France: Civil And Commercial Proceedings In France

Last Updated: 13 July 2016
Article by Brigitte Daille-Duclos

A general overview of the French rules of civil and commercial procedure, and how they differ from those in the US. 

-This article was first published in The American Lawyer in its supplement "Focus Europe" -


In France, at the lower level, the Tribunal de Grande Instance has jurisdiction to hear all matters —in particular civil matters—  except those expressly assigned to another Court: notably, commercial Courts hear disputes between traders, financial and credit institutions, and commercial companies. The Court of Appeals is the normal second level Court. The appellant can lodge an appeal either on the entirety of the first instance decision or only on some aspects of it. The Court of Appeals can only judge on the points appealed by the parties. On these points it judges de novo and re-decide the issue(s) both on matters of fact and law.

The Cour de Cassation is like a Supreme Court. It may only review questions of law referred by the lower Courts. Special counsel admitted in this Court must be retained to argue a case. The Cour de Cassation may either reject the appeal against the lower Court's judgment or quash the decision of the lower Court. If it rejects the appeal against the lower Court's judgment, this judgment becomes final. If it quashes the judgment of the lower Court, it merely set aside the lower Court's judgment and remit the whole case to a Court of Appeals to be reheard de novo. If the Court of Appeals confirms the judgment rendered by the Cour de cassation, this judgment is final. If it does not confirm the judgment rendered by the Cour of cassation then the Assemblée Plénière of the Cour de cassation re-judges the case and remits the case to another Court of Appeals, which must confirm the judgment of the Assemblée Plénière.

There are no juries in civil and commercial  proceedings. Civil cases are tried by professional judges. Commercial cases are judged by non-professional judges, who are traders elected by their peers.


Before the Tribunal de grande instance (civil Court of first instance), proceedings commence by the plaintiff serving the defendant with a writ of summons or "Assignation" setting out the grounds of the plaintiff's claim and summoning the defendant to appear in Court on a specific date. A list of evidentiary documents supporting the claim must be attached the writ. Counsel for the plaintiff then files an official copy of the served writ with the court. Proceedings are brought before commercial Courts either by the service of a writ of summons, or by a joint application filed by both parties. Also, the parties can appear before the commercial Court and present themselves their arguments orally to the Court, as representation by a counsel is not mandatory before these Courts.


Before civil Courts, a Judge (Juge de la Mise en Etat) is designated at the beginning of the proceedings to "attend to the fairness of the proceedings, specifically as regards the timely exchange of pleading briefs and the production of documents" (Article 763 § 2 of the Code civil Procedure). The length of the briefs is not limited. They must be motivated on law and facts. Additional claims and evidence may be filed after the first briefs. Once the Juge de la Mise en Etat deems the parties have exchanged all relevant arguments in their briefs, he schedules a closing date after which no additional filings are authorized. After the closing of the proceedings, the Juge de la Mise en Etat sets the trial hearing date. Before commercial Courts, the procedure is oral. There is no Juge de la Mise en Etat and no closing date. But when the parties are represented by their counsel, they file briefs as they do before the civil Courts, and the Court schedules an agenda for the filing of the briefs and the pleading hearing.


In civil and commercial procedure, there is no general discovery as is the case under US rules of procedure.

Before the tribunal de grande instance, claims must be proven by written means, or by a document in writing evidencing at least partially the claim (Articles 1341 and 1347 f the Civil Code).

A party will merely disclose the documents he wishes to use to establish a particular fact in the case. But, if a party refers to a piece of evidence in the brief, it "shall be obliged to produce it to the other party" (Article 132 of the civil Code of Procedure).

The Court before which a case is argued may refuse evidence which has been produced belatedly, i.e. if the receiving party has not had a "reasonable" amount of time to review the evidence thus produced.

A party may request the production of specific evidence not mentioned by the other party in its briefs, detained by the other party or to any third party if such evidence could contain elements that could have an influence on the case and that if is relevant to the dispute.

If the requested party refuses to submit to such request, the requesting party can notify a request for production of evidence (sommation de communiquer) officially requesting the filing of the evidence and which will be included in the file of the Court. This request does not, however, suspend the course of the pre-trial phase.

If the requested party refuses to file the evidence requested, the requesting party may ask the Juge de la Mise en Etat or to the Court to enjoin the defaulting party to proceed to such production (Article 133 of the civil Code of Procedure).The Juge de la Mise en Etat or the Court has complete discretion whether to make the requested order, taking into account the usefulness of the document to the dispute and other issues such as professional privilege. A Court may impose civil penalties on a party failing to comply with such an order.

Surprisingly for US lawyers, there are no juries before civil and commercial Courts, there is no discovery and as a matter of principle the parties are free to disclose the documents they think useful to demonstrate the facts and the legal arguments contained in their briefs.


Trial civil and commercial hearings are not, unlike what is the case in the US legal system, lengthy a.airs lasting for several weeks. Generally counsel orally plead the case during approximately 30 minutes.

At pleading hearings, in principle, three professional magistrates hear the case. In practice, it may be that only one judge hears the case. However, any party is entitled to request that the case be heard by three judges and the Court must in such case accept this request.

During the trial hearing, the Court hears the pleadings: plaintiff's counsel(s) speak(s) first, defendant's counsel(s) always last. French civil or commercial trials include neither witness cross-examination, nor the reading of depositions, nor the hearing of expert witnesses, nor jury deliberations. Plaintiffs, defendants, experts and witnesses, if any, are not expected to take the witness stand and undergo detailed cross examination by the parties' counsels. Lawyers may request that experts be heard, but this is not common practice. Even court-appointed masters do not appear before the civil Courts, being content with filing reports.

In civil procedure, only the written briefs bind the Court. Before commercial Courts, the parties can defend themselves and  lead their case orally. When they are represented by their counsel, written briefs are filed.

At the end of the pleadings, trial counsel hand over to the Court a pleading file containing each party's argumentation with a copy of the briefs and evidence already filed and relevant case law. The Court then schedules a date at which the judgment will be rendered.

Once the Court renders its judgment, an official enforceable copy of the judgment is remitted to the prevailing party, who can then have it served on the other party by a process server or by diplomatic channels if the other party is domiciled in a foreign country.

The service date is the starting date of the one month period during which the parties can file an appeal with a two months extension if the party being served is domiciled outside France.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.