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Ordinary courts - France

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In this section you will find an overview of the ordinary courts in France.


The courts of the judicial system — introduction

The courts of the first degree

Civil courts

1. The Court of First Instance

The district court judges the conflicts between individuals (civil and commercial disputes) involving sums of more than EUR 10,000.

It is also competent, regardless of the amount of the claim, in particular in the following areas:

  • State of the people: marriage, filiation, adoption, declaration of absence;
  • Rectification of civil status records;
  • Successions;
  • Civil fines incurred by civil registrars;
  • Real estate issues petitioning and possessory
  • Industrial awards;
  • Winding-up of associations;
  • Safeguard, receivership and compulsory liquidation if the debtor is not a trader or registered in the trade register;
  • Insurance against accidents and occupational diseases of self-employed persons in agriculture;
  • Registration fees, land registration tax, stamp duties and indirect taxes and fees corresponding to such duties, taxes or contributions;
  • Commercial leases except for disputes relating to the fixing of the price of the revised or renewed lease, professional leases and agreements on precarious trade in commercial matters;
  • Registration of false documents against authentic instruments;
  • Civil action for defamation or for public or non-public, verbal or written insult.
  • Contestation concerning the payment, guarantee or reimbursement of all types of debts recovered by the customs and other customs authorities in cases and under the conditions laid down in the Customs Code

The Tribunal de Grande Instance is composed of professional judges: President, Vice-Presidents, Judges, Public Prosecutor, Deputy Prosecutors, Substitutes.

Some of these judges are specialised judges, mainly in criminal matters, such as:

  • The judge of the children who is competent to take protective measures with regard to minors at risk and to judge the offences (fifth class and criminal offences) committed by minors. In criminal matters, when not making a public ruling, it can only rule on educational measures; when he chairs the court for children, he sits with two non-professional assessors and the court can impose educational penalties and penalties.
  • The judge responsible for the enforcement of sentences, which is responsible for laying down the main arrangements for the enforcement of custodial sentences or restrictions on liberty; when he acts in a ‘closed’ environment, he has the power to make sentences (for example: placing outside, semi-free release, conditional release, placing under electronic surveillance); when he intervenes in an open environment, he is responsible for monitoring and controlling the offender in the execution of his sentence (e.g.: suspended sentences and probation, work in the general interest, socio-judicial monitoring, etc.);
  • The investigating judge who is responsible for carrying out, under the supervision of the pre-trial chamber of the Court of Appeal, all acts relevant to the manifestation of the truth; it brings together all the elements of the case for which they are responsible or exculpatory; where his investigation appears to have been completed, he may make an order declaring that there is no need to adjudicate or refer the person for examination before a court of law. the investigating judge may not raise the matter of his own motion. It must be brought before the public prosecutor or by the victim in the context of a complaint involving the constitution of a civil action.

The district court is usually the head of the department but may exist in other municipalities. It exists on 1 January 2017 164 TGI.

2. The Link opens in new window Court of First Instance

The district court (tribunal d’instance) considers the conflicts between individuals (civil cases) not exceeding EUR 10,000. (it has certain exclusive competences whatever the amount of the claim, such as the actions at the boundary, or the rental of evictions.)

It also has judicial powers ( e.g.: Seizures of earnings from work, annuities, electoral problems, rental contracts) and administrative powers; thus, for example, the director of the court registry services of the district court is competent to issue certificates of nationality.

In addition, the court of first instance exercises the functions of a guardianship judge (with the exception of guardianship for minors, which has been governed by a law of 12 May 2009 of the Family Court of the Tribunal de Grande Instance): it is therefore responsible for the protection of vulnerable adults by controlling in particular the management of their assets.

The district court is composed of one or more judges, but cases are heard by a single judge.

The district court generally has its seat in the capital of the district court. There are 307 district courts on 1 January 2017.

3. The local court

The local courts hearcivil disputes between individuals, the amount of which is less than EUR 4,000.

With effect from 1 July 2017, the local courts will be abolished (Law No 2011-1862 of 13 December 2011), its powers being taken over by the district courts.

4. The Link opens in new windowCommercial Court

The commercial court hears disputes relating to commitments between traders, credit institutions or between them and disputes relating to commercial companies or acts of commerce between all persons. It also has procedures relating to companies in difficulty.

The commercial court is composed of non-professional judges, volunteers, traders or business leaders. They are elected for 2 years in an initial election, and then for 4 years after the end of the first mandate, by an electoral college composed of judges and former judges of the Tribunal, as well as consular delegates. The latter are traders or managers of undertakings elected every 5 years within the jurisdiction of the Commercial Court. Their mission is to participate, on an annual basis, in the elections to the judges of the commercial courts.

There are 134 commercial courts in mainland France, 7 chambers of commerce in the departments of Alsace — Moselle, 9 mixed trade courts in the French overseas territories on 1 January 2017.

The Tribunal de Commerce shall have at least three judges, except where otherwise provided.

The public prosecutor’s office represents the interests of society. He must speak in difficult business cases.

The Registry of the Commercial Court shall be held by a Registrar, public and ministerial officer.

5. The Link opens in new windowConseil de prud’hommes

The Conseil de prud’hommes is responsible for settling disputes between employees and employers in the context of an employment contract (wage, working time, harassment, sanctions, etc.). It is a joint court composed of non-professional judges representing employers and employees.

It is divided into 5 sections (management, industry, trade and commercial services, agriculture, various activities). In the event of a tie between the 4 counsellors, the Conseil de prud’hommes is presided over by a judge appointed by the President of the Tribunal de grande instance, the Chief Justice of the Court of First Instance.

There is one or more prud men councils per department and at least one council within the jurisdiction of the district court.

There are 210 prud men councils.

In the context of the renewal of employment contracts in 2017, members will no longer be elected, but will be appointed on the basis of proposals from representative trade unions and employers’ organisations on the basis of their respective hearings. They will be appointed for a term of 4 years.

6. Link opens in new windowSocial Security Court (TASS)

The Social Security Court finds the conflicts between social security funds and users (e.g.: problem of membership of a fund, award and award of benefits...).

It is composed of a chairperson (judge of the Tribunal de grande instance or honorary magistrate), an assessor representing employed persons and an associate representing employers and the self-employed, both appointed for 3 years by the first President of the Court of Appeal, on a list drawn up, within each court, by the Regional Director for Youth, Sport and Social Cohesion on a proposal from the most representative trade unions and employers’ organisations.

There are 114 social security courts.

7. The General Court for Litigation (TCI)

The court hearing the case of incapacity has the power to settle disputes relating to the invalidity or incapacity of work of an insured person, that is to say, the state or the degree of incapacity in the event of sickness, an accident at work or an invalidity in the event of a non-occupational accident or accident.

It is composed of a chairperson (honorary judge or qualified person), appointed by order of the Keeper of the Seals, an assessor representing employed persons and an associate representing employers or self-employed workers (both appointed for 3 years by the first President of the Court of Appeal within whose jurisdiction the court has its seat, on a list drawn up by the Regional Director for Youth, Sport and Social Cohesion on a proposal from the most representative professional organisations).

There are 26 courts of incapacity litigation.

As from 1 January 2019, the TASS, the ICT and a part of the county social assistance committees (CDAS) will be transferred to the social hubs of the county courts. These specialised courts will then be abolished.

8. The Link opens in new window Court of Justice of the European Union in the case of rural leases

The common court for the rural leases has jurisdiction over disputes between tenants and lessees of rural leases on the status of rent and share-cropping, livestock leases, land lease agreements, leases on completion of leases, leases on land used for grazing land, and contracts for the use of land for grazing land.

The judge of the panel shall preside over the Joint Court for rural leases. It is assisted by 4 non-professional assessors elected by their peers: 2 donors and 2 holders elected for 6 years from electoral lists drawn up by the prefect on a proposal from the committee on the preparation of the electoral roll.

In the context of the renewal of the joint courts for rural leases in 2018, the assessors will no longer be elected on a proposal from the most representative professional organisations concerned on the basis of their respective hearings. They will be appointed for a term of 6 years.

The criminal courts

1. The Assizes Court

The assize court has jurisdiction over the crimes, i.e. the most serious crimes punishable by a life of between 10 years of imprisonment and life imprisonment.

It is a departmental court that is not permanent. The dates for the opening of sessions shall be fixed each time it is necessary. However, it has a quasi-permanent seat in the most important departments.

It consists of 3 professional judges: a President (President of the Chamber or Adviser at the Court of Appeal), 2 assessors (advisers to the Court of Appeal or magistrates of the Tribunal de Grande Instance, department for holding the seats), a selection board (6 citizens drawn by lot). She also sits in the training of the juvenile court of minors with jurors, in the case of crimes committed by minors. The professional assessors are then judges of the children.

Certain crimes relating to terrorist, military or drug trafficking legislation are judged by an assize court composed exclusively of professional magistrates.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office is represented by an Advocate General.

2. The Misdemeanours Tribunal

He is responsible for judging crimes, i.e. offences punishable by the law of a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of EUR 3 750 or more. he is attached to the district court. It is in principle composed of 3 professional judges unless there are legal cases of offences under a single judge.

The public prosecutor’s office is represented by the public prosecutor or one of his deputies.

3. The police court

Until 1 July 2017, it has jurisdiction over fifth class infringements, which has its seat in the court of first instance and is chaired by the judge of a single judge. As from that date, he will have the power to judge all the contraventions, he will be a member of the Tribunal de grande instance and will be composed of a judge of that court.

The public prosecutor’s office is represented by the public prosecutor or one of his deputies.

4. The local court

Until 1 July 2017, it has jurisdiction over the first to fourth class. Its seat is at the Court of First Instance. It shall be chaired by a local judge, who shall decide in the case of a single judge.

The functions of the Public Prosecutor’s Office are usually carried out by a Police Commissioner. As from 1 July 2017, it will be abolished, as its powers are transferred to the police court which will then be attached to the Tribunal de Grande Instance.

5. Specialised courts

There are also courts specialised in criminal cases, such as commercial maritime courts, currently 6 and competent to judge certain maritime crimes.

Second degree courts

The court of appeal intervenes in second instance, in order to judge in law and in fact the cases that have already been decided by the courts of first instance.

It consists exclusively of professional magistrates: a first President, the Presidents of the Chambers and the Councillors (with the exception of the Court of Appeals, see above).

Each court is organised in a variable number of chambers, some of which are specialised (in civil, social, commercial and criminal matters).

Decisions of the assize courts are assessed on appeal by another assize court designated by the criminal chamber of the Court of Cassation. The cour d’appel is composed of 9 jurors.

The national court for the incapacity and pricing of insurance against accidents at work is the court of appeal of the courts for the invalidity litigation. It also suffers, in the first and last instance, from challenges relating to the pricing of insurance against accidents at work. The Public Prosecutor’s Office is represented by the Attorney General or one of his Advocates General or General Substitutes.

From 1 January 2019, that court will also be abolished.

Court of Cassation

The Court of Cassation is the highest court in the judiciary. It is based in Paris. Its function is to check the conformity of court decisions and courts with rules of law outside any new assessment of the facts. It therefore does not constitute a third level of jurisdiction, but ensures the unity of case-law by revealing a body governing the law and respect for legality.

It can be referred ‘for an opinion’ by the courts in order to give an opinion on a question of new law which is serious and poses a serious problem in a number of cases.

It is mainly referred to appeal, ‘an appeal on a point of law’, exercised by a person who has been the subject of a judicial decision, or by the public prosecutor’s office.

It is primarily brought on appeal, ‘the appeal on a point of law’, which is exercised by a person who has been the subject of a judicial decision, or by the public prosecutor’s office.

When the Court considers that the contested decision was not taken in accordance with the rules of law, it ‘breakages’ the decision. The case is then referred to a court for reconsideration.

If not, it will dismiss the appeal, which is tantamount to rendering the contested decision definitive.

By way of exception, it may set aside without a reference for a preliminary ruling when the appeal on a point of law does not mean that it is to give a final ruling on the substance of the case. It may also, in civil matters, rule on the merits where it is in the interests of the proper administration of justice to do so in criminal matters, making no reference to it, to put an end to the dispute, where the facts, as found to be absolute, and assessed by the court adjudicating on the substance, enable it to apply the appropriate rule of law.

The Court of Cassation is divided into chambers (three civil chambers, a commercial chamber, a social chamber, a criminal chamber), each composed of professional judges from the head office, a president and advisers. Depending on the nature of the case, it may act in a Joint Chamber composed of at least three rooms, or in a full Chamber (the first President, the Presidents and the deans of the Chamber and one member of each Chamber).

The public prosecutor’s office is represented by the Attorney General and the Advocates General.

Legal databases

The legal databases in France are the subject of a public broadcasting service on the Internet. The Link opens in new windowLégifrance website thus includes the judgments of the Court of Cassation and of the appeal courts:

  • on the ‘CASS’ basis for the judgments of the Court of Cassation published,
  • on the ‘INCA’ basis for the new judgments, and
  • on the ‘CAPP’ basis for the judgments of the courts of appeal.

Is access to the database free of charge?

Yes, access to the bank is free of charge.

Brief description of contents

The judgments are available in French and a few judgments are also translated into English, Arabic and Mandarin.

  • The CASS has a stock of 120 000 decisions and an annual flow of 2100.
  • The ‘INCA’ database has a stock of 246 000 decisions and an annual flow of 10 000 decisions.
  • The “CAPP” database has a stock of 19 000 decisions and an annual flow of 20 000 decisions.

Related links

Link opens in new windowJurisdiction of the courts — France


This is a machine translated version of the content. The owner of this page accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to the quality of this machine translated text.

Last update: 30/10/2019