of pt. III (with the addition of one chapter from pt. II) of the author's Manuel d'histoire du droit français.
  • Brissaud, Jean, 1854-1904. Manuel d'histoire du droit français (Paris : Albert Fontemoing, 1908).
    • the original French text
  • Castaldo, André. Introduction historique au droit 2. éd. (Paris : Dalloz, c2003) ISBN 2-247-05159-6.
  • Rigaudière, Albert. Introduction historique à l'étude du droit et des institutions (Paris : Economica, 2001) ISBN 2-7178-4328-0.
  • Thireau, Jean-Louis. Introduction historique au droit (Paris : Flammarion, c2001) ISBN 2-08-083014-7.
  • Bart, Jean. Histoire du droit (Paris : Dalloz, c1999) ISBN 2-247-03738-0.
  • Carbasse, Jean-Marie. Introduction historique au droit 2. éd. corr. (Paris : Presses universitaires de France, 1999, c1998) ISBN 2-13-049621-0.

External links

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