Types of legal professions

Frankreich

In this section, you will find an overview of the different legal professions.

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Frankreich

Judges

Organisational set-up

In France professional judges (magistrats) are career judges, and are divided into adjudicating judges, who try law cases, and the law officers who work for the State Counsel’s Office (ministère public or parquet). The adjudicating judges are often referred to as ‘judges of the bench’ (magistrats du siège), while the law officers who work for the State Counsel’s Office are known as ‘standing judges’ or ‘judges of the well of the court’ (magistrats du parquet).

Adjudicating judges decide the disputes that come before them; the role of the State Counsel’s Office is to represent the public interest and to ensure the proper application of the law. The rules governing the profession of judge are laid down in Order (ordonnance) No 58-1270 of 22 December 1958 enacting the institutional Law (loi organique) on the status of the judiciary. Under Article 1 of this Order, judges can be appointed as adjudicating judges or to the State Counsel’s Office at different stages in their career. This is known as the principle of the unity of the judiciary, a principle that has been reaffirmed by the Constitutional Council, notably in a decision of 11 August 1993. All judges form part of the judicial branch, which is required by Article 66 of the Constitution to protect individual freedoms. Nevertheless, there are a number of differences in the rules that govern them: adjudicating judges are not subject to instructions from any higher authority, and enjoy security of tenure, in that they cannot be given a new posting without their consent. The way in which they are appointed also differs: adjudicating judges are appointed with the assent of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary (Conseil supérieur de la magistrature), or on a proposal by it in the case of adjudicating judges at the Court of Cassation, first presidents of the courts of appeal and presidents of courts; the Supreme Council of the Judiciary lastly has disciplinary powers over all adjudicating judges. The law officers of the State Counsel’s Office, on the other hand, are appointed after consultation of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, with the Minister for Justice being responsible for putting forward nominations and exercising disciplinary powers.

Most judges are recruited by competitive examination (concours). In order to take the first competitive examination open to students, candidates must hold a degree confirming that they have completed at least 4 years of higher education, up to master’s level. Successful candidates are appointed as trainee judges (auditeurs de justice), and they all then receive the same training, given by France’s national college of the judiciary (École nationale de la magistrature — ENM). There are also channels for entering the judiciary direct. At the end of their training at the ENM, trainee judges are appointed to a court or State Counsel’s Office by decree (décret).

In addition to their judicial duties, heads of courts (president and state counsel, or first president and principal state counsel, depending on the court) also have administrative duties, for example regarding the scheduling of hearings.

On 1 January 2023 there were 9 126 practising judges, of whom 8 524 were serving in the courts or the State Counsel’s Office.

The Supreme Council of the Judiciary

The Supreme Council of the Judiciary (Conseil supérieur de la magistrature — CSM) is provided for in Article 65 of the Constitution. The Constitutional Law of 23 July 2008 changed the composition of the Supreme Council and its powers in respect of appointments, and made provision for cases to be referred to it by litigants. The President of the Republic is now no longer a member of the CSM.

The division of the Council with jurisdiction over adjudicating judges is chaired by the first president of the Court of Cassation. It also includes five adjudicating judges, one law officer of the State Counsel’s Office, one member of the Council of State (Conseil d’État) designated by the Council of State, one lawyer (avocat), and six qualified persons who do not belong to the legislature, to the ordinary courts or to the administrative courts. The President of the Republic, the chair of the Lower House of Parliament (Assemblée nationale) and the chair of the Senate each designate two qualified persons.

The division of the Council with jurisdiction over the law officers of the State Counsel’s Office is presided over by the principal state counsel (procureur général) at the Court of Cassation. It also includes five law officers of the State Counsel’s Office and one adjudicating judge, along with the member of the Council of State, the lawyer and the six qualified persons already referred to.

The division of the Council with jurisdiction over the adjudicating judges puts forward nominations for the posts of adjudicating judges at the Court of Cassation, first presidents of the courts of appeal (cours d’appel), and presidents of the regional courts (tribunaux de grande instance). Other adjudicating judges can be appointed only with its assent.

This division acts as a disciplinary board for adjudicating judges. In that capacity it includes the adjudicating judge who sits in the division of the Council with jurisdiction over the law officers of the State Counsel’s Office.

The division of the Council with jurisdiction over the law officers of the State Counsel’s Office gives its opinion on appointments of such law officers. It also gives its opinion on disciplinary measures taken in respect of law officers. In that capacity, in addition to the members referred to in the third paragraph of Article 65, it includes the law officer of the State Counsel’s Office who sits in the division of the Council with jurisdiction over adjudicating judges.

The State Counsel’s Office

Organisational set-up

The law officers of the State Counsel’s Office are required to act in the interests of society, which they represent in seeking that the law be applied.

With the exception of the office of the principal state counsel (parquet général) at the Court of Cassation, which is separate, France’s State Counsel’s Offices make up a hierarchical pyramid under the authority of the Minister of Justice. Article 30 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides that the Minister of Justice is to conduct the criminal justice policy determined by the government. The Minister is to ensure that this policy is applied consistently throughout the country. To this end, the Minister may give general instructions to the law officers of the State Counsel’s Office regarding criminal justice policy.

At each judicial court (tribunal judiciaire, ordinary court of first instance), there is a State Counsel’s Office, headed by a state counsel (procureur de la République) and made up of several law officers who report to them. The state counsel manages the office, distributing tasks and departments among the deputy state counsel officers (procureurs adjoints), the vice state counsel officers (vice-procureurs) and the assistant state counsel officers (substituts). The state counsel heading that office in turn works under the supervision and direction of the principal state counsel (procureur général).

Despite this hierarchical structure, the State Counsel’s Office is regarded as an indivisible unit: an assistant does not need authority from a superior to act, and all of their acts bind the State Counsel’s Office as a whole.

Role and duties

The duties of the State Counsel’s Office are essentially concerned with the enforcement of criminal law. It directs investigations, and itself takes all steps necessary to prosecute offences, or sees to it that steps are taken to do so. It has discretion to decide what action should be taken in criminal cases (e.g. initiating a preliminary judicial inquiry (ouverture d’une information judiciaire), committing a matter for trial in court (renvoi devant une juridiction de jugement), or discontinuing proceedings (classement sans suite)). It is required to appear at the court hearing; the law officer appearing is free to make such oral submissions as they consider most conducive to the proper administration of justice (on the facts, the character of the accused, and the sentence). The State Counsel’s Office also ensures that sentences are enforced.

The State Counsel’s Office is responsible for protecting minors who are at risk, and it has certain civil functions (concerning, for example, the status of individuals in the registers of births, marriages and deaths), administrative functions (e.g. in relation to public houses, the periodical press, or direct marketing) and commercial functions (e.g. in relation to some insolvency proceedings).

The role and duties of adjudicating judges are explained in the page on the ordinary courts.

Lay judges (juges non professionnels)

Temporarily appointed lay judges (magistrats exerçant à titre temporaire)

In order to bring the administration of justice closer to the community, a representative of civil society may be recruited as a temporarily appointed lay judge (MTT) to provide temporary assistance to the justice system pursuant to Articles 41-10 et seq. of Order No 58-1270 of 22 December 1958 enacting the institutional Law on the status of the judiciary, as amended.

A specific feature of this role is that temporarily appointed lay judges may, for a term, perform the duties of protection litigation judge (juge des contentieux de la protection), police court judge or judge tasked with validating settlements in criminal cases, and/or assessor sitting on a judicial panel at the judicial courts, courts of assizes (cours d’assises) or departmental criminal courts (cours criminelles départementales), while also carrying on a professional activity that is compatible with their court duties.

Institutional Law No 2016-1090 of 8 August 2016, which entered into force on 1 July 2017, merged the roles of local magistrate and temporarily appointed lay judge.

Temporarily appointed lay judges are recruited regularly on the basis of an application file (rather than a competitive examination).

Conditions of access to the role of temporarily appointed lay judge

Hold French citizenship, be between 35 and 75 years of age, enjoy full rights as a citizen, be of good character, have met any national service requirements and be physically fit to perform the duties required, bearing in mind any accommodations that can be made for disabilities.

Applicants must also meet one of the following conditions:

  • hold a degree confirming that they have completed at least 4 years of further education (or an equivalent qualification) and have proven professional experience of at least seven years qualifying them to carry out judicial duties
  • be director of the Registry of the Court and have proven service of seven years as a court clerk
  • be a civil servant in category A at the Ministry of Justice and have proven service of at least 7 years in this capacity
  • be a member or former member of a legal or judicial profession that is regulated or whose title is protected, and have proven professional practice of at least 5 years.

Status of temporarily appointed lay judges

The division of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary with jurisdiction over adjudicating judges gives an opinion on the candidates proposed by the Minister for Justice.

Temporarily appointed lay judges, appointed by decree (décret) of the President of the Republic, are subject to the rules governing career judges.

They are appointed for a period of 5 years, renewable once, and may not exercise their duties beyond the age of 75.

They may carry on a professional activity alongside their court duties, provided it is not included in the list of incompatible activities in the application file.

Training of temporarily appointed lay judges

Temporarily appointed lay judges complete 10 days of theoretical training at the national college of the judiciary (ENM).

On the decision of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, they complete either a probation period at court of between 40 to 80 days over 6 months or a period of training at court of 40 days, which can, under very exceptional circumstances, be dispensed with or the duration reduced in the light of the candidate’s professional experience.

Remuneration of temporarily appointed lay judges

Temporarily appointed lay judges are remunerated for services rendered by duty period worked.

The unit rate for a duty period is EUR 111.02 gross (as per the index point for public sector salaries as at 1 August 2022) subject to a maximum of 300 duty periods in a year.

The distribution of the number of duty period rates paid based on the duties carried out by temporarily appointed lay judges is set by the Ministerial Order of 28 June 2017, as amended.

Temporarily appointed lay judges do not receive travel allowances for the journey from their home to the court to which they are assigned.

Non-practising lawyers performing judicial duties (avocats honoraires exerçant des fonctions juridictionnelles, AHFJ)

Non-practising lawyers may be appointed to perform judicial duties as assessors sitting on a judicial panel at departmental criminal courts.

This is part of a pilot scheme being conducted for a period of 3 years from 1 January 2023 at 20 departmental criminal courts.

Conditions of access to the role of non-practising lawyer

In order to perform this role, it is necessary to hold French citizenship, be under 75 years of age, enjoy full rights as a citizen, be of good character and have a clean criminal record, and further to prove admission to the title of non-practising lawyer by the Bar Council (Conseil de l’Ordre) and not to have practised the profession of lawyer for at least 5 years within the jurisdiction of the court of appeal to which the non-practising lawyer concerned is appointed.

Non-practising lawyers may carry on a professional activity alongside their duties as assessor, provided that such activity is not likely to undermine the dignity or independence of the office.

However, non-practising lawyers are not permitted to:

  • perform any act of a legal or judicial profession that is regulated or whose title is protected
  • be employed by a person practising such a profession
  • perform any judicial, arbitration, expertise, conciliation or mediation activities within the jurisdiction of the court of appeal to which they are appointed.

Furthermore, the duties of a non-practising lawyer performing judicial duties are also incompatible with the following offices: member of the Government, the Constitutional Council (Conseil constitutionnel) or the Supreme Council of the Judiciary (Conseil supérieur de la magistrature); member of the Council of State or the Court of Auditors (Cour des comptes), judge at administrative courts and tribunals; secretary-general of the Government or of a ministry, director of a central government department, member of the prefectoral body (corps préfectoral) (Article 3 IV of the institutional Law of 22 December 2021 building confidence in the justice system)

Status of non-practising lawyers performing judicial duties

The division of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary with jurisdiction over adjudicating judges gives an opinion on the candidates proposed by the Minister for Justice.

Non-practising lawyers performing judicial duties are appointed by decree of the President of the Republic for the duration of the pilot scheme, subject to the age limit of 75 years.

Training of non-practising lawyers performing judicial duties

Before they can begin their duties, non-practising lawyers performing judicial duties must undergo a mandatory 2-day training course organised by France’s national college of the judiciary.

Remuneration of non-practising lawyers performing judicial duties

Remuneration is provided on a flat-rate basis and on the basis of duty periods. Remuneration for duty periods is equal to three unit rates per hearing.

The unit rate for a duty period is EUR 111.02 gross (as per the index point for public sector salaries as at 1 August 2022) subject to a maximum of 300 duty periods in a year.

Non-practising judges performing judicial duties (magistrats honoraires exerçant des fonctions juridictionnelles - MHFJ)

Non-practising judges performing judicial duties are judges of the ordinary courts who have retired but who wish to remain active by making their experience and expertise available to the justice system.

Institutional Law No 2016-1090 of 8 August 2016 concerning statutory guarantees, ethical obligations and the recruitment of judges, and also concerning the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, inserted Articles 41-25 et seq. into Order No 58-1270 of 22 December 1958 enacting the institutional Law on the status of the judiciary, which provides for the recruitment of non-practising judges to perform judicial duties.

Duties

Since the introduction of institutional Law No 2021-1729 of 22 December 2021 building confidence in the justice system, a judge may be appointed to the role of MHFJ, in order to perform, upon designation by the head of court, the following duties:

  • assessor (assesseur) sitting on judicial panels at the judicial courts and courts of appeal (criminal and civil disputes), who may report on cases before the court
  • protection litigation judge
  • police court judge (juge du tribunal de police)
  • judge tasked with validating settlements in criminal cases (juge chargé de valider les compositions pénales)
  • a limited share of the subject-matter jurisdiction that may be devolved to local courts by regulatory means
  • assistant state counsel officer (substitut du procureur) before the judicial courts or assistant principal state counsel officer (substitut du procureur général) before the courts of appeal.

With effect from 1 January 2019, a non-practising judge may be appointed by the first president of the court of appeal to chair the panel specifically designated to hear employment and social security disputes at judicial courts and courts of appeal.

With effect from 1 June 2019, a non-practising judge may also be appointed by the first president of the court of appeal to sit as an assessor in courts of assizes and at the criminal court as part of a pilot scheme in place until 2022.

Any judge of the ordinary courts under the age of 72 and eligible for the status of non-practising judge may apply to perform the duties of MHFJ.

MHFJs are recruited in two cycles per year based on applications.

The heads of court review applications and interview applicants. They then send their reasoned report to the Judicial Services Directorate.

The Department of Human Resources of the Judiciary at the Judicial Services Directorate then further assesses the application before sending the appointment proposal to the Supreme Council of the Judiciary for an opinion.

On approval by the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, the MFHJ is appointed by decree of the President of the Republic. The term of office, which lasts a maximum of 5 years, is non-renewable and ends, in any event, the day before the 72nd birthday of the non-practising judge.

The term of office may also end upon the request of the non-practising judge (resignation) or in the event that disciplinary action has been taken against them (Article 41-30 of the Order on the status of the judiciary).

Non-practising judges performing non-judicial duties (magistrats honoraires exerçant des fonctions non juridictionnelles - MHFNJ)

Institutional Law No 2016-1090 of 8 August 2016 concerning statutory guarantees, ethical obligations and the recruitment of judges, and also concerning the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, inserted Articles 41-25 into of Order No 58-1270 of 22 December 1958 enacting the institutional Law on the status of the judiciary, which regulates the exercise of judicial duties and non-judicial activities by non-practising judges.

Article 41-32 of the Order of 22 December 1958 allows non-practising judges to perform non-judicial administrative or support activities.

It is again a matter of allowing retired non-practising judges who wish to continue serving the justice system to do so by allowing them to lend their expertise and experience to the courts by carrying out administrative or support tasks.

The persons concerned are judges of the ordinary courts, within the meaning of Article 1 of the aforementioned Order, who have retired, are under the age of 75, who are eligible for the status of non-practising judge and who wish to continue to serve the justice system.

They may only be tasked with activities of an administrative or support nature.

To assist adjudicating judges, they may be tasked with:

  • performing analysis and case summary work, case-law searches and legal studies
  • assisting in monitoring the preparation of complex civil cases
  • assisting coordinating judges or the head of department
  • preparing the assessment of applications submitted by judicial experts
  • reorganising the departments, assisting the heads of court in the performance of non-judicial tasks, helping with communication or coordination activities
  • training new judges within the scope of training activities organised by the court.

At the State Counsel’s Office, they may be tasked with:

  • ensuring legal monitoring of criminal law and criminal procedure
  • ensuring the statistical monitoring of the activities of the State Counsel’s Office
  • helping to coordinate the criminal justice policy established by the head of court
  • preparing analytical documents for correctional or criminal cases (summary of proceedings)
  • assisting the law officer of the State Counsel’s Office in charge of the deputy prosecutors
  • preparing joint hearings.

A non-practising judge performing non-judicial duties may not participate directly in the real-time handling of proceedings.

Members of the employment tribunals

Established in 1806, the employment tribunals are first-instance tribunals specialised in settling individual disputes that arise between employees or apprentices and employers in connection with their contracts. The judges (members) of the employment tribunals come from industry and commerce.

The system of employment tribunals is based on the idea that labour relations, specific and complex by nature, require examination by a judge with experience of such relations, whether as an employee or an employer.

Employment tribunals therefore necessarily include an equal number of employee and employer representatives (joint panels). The members of the tribunal are divided into two colleges (employees and employers) and five specialised divisions (industry, commerce, agriculture, miscellaneous activities and management).

There are 14 512 local members across 211 employment tribunals (203 in metropolitan France, with at least one per department, and 8 in the overseas departments and territories, including the employment tribunal in Mamoudzou, Mayotte, established on 1 January 2022). The employment tribunals handle around 100 000 cases per year.

Their primary task is conciliation of the parties and, failing that, to decide on the disputes between them.

As at 1 January 2023, there were:

12 960 members of the employment tribunals in office: 6 404 women and 6 556 men

6 785 employee members

6 175 employer members

Method of appointment

Since the reform resulting from the Order of 31 March 2016 and the Decree of 11 October 2016, members of the employment tribunals are appointed on the proposal of trade union and professional organisations based on their membership numbers (representativeness), for a term of 4 years.

Term of office of members of the employment tribunals:

At the request of the Ministry of Labour (General Labour Directorate), the usual 4-year term of members of the employment tribunals has been increased to 5 years until 31 December 2022 to allow it to measure representativeness in very small enterprises. To compensate for this, the current term has been reduced by 1 year to 3 years (2023–2025).

The appointment process takes place in two phases:

- Distribution of seats between trade union organisations for employees and professional organisations for employers every 4 years. This phase falls under the joint responsibility of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Justice.

- Submission and checking of applications for the role of member of the employment tribunals by the Ministry of Justice, which ends with the appointment of members of the employment tribunals.

This phase concludes with the publication of a ministerial order appointing the members of the employment tribunals, signed jointly by the two ministers.

Additional appointments are made (one or two per year) by the Judicial Services Directorate in order to fill vacant seats and replace members who step down.

Training

The Law of 6 August 2015 promoting growth, activity and equal economic opportunities introduced compulsory initial training for members of the employment tribunals. Training is now provided as follows.

- An initial 5-day training course funded by the Ministry of Justice. It is provided by the national college of the judiciary and is split into two parts: 3 days of distance learning followed by 2 consecutive days of face-to-face group training.

This training is mandatory and any members who have not previously held a term of office that fail to complete it will be deemed to have resigned. It has a completion deadline of 15 months. Since it was introduced, almost 10 000 members have been required to undergo initial training and less than 2% of the new members of the employment tribunals have failed to comply with this obligation and therefore been deemed to have resigned by order of the first president of the court of appeal, who has been informed in advance by the Judicial Services Directorate.

- Continuous training of 6 weeks per term of office. This training, which is not mandatory, is currently provided by associations of trade union and employers’ organisations, as well as by labour institutes authorised and funded by the General Labour Directorate. Decree No 2021-562 of 6 May 2021 states that members of the employment tribunals may commence their continuous training even if they have not yet started their initial training.

Professional ethics and disciplinary procedures

With a view to improving the independence, impartiality and integrity of members of the employment tribunals, the Law of 6 August 2015 reformed the rules relating to professional ethics and disciplinary procedures applicable to members of the employment tribunals and defined the ethical obligations incumbent on them. These were included in a code of conduct drawn up under the responsibility of the Supreme Council of the Employment Tribunals (Conseil supérieur de la prud’homie), and published on 7 August 2018 following its adoption by the Supreme Council of the Employment Tribunals.

Following the introduction of the Law of 6 August 2015, the Decree of 28 December 2016 reformed the disciplinary procedures applicable to members of the employment tribunals. A national disciplinary commission has been established for members of the employment tribunals (CNDCPH).

Status

Members of the employment tribunals are governed by Decree No 2015-1869 of 30 December 2015 concerning the membership of the general social security scheme of persons participating in public service missions on an occasional basis. They receive remuneration for the performance of their duties.

In addition, serving members of employment tribunals enjoy protected employee status, meaning that they cannot be dismissed without the prior authorisation of the labour inspectorate, and the right to absent themselves during their working hours.

Such absences count as effective working time and as such are remunerated by the employer and covered by social security. Time spent on work for the employment tribunal during working hours accordingly does not entail any loss in salary or benefits. The employer is reimbursed for the salary by the State.

Employer and employee representatives on the tribunal who are not in the category above (job seekers, pensioners, members serving on the tribunal outside their working hours) are paid for their periods of duty at a rate set by legislative decree (décret).

Their travel expenses may also be reimbursed.

Judges of the commercial courts

There are 134 first-instance commercial courts spread throughout metropolitan France, excluding Alsace-Moselle (where disputes are handled by a chamber of the judicial court pursuant to an exception under local law, with seven judicial courts with mixed commercial chambers that fall under the jurisdiction of the courts of appeal of Colmar and Metz), and nine mixed commercial courts in the overseas departments and territories.

The commercial courts handle:

  • disputes relating to commitments entered into between traders; between artisans; between credit institutions; between financing companies or between them
  • disputes relating to commercial companies
  • disputes relating to commercial transactions between any parties.

The commercial courts are composed of lay judges, elected by their peers, and a registry managed by a clerk of the commercial courts, who is a public legal official.

The judges of the commercial courts (juges consulaires) are traders or representatives of commercial companies entered in the trade and companies register (registre du commerce et des sociétés), as well as artisans entered in the trades register (répertoire des métiers). They are selected from all business sectors and companies of all sizes (sole trader, very small enterprise, SME or group).

The members of the commercial court perform their duties on a voluntary basis.

As at 1 January 2023, there were 3 343 commercial court judges in office for a total of 3 513 local seats.

Election

The PACTE Law, No 2019-486 of 22 May 2019, reformed the election of commercial court judges.

It implemented Article 94 of the Law of 18 November 2016 on modernising the justice system for the 21st century, which provided for the inclusion of artisans in the electoral college of commercial court judges. The implementing decree was published on 12 February 2021 (Decree No 2021-144 of 11 February 2021).

The election reform was supplemented by laws No 2021-1317 of 11 October 2021 and No 2022-1348 of 31 October 2022, which restored the autonomous eligibility of senior executives for elections in particular.

Since 1 January 2022, the date on which the provisions concerning commercial court judges set out in the Law of 22 May 2019 on the growth and transformation of PACTE companies came into force, the judges of the commercial courts have been elected by an electoral college composed of present and former commercial court judges, together with elected members of the chambers of commerce and industry and chambers of trades and crafts within the jurisdiction (Article L.723-1 of the French Commercial Code).

The composition of the electoral college is decided during the first two months of the year following the election of the members of the chambers of commerce and industry and the chambers of trades and crafts and is updated by no later than 15 July each year.

The annual election takes place during the first half of October each year in all jurisdictions in which there are seats to be filled.

The prefectures and the chancellery are in charge of the elections. To this end, a practical guide is drawn up and sent to them each year by the Judicial Service Directorate.

Term of office

The number of terms of office at the same court is limited to five and the age limit is set at 75 years.

The initial term for a judge of the commercial courts is 2 years (Article L.722-6 of the French Commercial Code). Subsequent terms of office are for 4 years at the same court or any other commercial court (Article L.722-6 of the French Commercial Code). This condition is assessed on the day of the election.

In accordance with Article R.722-7 of the French Commercial Code, as amended, the term of office of commercial court judges commences on 1 January of the calendar year of their election and ends on 31 December of the calendar year following the election of their successor.

They swear an oath and are subject to the same code of conduct as professional judges.

Judges of the commercial courts are represented within the National Council of the Commercial Courts, the secretariat of which is provided by the Judicial Service Directorate.

Initial and continuous training

With effect from 1 November 2018, newly elected judges must complete 8 days of mandatory initial training within 20 months of their election, otherwise they will be deemed to have resigned.

Assessors sitting on panels hearing social security and social welfare disputes

The Code governing the organisation of the judiciary (code de l’organisation judiciaire) provides for the appointment of assessors to the judicial panels referred to in Articles L.218-1 and L.311-16 thereof.

Assessors responsible for hearing social security and social welfare matters sit on the panel of the judicial court created by Law No 2016-1547 of 18 November 2016, which is now responsible for handling disputes that were previously handled by the social security tribunals (tribunaux des affaires de sécurité sociale, TASS) and the disability tribunals (tribunaux du contentieux de l’incapacité, TCI) and some of those handled by the departmental commissions for social welfare (commissions départementales d’aide sociale, CDAS). The panel comprises one professional judge and two assessors, one representing employees and the other representing employers and self-employed workers.

The assessors sitting on such panels therefore settle disputes relating to social security and some disputes relating to eligibility for social welfare.

As members of the judicial panel, they participate in hearings and deliberations. However, they do not draft the decisions.

These assessors are appointed for a term of 3 years by the first president of the court of appeal, after consulting the president of the judicial court, from lists drawn up for the particular court by the administrative authority following nominations by the most representative trade and professional organisations.

As at 1 January 2023, there were 3 013 assessors.

Law No 2016-1547 of 18 November 2016 on modernising the justice system for the 21st century requires assessors newly appointed to the social security and social welfare panels of the judicial courts and the judicial panel of the Court of Appeal of Amiens, which hears disputes regarding compensation for occupational accidents, to complete a 1-day initial training course provided by France’s national college of the judiciary prior to taking up their duties. Any assessor who has not previously held a term of office may only hear cases if they can provide proof that they have completed the mandatory initial training course.

Assessors receive remuneration for hearings, as well as compensation for loss of earnings in accordance with Article R.218-1 of the Code governing the organisation of the judiciary.

Assessors must swear an oath before they are able to hear cases. They are subject to the provisions of Article L.218-5 of the Code governing the organisation of the judiciary, which provides that ‘assessors shall perform their duties fully independently and with impartiality, dignity and probity and conduct themselves in a manner that would preclude any legitimate doubt in this regard. They shall in particular refrain from any public act or conduct that is incompatible with their duties. They are bound by the confidentiality of the decision-making process’.

They may stand down under the conditions set out in Chapter II of Title X of Book 1 of the French Code of Civil Procedure (Article R.218-10).

Assessors at the juvenile courts

Under the Code governing the organisation of the judiciary, juvenile courts (tribunaux pour enfants, TPE) are presided over by a judge of the ordinary courts, assisted by lay assessors. The number of assessors per court is proportional to the number of judges at the juvenile court, with two incumbent and four alternate assessors for each judge.

Candidates must be French nationals, must be aged 30 years or more and have a particular interest, in any capacity, in matters concerning young people.

The president of the judicial court draws up a list of persons wishing to become assessors and who have been recognised for their interest in matters concerning young people and for their expertise. The opinion of the competent persons within the jurisdiction (coordinating judge of the court, judge of the juvenile court, child protection advisor, etc.) is sought with regard to each candidate. The head of court then submits the list to the Minister of Justice, who appoints them for a term of 4 years.

The assessors of the juvenile courts receive remuneration for each day of hearings, the amount of which is set by the Code governing the organisation of the judiciary.

Assessors at the agricultural land tribunals

The assessors at the agricultural land tribunals (tribunaux paritaires des baux ruraux) are appointed for a term of 6 years by the first president of the court of appeal, after consulting the president of the tribunal, from lists drawn up for the particular tribunal by the prefect following nominations by the most representative professional or landowners’ organisations.

They include non-tenant landlords and non-landlord tenants, where appropriate distributed across two sections of a joint tribunal; one of the sections is composed of landlords and tenants under tenancy agreements and the other of landlords and tenants under share-farming agreements.

Candidates must be French nationals, must be aged 26 years or more, must not have been deprived of their civil, civic or professional rights and must have been a landlord or tenant under a tenancy or share-farming agreement for at least 5 years.

The judge’s team

Judicial assistants

Article 24 of Law No 2016-1547 of 18 November 2016 on modernising the justice system for the 21st century inserted a Chapter IIIa concerning judicial assistants into Title II of Book 1 of the Code governing the organisation of the judiciary.

This is a new category of personnel within the courts. They are assigned to judges of the judicial courts and courts of appeal, as well as of the Court of Cassation, and provide assistance with the preparatory work performed by the judges.

Status

Their status is regulated in the aforementioned law, which inserted Article L.123-4 into the Code governing the organisation of the judiciary, and is implemented in Decree No 2017-1618 of 28 November 2017, which is intended to clarify the terms of application of Article L.123-4.

Judicial assistants are category A contract staff who must hold a high-level legal qualification upon their recruitment: either proof of 1 year of professional experience (prior to the introduction of Law No 2021-1729 of 22 December 2021 building confidence in the justice system, 2 years of professional experience was required), provided that they have a qualification awarded upon the completion of legal training comprising at least 5 years of higher education after the baccalaureate; or without professional experience provided that they hold a doctorate in law. They must swear an oath prior to taking office.

Article L.123-4 of the Code governing the organisation of the judiciary provides for their recruitment for a period of 3 years, renewable once.

In addition, on completing 3 years of service, judicial assistants can apply to become part of the judiciary under the terms set out in Article 5 of Institutional Law No 2016-1090 of 8 August 2016 reforming the status of the judiciary.

Duties

Judicial assistants contribute their expertise to the analysis of technical or complex cases that are submitted to them by judges in criminal and civil matters. They therefore allow the judges to refocus their attention on their own duties: decision-making and managing proceedings. To this end, judicial assistants are bound by professional secrecy and are permitted to access case records for the purposes of performing the tasks entrusted to them.

Their professional experience in the legal field in the capacity of lawyer or legal expert is a key asset for the proper administration of justice.

As at 1 January 2023, 935 judicial assistants were under the responsibility of the Department of Human Resources of the Judiciary.

Court clerks

Court clerks (greffiers) are specialists in legal procedure who assist the judges in drawing up court documents and are responsible for authenticating the acts of the court, where the law so requires.

Court clerks work hand in hand with the judge, helping to prepare and process cases and conducting legal research. As instructed by the judges, they draft decisions and pleas. As part of providing information and assistance services to the public, clerks may be entrusted with providing information, guidance or assistance to users in completing judicial formalities or procedures. They may also be assigned professional training duties.

The majority of a court clerk’s duties are performed in the various departments of the courts. Depending on the size of the court and its organisation, court clerks may hold middle management positions, particularly in the capacity of head of department, head of a one-stop service for litigants or assistant to the registrar.

On 1 January 2023, the Ministry of Justice Department for human resources at court registries was responsible for 11 978 staff, 10 416 of whom were assigned to the courts.

Lawyers

Lawyers (avocats) are officers of the court and members of an independent self-employed profession. The rules that govern them are in the main laid down in Law No 71-1130 of 31 December 1971 reforming certain judicial and legal professions, and Decree No 91-1197 of 27 November 1991 structuring the profession of lawyer.

In the daily performance of their duties, lawyers fulfil two tasks: the first is to assist and represent clients in court (judicial function) and the second is to provide legal advice and draw up legal instruments (legal function).

Under Section 4(1) of the Law of 31 December 1971, lawyers have a virtual monopoly on assisting and representing parties, and acting and pleading before courts, judicial authorities and disciplinary tribunals of all kinds. They may also engage in competitive activities, such as real estate brokerage or insurance brokerage.

There is no national association of lawyers, as lawyers wish all bar associations to be fairly represented. There are 165 bar associations (barreaux) in metropolitan France and the overseas departments and territories, each attached to a judicial court and each headed by a President of the Bar (bâtonnier) and administered by a Bar Council (conseil de l’ordre). The role of the Bar Council is to deal with all issues concerning the practice of the profession, to ensure that lawyers fulfil their responsibilities, and to protect their rights.

The National Council of Bar Associations (Conseil national des barreaux, CNB) is a body recognised as being of public utility (établissement d’utilité publique), and has legal personality; it is responsible for representing the legal profession in dealings with public authorities and seeking to ensure that the rules and usages of the profession are harmonised.

The CNB has a website which allows everyone to have free access to information on the structure of the profession, current issues concerning the profession, and a directory of all the lawyers registered with French bar associations. Most of the larger bars have their own websites, which are free and accessible to all; their addresses appear in the bar associations directory available on the CNB website.

The CNB produces National Rules of Conduct by way of regulatory decisions published in the Official Gazette and directly applicable to lawyers.

Lawyers at the Council of State and the Court of Cassation

Lawyers at the Council of State and the Court of Cassation form a separate profession: they are public officials appointed to their posts by order of the Minister for Justice. When parties must be represented before those courts they have the sole right to plead. The rules governing them are laid down essentially in the Order of 10 September 1817 establishing the Order of Lawyers at the Council of State and the Court of Cassation and Decree No 91-1125 of 28 October 1991 on the conditions for admission to the profession.

The lawyers at the supreme courts form a separate bar or order, headed by a president, who is assisted by a bar council of 14 members. This bar authority represents the profession.

The website of the Order of Lawyers at the Council of State and the Court of Cassation provides more details.

Notaries

Organisational set-up

The notary (notaire) is a public legal official appointed by order of the Minister of Justice. Notaries nevertheless operate as practitioners of an independent self-employed profession. The rules governing the profession are laid down mainly in the Law of 25 Ventôse Year XI (dated according to the French Republican Calendar); Order No 45-2590 of 2 November 1945; Decree No 45-0117 of 19 December 1945 relating to the organisation of the profession of notary; Decree No 73-609 of 5 July 1973 relating to professional training and the conditions for admission to the profession of notary; and Decree No 78-262 of 8 March 1978 fixing the schedule of notaries’ fees.

The profession is represented by:

  • chambers of notaries at department level
  • regional councils of notaries at the level of the jurisdiction of the court of appeal
  • the Supreme Council of Notaries (CSN) at national level.

By way of derogation from this organisational structure, inter-departmental chambers covering several departments, or inter-regional councils of notaries covering the jurisdiction of several courts of appeal, may be established by decree. The Supreme Council of Notaries is the only body authorised to represent the profession as a whole before the public authorities and is a public interest organisation. The cornerstone of the notarial function, it determines the general policy of the profession, contributes to the development of the profession of notary and provides collective services to notaries.

In its relations with the public authorities, it contributes to deliberations on amendments to laws and provides its opinion on draft laws or on legal texts in preparation. It carries out evaluations of the law. The Supreme Council of Notaries has a free website which sets out the principal characteristics of the profession and contains a directory of notaries and their chambers and councils in the departments and regions.

Role and duties

Notaries are public legal officials.

  • In their capacity as public officer, notaries issue authenticated deeds and ensure their safekeeping. The authentication of a deed grants it a high degree of legal certainty, the features of which are its certain date, its probative force and its enforceability. An authenticated deed is fully authoritative in terms of its date and content and in respect of the elements set out and recorded by the notary and is enforceable by law in the same manner as a court decision.
  • As a legal official, notaries hold a State-assigned office and have the sole right to perform notarial duties, which are in the public service. The authenticity conferred by notaries on the deeds made before them results from the delegation of the public authority conferred on them by the State.

While notaries have sole authority to perform some of their tasks (contracts subject to land registration, division of estate assets, authentic wills, etc.), others are shared or carried out in competition with other legal or real estate professionals and asset managers (selling, valuing and managing real estate, legal advice, etc.).

Other legal professions

Court enforcement officers

The profession of court enforcement officer (commissaire de justice) was created on 1 July 2022 by merging the professions of court bailiff and judicial auctioneer. It was established by Law No 2015-990 of 6 August 2015 promoting growth, activity and equal economic opportunities. With effect from 1 July 2026, court bailiffs and judicial auctioneers who have not followed specific training to qualify as court enforcement officers will cease to practise.

The status of court enforcement officer is governed by Order No 2016-728 of 2 June 2016. Court enforcement officers perform a regulated profession on an independent basis and, upon their appointment by the Minister of Justice, gains the status of public legal official. To this end, they are permitted to perform the following:

  • activities under the sole remit of court enforcement officers, namely the enforcement of court decisions, as well as deeds or titles in enforceable form; the drawing up of inventories and arrangement of auctions and public sales of tangible or intangible property as required by law or court order; the serving of documents and writs; the serving of notifications required by laws and regulations where the means of notification is not specified; the adoption of precautionary measures after the opening of an estate; the provision of hearing services for courts and tribunals;
  • activities open to competition, namely, the amicable or judicial recovery of all debts; the provision of purely material reports when appointed by the courts or at the request of individuals; or acting as a liquidator when appointed to do so in certain judicial liquidation proceedings;
  • ancillary activities, such as those of a property administrator, insurance agent or court-appointed or extra-judicial mediator;
  • lastly, court enforcement officers may, under certain conditions, perform voluntary sales activities.

To be eligible for the role of court enforcement officer, the professional must meet certain conditions, such as nationality (French or European national), repute and qualifications (master’s degree in law, entry examination, probation period and aptitude examination).

If the professional meets the general conditions for aptitude, they are appointed as a court enforcement officer by order of the Minister of Justice.

The court enforcement officer may practise their profession either individually or within the framework of an entity with legal personality, with the exception of legal forms that confer the status of trader on their partners.

The profession is organised at two levels.

  • At national level, the National Chamber of Court Enforcement Officers (Chambre nationale des commissaires de justice, CNCJ) represents the profession before the public authorities. It has a free website that describes the principal characteristics of the profession and includes a directory of practising professionals.
  • Within the jurisdiction of each court of appeal, a regional chamber. This represents all of the court enforcement officers within the jurisdiction and safeguards their common interests. Interregional chambers may be established that cover the jurisdictions of multiple courts of appeal.

Other officers of the court

Clerks of the commercial courts

Clerks of the commercial courts are public legal officials, unlike other court clerks, who are civil servants. Their status is defined in the French Commercial Code (Articles L.741-1 et seq. and R.741-1 et seq.).

Clerks of the commercial court carry out all of the duties normally assigned to the court clerk. They assist the judges during the hearing and, in all cases provided for by law, assist the president of the commercial court with all of their administrative tasks. They draft and format court decisions, ensure the safekeeping of minutes, issue certified and non-certified copies, prepare registry documents and greet visitors.

They also ensure the maintenance of essential registers for companies, including the trade and companies register, provided for in Article L.123-1 of the French Commercial Code. The documents and declarations submitted to the clerk of the commercial court are subject to thorough scrutiny. This guarantees a high degree of reliability of the information contained in this register and therefore the Kbis extracts, that the clerk issues to any person requesting them.

The clerk of the commercial court also performs broader tasks involving the provision of legal information. The GIE Infogreffe portal aims to ensure the complete visibility and accessibility of these tasks for the user.

The National Council of Clerks of the Commercial Courts (Conseil national des greffiers des tribunaux de commerce, CNGTC), which has legal personality and represents the profession before the public authorities, is tasked with defending the collective interests of the clerks of the commercial courts. To this end, it has four main duties: representing members of the profession, providing information to the public and those in the profession, training clerks and their employees, ensuring oversight and discipline. The website of the National Council of Clerks of the Commercial Courts has more information on these matters.

Clerks of the commercial courts PDF (366 Kb) en

Clerks of the commercial courts with an employment contract PDF (366 Kb) en

Legal advisers/in-house lawyers

The profession of legal adviser (conseil juridique) was merged with the profession of lawyer (avocat) under Law No 90-1259 of 31 December 1990.

Lawyers (juristes) who do not practise as independent lawyers (avocats) but instead work in-house for businesses are not subject to any specific professional regulation. They perform their duties in accordance with Article 58 of Law No 71-1130 of 31 December 1971.

Last update: 16/04/2024

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