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French Legal Resources: French Legal System

French Legal System

The Civil Law System

The French system of law is a Civil Law system. 

This is different from the Common Law system of the United States and Britain in that, among other differences, a French court will apply relevant codes and regulations to the parties and facts before them with little reference to prior case decisions.  Any new decision of the French court will likewise carry little precedential weight. 

Case Law Research

As case precedent is not a significant source of French law (except for decisions of the highest courts), few official case reporters are available. 

Case-law researchers usually must rely on various commercial sources, and the decisions of minor courts may only be available as summaries. 

French Constitution and the European Union
The French Constitution is considered the highest source of law, and under the Constitution, Legislative Acts and Executive Regulations are created. 
As a member of the European Union, France also incorporates European law as its own; European Union law may control in certain circumstances under the principle of supremacy. 

Categories of French Law/Legislation
French law is otherwise generally divided into two categories: 

  • The droit public, (public law), broadly governing state and public bodies;

  • and the droit prive (private law), governing private individuals and entities. 

    The private law may be further divided into:
    • the droit civil (civil law)
    • and the droit penale (criminal law). 

Legislation is created in the French Parliament. Like the US system, the French Parliament has two chambers - the National Assembly (Assemble Nationale) and the Senate. Representatives in the Assemble Nationale are called députés and those in the Senate are termed sénateurs. 

Proposed Legislation

Proposed legislation can be one of two types, depending on who proposed/initiated it:

  • The majority of French laws are drafted by the Council of Ministers (executive government) who adopt them and then send the bills on to Parliament for a final vote. Each bill is given a number (like N° 1224). These are called  Projets de loi

  • Legislation may also be drafted by députés and sénateurs and can become law if it is placed on the parliamentary agenda and then adopted by  both the National Assembly and the Senate. These are known as propositions de loi (only about 10% of French laws are of this type, most are projets de loi)

Legislation proposed to the Sénate is typically reviewed by one of the 7 standing committees before being sent to the floor for a vote. The Senate also votes any amendments to the Constitutioncontrols the government and represents local bodies (counties, districts and states).

Enacted/Adopted Legislation

Legislation is reviewed by both chambers in a process called The Shuttle. If both chambers can not agree on the language of the bill, the Prime Minister then calls for a meeting of the Joint Mediation Committee which is composed of seven members from each House. They are entrusted with the task of drawing up a compromise on the clauses on which agreement has not been reached.

Adopted legislation (lois promulguées) is then passed to the President for signing (the President does not have veto power but may take other measures against proposed laws). Enacted legislation is numbered differently from proposed bills. It is the 4 digit year it is enacted - act number for that year. See the Bluebook Table T2.13 for suggested citation formats (though citation for French courts may differ). This Oxford guide may also be helpful for deciphering citations and understanding the structure of French legislation. 



Executive regulations may originate from the President, the Prime Minister, or other lesser officials.  Legislation and regulations are then submitted for official publication.

For a more comprehensive review of the French Legal System, see Germain's French Law Guide or Georgetown Law's French Legal Research Guide

French Judiciary

French Legislature

Prime Minister and Council of Ministries