The field of dispute resolution in France revolves around three key processes: litigation, arbitration and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods such as conciliation and mediation.
Litigation remains the most familiar method of dispute resolution, with its fixed rules of civil procedure and win-lose approach. French legal tradition is based on civil law, with a public/private law divide governing its legal structures.
The public law branch regulates the points at issue between the country’s numerous administrative agencies and private persons, whereas private law takes on matters of commercial and civil proceedings – essentially all the rest. Throughout our review we focus mainly on the workings of the ordinary courts of civil litigation and their functions for debt collection in France.
The French system of civil and commercial courts is built around a hierarchical three-tier pyramid of inferior courts of general jurisdiction, intermediate appellate courts and the courts of last resort.
At the first level stand side by side both the civil courts, tribunaux d’instances et tribunaux de grandes instance, and the commercial courts, tribunaux de commerce.
As per the Law No. 2019-222 of 23 March 2019 the inferior civil courts have merged under a single tribunaux judiciaire and hold de facto jurisdiction over the private disputes exceeding a fixed threshold of EUR 10,000. There exist, however, certain cases of laws conferring authority of specific cases to other courts.
Commercial courts function a little differently. Commercial courts judges are elected members of the business community as opposed to the traditional French career judge, trained within the French National School for the Judiciary (ENM) and have special jurisdiction over issues between traders, credit institutions and commercial companies, as well as over commercial deeds like promissory notes and bills of exchange.
The Courts of Appeal, Cours d’appel, stand as the second tier of this structure and the first level of appellate review. They are in charge of first hearing the appeals brought against the decisions of the civil and commercial courts.
The Court of Cassation, Court de Cassation, represents the highest level of appeal in the French court system. The specificity of their role lies in the scrutiny, not of the facts of the case, but of the potential legal and procedural of lower court rulings. Trial judges are solely competent on the factual matters of cases.
The discovery process seen in the Common Law system functions differently within the France system where the parties are not bound by a duty of disclosure before the courts. Judges in these cases take on the role of arbiters in the impartial evaluation of the evidence presented by the parties over the course of the trial proceedings. They may request or expedite the submission of evidence in certain cases. However, in instances of commercial disputes, proof is understood in broader terms with all types of evidence deemed relevant as long as specific laws do not stipulate otherwise. These elements of proof range from presumptions with basic facts to witness-based evidence.