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Living in the Languedoc:    Central Government:    The Judicial System

The third branch of Government, the judiciary, is not really a power in the same sense as the Legislature and the Executive. The Constitution defines it ias the "judicial authority". Article 66 of the Constitution refers to the Judicial system as the "guardian of individual liberty".

Traditionally, the French judge is conceived merely as a "mouthpiece of the law". The judge's duty is strictly to interpret and apply the law, since he has no power to depart from it and is not himself recognised as a real creator of law. This is similar in principle to the system in the English speaking world, where the Judges are held merely to interpret the law (and in some cases to discover it) - but everyone knows that in reality senior Judges develop the Common Law to meet changing needs.

The Constitution guarantees the independence of the French judiciary. Their special status provides Jusges with independence free, in theory, from political interference.

France has in a sense a dual judicial system, with two parallel but separate hierarchies:

  • the civil and criminal courts, headed by the Court of Cassation and
  • the administrative courts which are empowered to hear all disputes between the authorities and private individuals, headed by the Conseil d'Etat.
There is also the Cour des comptes (Auditor-General's Department or Audit Court), with budgetary and financial responsibilities.

the French legal system is organised on the basis of a fundamental distinction between Adminitrative Courts and other courts.

Administrative courts. These courts have jurisdiction in all cases involving some form of dispute between a private individual or body (company, association, etc.) and a public body.

The Conseil d'Etat is the supreme administrative court and advises the government on draft legislation.

Despite the prominence given to these courts (which have no counterpart in the system used throughout the English speaking world), there is little scope for an ordinary person to prevail over any Public Body, however strong the case. Do not assume that you can take an official body to court using anything like the Judicial Review process, as you can in the UK. In practice there is no practical way for private individuals to obtain enforcement orders against malpractice or misdirection by official bodies. This is so alien to British citizens resident in France that you will occasionally meet keen defenders of their theoretical rights who have spent all their money and many years in court cases in unsuccessful attempts to rectify manifest wrongs committed by public officials. Such attempts are almost unknown among the native French, who know better than to try.

Civil Courts. These courts have jurisdiction in disputes between private individuals or bodies.

Criminal Courts. These courts distinguish three types of offence: contraventions (petty offences), tried by Police Courts, délits (misdemeanours), tried by Criminal Courts and crimes (serious indictable offences), tried by the Assize Court (the only court with lay jurors and from which there is no appeal against sentence).

Specialised courts these include juvenile courts, conseils des prud'hommes for industrial relations disputes, commercial courts for disputes involving business people or firms, and social security courts.

Appeal Courts. The highest judicial body is the Cour de Cassation which decides appeals on points of law and procedure and can set aside or quash judgements and remit cases for rehearing to one of the 35 courts of appeal for retrial.

For more visit: http://www.justice.gouv.fr

 

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French Judge.
The French Judicial System
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