Untitled - Sciences Po



Untitled - Sciences Po
Issue No.1 January 2015
Contents this issue
Professor Jean-Bernard Auby and Professor Mireille Delmas-Marty
Professor Olivier Dubos
Developments in French Law
Administrative law:
Recent changes in administrative litigation concerning contracts: on third-party remedies against
administrative contracts
Professor Jean-François Brisson
The Dieudonné case: freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and public order requirements
Professor Aude Rouyère
Civil law :
Compensation for environmental damage under French law: past, present... but what future?
Laurent Bloch
The end of life decision: on the Vincent Lambert case
Cécile Castaing and Marie Lamarche
Marriage and the prohibition on incest
Professor Jean Hauser
Constitutional law :
Recent draft amendments to the Environmental Charter
Florian Savonitto
Consumer law :
The introduction of class actions in French law
Françoise Gonthier
Contract law :
The curious process reforming France's law of obligations
Professor Hélène Boucard
Employment law :
The ban on the wearing of the Islamic veil in creches: the Baby Loup case
Professor Christophe Radé and Marie Peyronnet
Issue No.1 January 2015
French Law in a Globalizing World
Business law :
A step towards the harmonisation of EU law in matters of insolvency
Professor Jean-Luc Vallens
Criminal law :
The influence and false influence of European Union law on French criminal procedure
Amane Gogorza
European law :
Surrogacy agreements: at last, the primacy of the child's interests
Professor Adeline Gouttenoire
The difficulties faced by public bodies in light of competition law
Sébastien Martin
The notion of "public authority" in the recent case law of the European Court of Justice and
its impact on French administrative law
Professor Sébastien Platon
The European Court of Human Rights: an ambiguous comdemnation for a planned repeal
Professor David Scymzcak
Public international law :
The trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, or how the application of the principle of universal
Jurisdiction has led to the very first conviction of a Rwandan genocide fugitive in France
Professor Anne-Marie Tournepiche and Justine Castillo
French Political Life
Political science :
The Front National at the heart of the French political scene and the consequences for the
UMP's failing strategy to win back and remain in power
Clémence Faure and Professor Patrick Troude-Chastenet
A Huron at the Palais-Royal
Professor Jean Rivero, with a commentary by Professor Jean-Bernard Auby
The absurdity of the law, following an exposition of Racine and Kafka
Professor Jean Carbonnier, with a commentary by Professor Jean Hauser
Issue No.1 January 2015
Professor Jean-Bernard Auby and Professor Mireille Delmas-Marty
As a lawyer and a political scientist, Montesquieu famously admired and praised the British
institutions: he thought that they were based upon an admirable system of separation and balance
of powers.
It is then only natural that a periodical based at the University of Bordeaux, aiming to
communicate with the English-speaking world and prepared to uphold the fundamental values of
democracy and the rule of law, would use the name of the Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu,
who was and remains one of the most remarkable figures in Bordeaux’s history.
Now, what is the purpose of this “Montesquieu Law Review”, of which you are discovering the first
issue? The answer is quite simple: it is to give English-speaking lawyers curious to be regularly
informed about the main events occurring in French Law – whether in written law, case law or
doctrine - direct access, in the language of Shakespeare.
The promoters of this review, most of them involved in comparative work, are conscious that while
French Law continues to attract the attention of some international audience because of its specific
past and current features, the number of foreign lawyers who are able to work in the language of
Molière is in steady decline. This, they believe, has to be taken into consideration in legal literature
by spreading information about major developments in French law, on the internet and in English.
Of course, among the scientific benefits they expect from the enterprise, there is not only the
creation of flows of information from French legal sources to English-speaking readers, but also
an encouragement to intellectual dialogue between the French legal tradition –which is part of the
continental one, but possesses its own peculiarities - and other, more or less different, legal
Most contemporary lawyers and analysts of legal globalization are driven to observe a lot of
amazing convergences caused by various harmonization phenomena, ranging from formal
international legislation or jurisprudence to a more inconspicuous cross-fertilization or spillover
effects. These convergences certainly have their limits, and national legal idiosyncrasies still have a
strong say, but they are an important characteristic of this period, and a fundamental contextual
change for all comparative work.
Moreover, what the observation of legal globalization shows is that the differences between the
common law world and the civil law one are not, or perhaps are no longer, this enormous gap that
they were traditionally supposed to be.
In fact, some forerunners have already, some time ago, discerned that legal distances created by
the Channel then by the Atlantic Ocean had, to some extent, been exaggerated. Let us just quote
here F.H. Lawson, who wrote in “A Common Lawyer looks at the Civil Law” (1953): “The more one
studies French law, the more ones realizes that in many ways it resembles the Common Law”.
All lawyers belonging to democratic systems, whether they come from the Anglo-Saxon tradition
or from the continental one, share at least some basic values in the core of which one finds the
separation of powers and the rule of law, of which Montesquieu was one of the main advocates in
It is in the chapter of The Spirit of Laws dedicated to the British Constitution that he wrote: “When
the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of
magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise lest the same monarch or
senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner. Again, there is no
liberty if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and the executive. Were it joined
with the legislative power, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control,
for the judge would then the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might
behave with violence and oppression".
Here are some of the principles on which our readers will certainly converge. Let us be clear: we do
not mean to say that the review will intend to concentrate on constitutional issues: on the
contrary, it will try and inform in all sectors of French law. But these fundamental principles are
certainly their cup of tea, be they public lawyers or private lawyers.
To all of them, present and future, we bid a warm welcome. To those who will join us now, we add
our wishes for a happy 2015.
Issue No.1 January 2015
Professor Olivier Dubos
A review is a collective adventure. This first issue is obviously not the beginning of that adventure,
but it is its first expression. It was in the course of a conversation on the future of French law
faculties that Marie-Claire Ponthoreau floated this idea, which I hastened to seize upon. It quickly
emerged that, for the Montesquieu Law Review to be a publication in the spirit of Bordeaux – i.e.
cosmopolitan – it could not be produced exclusively by the city’s legal academics. Professors JeanBernard Auby and Mireille Delmas-Marty, both of whom have worked so tirelessly in promoting
French legal culture, graciously agreed straightaway to chair the Scientific Board.
But a review, like a child, does not just need parents; it must also have godparents. Leading
personalities in France and overseas, known throughout the legal world, have agreed to stand as
the review’s “godparents”. Yet more will join their ranks over time. The review will therefore have
to take up the challenge that such a gift represents. In order to guarantee its quality, the MLR had
to have a Scientific Board composed of both French and foreign colleagues, all acknowledged
specialists in their chosen fields, tasked with ensuring the accuracy and relevance of the
information and discussions contained in the articles; those asked were generous enough to
answer the call.
A review also consists of a group of authors. My colleagues at the University of Bordeaux’s Faculty
of Law and Political Science have shown the greatest enthusiasm for this inaugural issue: some
have contributed articles themselves, while others approached colleagues for papers. In order for
the MLR to publish two general issues and two special issues every year, this momentum must be
maintained, and it is our hope that many French and foreign authors will contribute to subsequent
editions. The review would not have seen the light of day without a project manager, Rachael
Singh, whose linguistic and legal skills serve in the translating and editing of articles submitted by
I offer my wholehearted and sincere thanks to all those who have agreed to embark on this
adventure, which is also very efficiently supported by IdEx Bordeaux. It is our hope that the MLR
will garner many loyal friends and readers
Issue No.1 January 2015
Developments in French Law
Administrative law:
Recent changes in administrative litigation concerning contracts: on thirdparty remedies against administrative contracts
Professor Jean-François Brisson, University of Bordeaux
Cases brought before French administrative courts are governed by the distinction, established in
the 19th century by Edouard Laferrière (1), between the contentieux de l’excès de pouvoir
(essentially, judicial review proceedings) in which strict issues of objective legality are raised
before the administrative court; and the plein contentieux (or full remedy proceedings), in which
the court is called upon to rule on the applicants’ subjective rights arising in particular from a
contract. This distinction, built around judicial review, is of paramount importance in terms of its
theoretical scope. It provides a framework and has historically made French administrative cases
famous overseas (2). The recent developments in French administrative case law now highlight the
extent to which its virtues have tended to wane, as shown by the actions brought by third parties
against administrative contracts.
In the context of this study, “third parties” not only means candidates who have been unsuccessful
in the tender process, but also local elected representatives who are members of the deliberative
assembly that authorised the signature of the contract (3); the Prefect, as the representative of the
State; and, more widely, any local citizen, individual or tax payer (4), and associations, public
service users allowed to bring grievances concerning the public service’s operating conditions
before the administrative courts (5).
Traditionally, with the exception of actions brought by the Prefect against local authority
contracts, as provided by law, third parties could not challenge administrative contracts directly.
Actions against administrative contracts were open only to parties who could have such contracts
declared null and void in full remedy proceedings. However, administrative case law has taken
account of the fact that administrative contracts, concluded for public service purposes and in the
context of missions organised by the law, can raise questions of legality. To this end, in its famous
decision in Martin of 4 October 1905, the Conseil d’Etat accepted that third parties could use an
action for judicial review to challenge unilateral acts related to the disputed contractual situation,
which the court then identified as not being intrinsically connected to the contract (6). The theory
of l’acte détachable (or "separable administrative decision") was born. This case-law strategy
allowed applications to be made to administrative courts for the annulment of decisions
authorising or preparing for the signature of an administrative contract and, through an additional
legal artifice, even the annulment of the decision to sign the contract which, while it is only
materialised in the signature of the contract, can be separated from it at least on an intellectual
level. In the context of such proceedings, third parties could thus obtain the annulment of an acte
détachable on grounds of its vices propres (inherent defects) or vices résultant du contrat luimême (defects in the contract itself), the content of its clauses or the procurement process.
French legal theorists were not slow in pointing out that the annulments pronounced by
administrative courts in judicial review proceedings were more often done so on grounds of form,
as they did not necessarily - and in practice, only exceptionally – render the contract null and
void(CE 10 Dec. 2003, Institut de recherche pour le développement, Rec., p. 501). Some scholars,
including Marcel Waline (Manuel de Droit administratif, Sirey 1946), even argued in favour of
allowing actions for judicial review against administrative contracts.
The Conseil d’Etat’s case law gradually became more aware of this demand for greater
effectiveness and disputes involving contracts have become increasingly sophisticated in such a
way as to ensure that annulments pronounced in judicial review proceedings not be purely
symbolic but also have effects on illegal contracts. The parties to a contract were thus permitted to
cite the annulment of the acte détachable in order to refuse to enforce an illegal contract (CE, 1
October 1993, Société Le Yacht-club international de Bormes-les-Mimosas) while third parties
were finally permitted to make submissions in judicial review proceedings petitioning the court
either to order the parties to apply for a ruling on the invalidity of the contract, or to cancel the
contract itself where regularisation measures are not possible (CE, 21 February 2011, Société
Ophrys, Communauté d’agglomération Clermont-Communauté, Rec. p. 54).
It is this hundred year-old line of authority, made up of successive adjustments and technical
compromises, which was overturned by the Conseil d’Etat’s decision of 4 April 2014 in
Département de Tarn-et-Garonne. Henceforth, any interested third party may bring full remedy
(rather than judicial review) proceedings before an administrative court with a view to cancelling
the contract itself. However, the fact that this action belongs to the "full remedy proceedings"
category means that any improvement to the litigation position of third parties in contractual
matters is only very relative: indeed, depending on the facts of the case before it, the court
hearing the full remedy action finds itself in a position strictly to define an interest in bringing
proceedings before it; to restrict the bringing of such actions to interested third parties; to strictly
define the interest in bringing an action in contractual cases; to render void some of the legal
grounds raised by third parties; and to modulate the consequences arising from the illegality of
the contract in such a way as to safeguard the stability of contractual relations – to the detriment
of the strict respect for legality, where necessary.
I. A new kind of legal action
The stage for the solution adopted in the decision of 4 April 2014 had been set by an earlier case
which, under the influence in particular of European case law (7) and Directives (8), had opened
the possibility of directly challenging a signed contract to those candidates who had been
unsuccessful in a tender process (CE, Ass. 16 July 2007, Société Tropic Travaux Signalisation). The
2014 decision extends this solution to all third parties but within the framework of a new litigation
configuration which completely stands apart from the traditional balances found in the Conseil’s
case law.
A. A specific action justified by the rejection of the judicial review litigation model in contractual
The Conseil d’Etat chose not to open the possibility of bringing judicial review proceedings to third
parties. The reasons for this refusal lay in the Conseil’s judicial policy as, technically, such
a solution would have been possible. Since 1982, French law on decentralisation has provided
that the Prefect of a département may bring an appeal against local contracts. This appeal has
historically been compared to actions for judicial review; it is only recently that, in order to prepare
for the turnaround already under way, case law re-characterised it as a recours de pleine
jurisdiction or full remedy action (CE, 23 December 2011, Ministre de l’Intérieur, de l’Outre-mer,
des collectivités territoriales et de l’immigration, Rec p. 662). Furthermore, it is still possible to
bring an action for judicial review of certain clauses contained in administrative contracts, namely
those that the court characterises as regulatory in that, contained as they are in the contract, their
purpose is to define not the relationship between the parties to the contract, but rather the
organizational conditions for the public service delegated by government (CE. Ass., 10 July 1996,
Cayzeele, Rec. p. 274). As they set the law governing the service in question, they could very easily
feature in a separate document adopted unilaterally by the delegating authority. Finally, French
case law again allows actions to be brought for judicial review of civil service staff contracts
insofar as the content of these formally contractual acts is directly and entirely dictated by
regulatory texts (CE sect., 30 October 1998, Ville de Lisieux).
The obstacles to the expansion of actions for judicial review in contractual matters are the result
of the Conseil d’Etat’s efforts to safeguard the judicial review paradigm and maintain a distinction
between the two actions that is other than strictly formal in its scope. Indeed, it was not feasible to
extend the action to third parties without making a number of adjustments as to admissibility:
specifically, as to the understanding of "interest in bringing an action", traditionally very broadly
understood in judicial review proceedings; and as to the nature of the legal grounds likely to be
raised in challenging the contract (Jacques-Henri Stahl, RFDA 1999 p. 128, Conclusions sur
Conseil d'Etat, Section, 30 octobre 1998, Ville de Lisieux ). Proceeding with such adjustments in
respect of actions for judicial review would have rendered the two different actions
indistinguishable, which the Conseil d’Etat did not want. Attached as it was to the classification of
the various actions and upholding the position adopted in 2007 (9), it therefore opted to open the
possibility of a full remedy action, the contours of which it could define as it saw fit, stating as
much in one of its longest ever obiter dicta in its decision of 4 April 2014.
B. A full remedy action better suited to the specific features of contractual litigation
The security of the contract, which guarantees the continuity of the public service in particular,
includes a filter for access to the contract judge. Indeed, the situation in which the contract, as a
bilateral commitment (this is itself important), is pointlessly exposed to third-party claims should
be avoided. This is precisely what the Assembly of the Conseil d’Etat set out to do, giving details
of the procedural arrangements for the new action.
Firstly, the new action replaces those actions against actes détachables previously open to third
parties, which may no longer be brought as they fall within the remit of the exception known as a
recours parallèle, or parallel remedy. Under this exception, owing to the facilities of a judicial
review action, the latter may not be brought while another procedural route is not specially
provided before the administrative court. Thus only signed contracts may be challenged in full
remedy actions, and even then only within a period of two months following the completion of the
advertising formalities attached to the contract. It is now only during this sole action against a
contract that third parties may challenge acts prior to the contract, such as procedural acts before
a contractor is selected, unless such challenges are brought as part of a référé contractuel or a
référé précontractuel (summary proceedings relating to contractual or pre-contractual matters)
provided under French public procurement law (Articles L.551-1 to 3 and L.551-13 to 16 of the
Code de justice administrative), the illegality of which matters affect the contract as a whole.
Secondly, it falls to the court to assess the applicants’ interest in bringing an action in a manner
adapted to the scope of the contractual situations in question. The Conseil d’Etat gives a
particularly restrictive reading of the same, which includes companies tendering for contracts
covered up until now by the Société Tropic decision. The judgment of 4 April 2014 identifies two
categories of third party: the requérants privilégiés - priority third parties - and requérants
ordinaires, or ordinary third parties. Priority third parties do not have to establish any interest in
bringing an action; their standing will suffice. This concerns Prefects in their capacity as State
representatives, owing in particular to the powers that they hold under Article 72 of the
Constitution giving them responsibility for overseeing the acts of local authorities. It also applies
to elected representatives, members of the deliberative assembly of the local authority that signed
the contract, for reasons not explicitly mentioned by the Conseil d’Etat, but which undoubtedly
result from the possibility offered to opposition representatives to overcome failures on the part of
Prefects and use the full remedy action as a legal weapon for the purposes of political debate.
Conversely, ordinary applicants will have to establish a sufficiently characterised interest in
bringing the action and prove to the court that their personal situation is "likely to be adversely
affected in a sufficiently direct and definite way” by the conclusion of the contract in question. This
admissibility requirement is halfway between the definition of the interest in bringing an action in
judicial review proceedings and that of the droit lésé or infringed right encountered in disputes
concerning rights. It concerns, first of all, candidates who have been unsuccessful in the tender
process. Actions brought by such parties, which may also include a référé-suspension (or
application for suspension) as for any other third party, will now be examined subject to
conditions similar to those of the référé précontractuel and, therefore, more restrictively than the
Conseil d’Etat had considered up until then following the decision in Tropic, which had admitted
actions brought by companies that had simply intended to tender for the contract in question.
Secondly, it concerns all other third parties: third parties with no particular standing, citizens,
service users, taxpayers, associations, all of whom will however have difficulty in satisfying the
subjective requirements of the interest condition. They may then find themselves deprived of any
possibility of challenging an illegal contractual situation. Quite beyond the regression in terms of
democratic life that would result from such a restrictive approach, it is in no way certain that
contractual litigation stands to make any gains in terms of consistency: either third parties will
turn to the criminal courts to denounce illegal contractual practices, or they will ensure that their
challenge to the contract in question is brought by sympathetic elected representatives released
from any specific requirements. One can imagine that the contract judge will have to give a broad
assessment of their interest, failing which the option of bringing an action for judicial review of
the actes détachables will be open to them once more.
II. A new definition of the role played by the administrative contract judge
The subjectivisation of disputes carries with it a decline in issues of legality brought before the
administrative court dealing with an illegal contractual situation. It emerges from the
recommendations drawn from the decision of 4 April 2014 that the principle of legality has not
been “erased” as such, but must instead be reconciled with other requirements, in particular the
clarity of contractual situations. It is for the contract judge to undertake a permanent exercise in
proportionality, taking account of the relationship between the interest affected and the alleged
illegality, together with the seriousness of the illegality in light of the contractual situation. There
follows a sort of assertion of variable legality: variable because, as a function of the applicant’s
situation, not all illegalities are enforceable against the administration; and variable because, as a
function of the gravity of the vice or defect affecting it, not all illegal contracts will be censured.
A. Not all grounds of illegality can necessarily be relied upon before the contract judge
This decline in issues of legality in disputes brought before the contract judge is reflected in the
fact that third parties are no longer permitted to rely upon all sorts of illegalities. This is
undoubtedly one of the most notable innovations introduced by the Département de Tarn et
Garonne decision. Third parties may only rely on defects relating directly to the interest affected.
The consequence is that the applicants’ interest in bringing an action is no longer assessed in light
of their submissions – the application made to the judge for the cancellation of the contract – but
rather in relation to the grounds argued in support of those submissions. This solution is taken
directly from the référé précontractuel regime (Code de Justice administrative, Article L.551-1 and
subsequent) under which the Conseil d’Etat has, since 2008, required an unsuccessful candidate
applying to the interim relief judge to rely solely on those breaches which, in light of their scope
and the stage in the tender process to which they relate, “are likely to have affected or run the risk
of affecting them, be it indirectly, by giving an advantage to a rival business” (10). This is the exact
opposite of the Conseil d’Etat’s ruling in the context of its Tropic case law (CE, opinion, 11 April
2012, Société Gouelle). There are now only two exceptions to the limits imposed on the grounds
to be argued. Firstly, the rule does not apply to priority third parties who do not have a specific
interest in bringing an action before the contract judge. Secondly, the decision reserves a
particular fate for particularly serious defects: insofar as the court may raise them of its own
motion, third parties are also invited to rely on them. This concerns the illegality of contractual
clauses, defects of consent and, more widely, any other defect as the judge may identify as being
particularly serious. The issue of whether breaches of the rules relating to advertising and
competition constitute a particularly serious defect will be one of the first for case law to decide,
as answers given by the court in the context of actions for invalidity brought by the parties (CE
Ass., 28 December 2009, Commune de Béziers, GAJA, supra, p. 939) are not transferrable, other
than to consider that the same reasoning will guide the judge who must necessarily consider the
seriousness of the defect, and not solely in light of the circumstances in which it was committed.
A new conception of the principle of legality is emerging. Legality in contractual matters is now
split in two with, on the one hand, public order in contractual matters; and, on the other, an
attenuated legality which depends on the situation of the third parties who rely on it, a legality
that is in some ways subjective and does not exist per se but rather in light of the dispute to be
ruled upon by the judge.
B. Not all illegalities identified will result in the cancellation of the contract
This duplication of the principle of legality is supported by the powers and prerogatives that the
Conseil d’Etat’s Assembly has given to the new contract judge, to whom it falls when identifying
an illegality “to assess the importance and consequences thereof”. This discretion is not an
innovation: it had already been granted in 2009 to judges hearing applications for the cancellation
of a contract brought by the parties themselves. The Conseil d’Etat has therefore pursued its
endeavours to unify contractual litigation. On that basis, it allows the contract judge hearing an
application brought by a third party to modulate the effects of any declaration on the invalidity of
the contract. A number of solutions are consequently open to the judge. It is possible, first of all,
to find that the illegalities committed do not prevent the execution of the contract, as these have
in no way influenced the content of the contract or deprived third parties of a procedural
guarantee. Otherwise, it falls to the judge to invite the parties to take remedial action where the
continuation of the contract nonetheless seems possible. This relates in particular to certain
formal or procedural defects, which case law already allows to be remedied. It is only where no
remedial measures are possible that the contract judge will have to consider terminating the
contract. However, the cancellation of the contract may only be considered subject to extreme
caution: the immediate cancellation of the contract is thus reserved for sanctioning the most
serious defects. The judge must check beforehand that such a decision, which is necessary in
order to restore legality, does not have an excessive adverse effect on the general interest; failing
which, the judge may order either the prospective termination of the contract or the cancellation
thereof (in whole or in part) but with a deferred effect so as to allow the contracting authority to
take the measures necessary for the proper management of the service in question. In any case,
even when inviting the parties to take remedial measures, the judge may also grant a third party’s
request for damages, thus turning what had been an issue of legality into one of compensation –
with the proviso (and it is an important one) that undoubtedly, just as before, only those
candidates who were unsuccessful in the tender process will be able to establish compensable
While it highlights the inexorable decline of actions for judicial review, the expansion of the
administrative court’s role ultimately conceals a particular form of constancy in the Conseil d’Etat’s
judicial policy. Contract security remains the judge’s priority. It was before, in a kind of fool’s
bargain which saw third party actions succeed without the life of the contract necessarily being
threatened, even when the contract was defective and when the judge ruling on the legality thereof
would have acknowledged as much for the moral satisfaction of the interested third party (11).
And it is now, in a manner more clearly claimed, since the new action has been expressly
calibrated by the Assembly of the Conseil d’Etat to allow illegal contracts to be safeguarded as far
as possible. However, this is a kind of democratic conception of administrative litigation which,
together actions for judicial review, tends to disappear only to be replaced by a more managerial
approach to economic issues raised by the survival of contracts concluded by public
(1) Traité de la juridiction administrative et des recours contentieux, 2nd ed. 1896 (reprint LGDJ
(2) This, at least, is the opinion held by French legal scholars - and in particular by Gaston Jèze, in
"Les libertés individuelles", Annuaire de l'institut international de droit public, 1929, p. 180,
according to whom judicial review is "the most effective, economic and practical weapon in the
world to defend individual liberties".
(3) CE, 4 August 1905, Martin, in Grands arrêts de la jurisprudence administrative (GAJA), 19th
édition, 2013, p.88. The Conseil d’Etat’s most important decisions are also available in French
at http://www.conseil-etat.fr/Decisions-Avis-Publications/Selection-contentieuse while a
search facility is available in English at http://english.conseil-etat.fr/Judging
(4) CE, 29 March 1901, Casanova, GAJA, p. 50
(5) CE, 21 December 1906, Syndicat des propriétaires et contribuables du quartier Croix de Seguey
–Tivoli, GAJA p.98
(6) CE, 4 August 1905, Martin, above, GAJA, p. 88
(7) Case C-503/04, Commission v Germany [2007] ECR I-06153, Opinion of Advocate General
(8) Directive 2007/66/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2007
with regard to improving the effectiveness of review procedures concerning the award of public
contracts, transposed to Articles L.551-1 and subsequent of the Code de Justice
administrative (Administrative Justice Code), available in French and in English at
(9) See D. Casas, conclusions sur CE, Ass. 16 juillet 2007, Société Tropic Travaux Signalisation,
Rec. p. 360
(10) CE sect., 3 October 2008, SMIRGEOMES, conclusions by Dacosta, Rec. p. 324
(11) Conclusions by Stalh, above.
Annex: Excerpt from CE, 4 April 2014, Département du Tarn et Garonne, Application n°358994
On actions available to third parties challenging the validity of the contract:
2. Whereas, independently of actions available to the parties to an administrative contract and
available actions for judicial review challenging the regulatory clauses of a contract or the référé
contractuel judge on the basis of Article L. 551-13 and subsequent of the Code de justice
administrative, any third party to an administrative contract whose interests are likely to be
adversely affected in a sufficiently direct and definite way by the conclusion thereof or by its
clauses may bring a full remedy action before the contract judge challenging the validity of the
contract or of some of its non-regulatory clauses which are separable therefrom; this action
before the contract judge is also open to members of the deliberative body of the local authority
or group of local authorities concerned, as well as the State representative in the département, in
exercising a review of legality; the applicants may potentially include in the action brought and on
the basis of Article L. 521-1 of the Code de justice administrative, an application to suspend the
execution of the contract; such an action must be brought, even when the disputed contract
relates to public works, within a period of two months as of the completion of the appropriate
advertising formalities, in particular by giving notice mentioning both the conclusion of the
contract and the arrangements for consulting the same whilst respecting confidential matters
protected by law; the legality of the choice of contractor, the deliberative process authorising the
conclusion of the contract and the decision to sign it, may only be challenged by bringing the
action defined above; however, when reviewing the legality of an administrative contract, the State
representative may bring an action for the judicial review of the legality of such acts until such
time as the contract is concluded, upon which date ongoing actions which have yet to be tried
become devoid of purpose;
3. Whereas the State representative in the département and the members of the deliberative body
of the local authority or of the group of local authorities concerned, given the interests that they
represent, may rely on any grounds in support of the action defined above; other third parties may
only rely on defects in direct relation with the interest that they claim has been affected, or defects
so serious that the court would identify them of its own motion;
4. Whereas, when a third party brings an action in the circumstances defined above, with
submissions challenging the validity of the contract or some of the clauses thereof, it falls to the
contract judge, having verified that the party bringing the action other than the State
representative in the département or a member of the deliberative body of the local authority or of
the group of authorities concerned claims to have an interest likely to be affected in a sufficiently
direct and definite way and that the irregularities criticised are amongst those upon which they
may rely, where the judge notes the existence of defects affecting the validity of the contract, to
assess the importance and the consequences thereof; it therefore falls to the judge, taking into
consideration the nature of such defects, either to decide that these do not prevent the execution
of the contract, or to invite the parties to take remedial measures within a timeframe set by the
judge, with the exception of terminating or rescinding the contract; in the presence of
irregularities that cannot be covered by a remedial measure and which do not allow a contract to
be executed, it falls to the judge to order, where necessary with delayed effect, having verified that
his decision will not have an excessive adverse effect on the general interest, either the
termination of the contract or, where the content of the contract is illegal or the contract is
affected by a defect of consent or by any other defect of such seriousness that the court should
identify it of its own motion, the cancellation of the contract in whole or in part; finally, even where
he has invited the parties to take remedial measures, the judge may grant a request, if made, for
the compensation of damage resulting from the infringement of adversely affected rights;
5. Whereas in theory it falls to the judge to apply the rules defined above which, taken as whole,
do not impose restrictions on the fundamental right that is the right to turn to the courts;
however, in light of the imperative to ensure legal certainty and so prevent any excessive
infringement of existing contractual relations, the action defined above may not be brought by
third parties who did not benefit therefrom and, in accordance with the abovementioned
modalities, said action may only be brought against contracts signed as of the date on which this
decision is handed down; the existence of an action against administrative contracts which, aside
from prefectural referrals, was open only to unsuccessful candidates prior to this decision, does
not render devoid of purpose any actions for judicial review as may be brought by other third
parties against separable administrative acts related to contracts prior to the date of this decision;
as a result, the present case has retained its purpose […].
Issue No.1 January 2015
Administrative law:
The Dieudonné case: freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and
public order requirements
Professor Aude Rouyère, CERDARE, University of Bordeaux
The three temporary orders handed down by the Conseil d’Etat on 9, 10 and 11 January 2014 (1)
concerning the live stage show performed by Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala (known simply as
Dieudonné) have had extraordinary repercussions, on a par with the legal and political issues
that they raise.
At the heart of the litigation was a stage show, titled “Le Mur” ("The Wall"), which was first
performed in 2013 in Paris and scheduled to tour various other French cities. The live show
contains openly anti-Semitic views mixed in with more general points, jibes against well-known
Jewish personalities and jokes about the Holocaust. The “artist” is not unknown in France – far
from it. For over ten years, be it in stage shows or other media appearances, Dieudonné has
broadcast anti-Semitic views in a more or less allusive manner yet still sufficiently clearly for them
to become his signature brand of “humour”… and justify a series of criminal convictions.
However, the penalties imposed were not enforced and the stage shows allowed Dieudonné to
continue to overstep the mark set down by French criminal law. Faced with a legal and political
situation that was problematic to say the least, the Ministry of the Interior issued a circular to all
préfets on 6 January 2014 (2), the purpose of which is expressed in terms that leave the reader in
no doubt as to the concerns behind it: “Lutte contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme-manifestations
et réunions publiques-spectacles de M. Dieudonné M’BALA M’BALA” (the fight against racism and
anti-Semitism – public meetings and demonstrations – shows performed by Dieudonné M’BALA
The text merits examination as it forms the very basis of the intervention on the part of the
authorities which led to the three orders handed down by the Conseil d’Etat. Firstly, the Minister
recalls therein that the response to such views must above all be criminal proceedings, in
accordance with the provisions of the Law of 29 July 1881 on the Freedom of the press. The
Minister then states that the administrative authority also has powers to quell public unrest and
that, while freedom of expression must be guaranteed, it must also be reconciled with other
constitutional principles or objectives (including the preservation of public order). Mention is also
made of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
From this starting point, it is established that “respect for freedom of expression does not prevent
the authority vested with power to enforce legislation from forbidding an activity, on an
exceptional basis, where only a measure of that nature can prevent public unrest”. Finally, the
Minister recalls the conditions, as established in case law, under which the relevant administrative
authority may prevent a meeting or show from going ahead, i.e. on the one hand "the risk of
serious public unrest resulting from this performance” and, on the other hand, “the impossibility
of preventing such unrest by means of the appropriate enforcement measures which are less
intrusive than a ban” (3). The Minister goes on to stipulate the components of the risk of public
unrest in the event of a performance in cases such as that of Dieudonné, namely inclusion in a
series of performances having already given rise to criminal offences; the recurrent and therefore
foreseeable nature of the facts in question; and, finally, the possible affront to human dignity, a
component of public order (4).
The message sent by the Minister was clearly received: the performances scheduled in three towns
were banned in quick succession on 9, 10 and 11 January 2014 by the administrative authorities.
In each instance, an interim application was made to the court on the basis of Article L.512-2 of
the Code de justice administrative (Administrative Justice Code). The suspension of the order
banning the performance in the first case and the dismissal of the application for suspension in
the two remaining cases were the subject of an appeal brought before the Conseil d’Etat, which
overturned the first decision and confirmed the other two. This is tantamount to rescuing (if we
may call it that) the orders banning performances given by Dieudonné.
We will comment on these decisions in light of the legal argument put forward by the Conseil
d’Etat, emphasising those elements that have contributed to markedly different doctrinal points of
view. Although the political stakes of the stance adopted by the Conseil are far from insignificant,
it is indeed in the legal arena that the sparring began between those who defend the decision and
those who view it as an unjustifiable break with established case law. In such a context, our
commentary will not limit itself to reiterating the grounds of the Conseil d’Etat’s decision, but will
also give an assessment of the same.
A few words beforehand on the application made under Article L.512-2 of the CJA, created by Law
n°2000-597 of 30 June 2000, which provides:
“Where such an application for interim measures is brought before it on grounds of urgency, the
court hearing the application may order any and all measures necessary to safeguard a
fundamental freedom with which, it is alleged, a public law body, or a private law body responsible
for the management of a public service, has gravely and unlawfully interfered in the exercise of
one of its powers. The court will give its ruling within a period of forty-eight hours”.
This is a major procedural advance which provides administrative courts with an essential tool in
cases concerning the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. The Dieudonné cases – just
as in other recent decisions (5) – also show that a référé liberté (an urgent application for the
protection of fundamental rights) may impose a duty on the courts, in highly complex situations
heightened by controversy, to take steps that are tantamount to taking the place of the
What are the elements in the three orders issued by the Conseil d’Etat that, quite beyond
the political dimension, are evidence of a noteworthy trend in case law? In amongst all the aspects
that can be drawn from these decisions, there are two essential points: one concerning the
public order perspective, the other on how to reconcile the latter with rights and freedoms. On the
one hand, there is the confirmation of the place occupied by the principle of human dignity
amongst the various components of the concept of public order. On the other, there is the
assertion made in the first order that the high degree of probability that a criminal offence will be
committed constitutes a threat of public unrest.
1. The legal principle of human dignity as a central component of public order
Public order is a situation that can only be grasped through its opposite, i.e. public disorder or
unrest. The latter may manifest itself in the form of various breaches, which may be classed as
tangible or intangible breaches.
According to Maurice Hauriou, in his Précis de droit administratif et de droit public (12th edition,
1933), “[p]ublic order […] is material, external order, a state of affairs considered the opposite to
disorder, peace as the opposite to disturbance […]”. It may be thus understood by means of the
classic components of general public order, being public peace, public security and public health.
Intangible public order or disorder has been established in French case law for some time, on the
basis of a conception of public morality, being a synthesis of a group of established values at a
given time and within an identified community. The relativity of this concept, which is used in light
of local circumstances, serves to prevent a general public morality from being set by means of
police measures.
The emergence of respect for human dignity as a component of public order, in the 1995
Commune de Morsang-sur-Orge decision in the "dwarf-tossing" case, was a development in case
law that sparked much debate, not only regarding the reference itself, but also because the limits
pertaining to the relativity of intangible disorder were notably absent. This fact was openly
presented as “an absolute concept” (6) independent of specific local circumstances. The danger
presented to rights and freedoms by the manipulation of an objectivized conception of dignity was
not lost on some commentators, who viewed the decision as a licence for police authorities to
intervene in the private, or even the intimate, sphere.
After stressing that "the reality and gravity of the risks of public unrest mentioned in the contested
order are established", the Dieudonné orders once again use the reference to human dignity as the
basis of the breach of public order. Therein lies one of the interesting elements of the decisions,
but the latter also and above all holds in the conception of human dignity held here and which
stands in stark contrast with the 1995 case law. First of all, the initial decision invokes the “values
and principles, particularly of human dignity, enshrined by the Declaration of the Right of Man and
the Citizen, and by the republican tradition” (7), while the latter two mention the “values and
principles, such as human dignity”.
It may be deduced that human dignity could be supplemented by other values and principles.
We can see above all – and this is central to the case – that in order to ban Dieudonné’s live
stage show, the arguments put forward by the Conseil d’Etat state that the show contains
"anti-Semitic views, which incite to racial hatred and, in breach of the principle of human
dignity, condone the discrimination, persecution and extermination perpetrated over the course of
the Second World War”. Here lays a remarkable difference as compared with the “dwarf-tossing”
case, in which the court did not offer up an “objectivized” conception of human dignity, but rather
one that in reality fell within the scope of its own discretion. This is a breach of the concept of
dignity that does not lend itself to much debate in light of the values that are now protected in our
society and punishable under criminal law. The difference is crucial as such a breach of the
concept of dignity is based on a simple finding by the court.
2. Criminal offences and administrative police
While the existence of a criminal offence (Article 24 of the Law of 29 July 1881 on the freedom of
the press) consisting in condoning crimes against humanity and in the incitement "to
discrimination, hatred or violence towards a person or a group of persons because of their origins
or their membership or non-membership of a specific ethnicity, nation, race or religion" provides a
legal basis for breaches of the principle of human dignity, the link established between the
intervention of an administrative police measure as radical as a ban and the risk of that criminal
offence being contested is legally dubious. Moreover, it is this aspect that has fuelled the liveliest
criticism of the Conseil’s orders.
The Conseil d’Etat argued in the first order – having identified the reality and gravity of
the risks of public unrest and the serious risk of repeated and grave violations of the respect
for values and principles, particularly of human dignity – “that it falls moreover to the
administrative authority to take such measures as to prevent the commission of criminal offences”.
It is therefore a matter of including, within the scope of public unrest, the fact that it falls to
administrative police authorities to prevent the commission of a criminal offence.
The arguments against that line of reasoning are not, it must be said, lacking in relevance. The
rights and freedoms in question are part of a "repressive", i.e. liberal, system of freedoms, by
virtue of which those rights and freedoms would not be subject of an a priori review by the
administrative authority; the persons benefiting from such rights or freedoms are only exposed on
the intervention of a criminal court where a right is exercised in a way that is against the law, i.e.
the commission of a criminal offence. In the present case, the ban on Dieudonné’s show to prevent
the line drawn by the law from being crossed obviously poses problems, by instituting a preventive
system. The opposing argument was that it was a matter of simply punishing such offences
systematically once, and only once, these had indeed been committed.
It is clear that the role of the administrative police should not include anticipating all possible,
potential or probably breaches of the law, at the risk of switching all rights and freedoms into a
highly restrictive system.
However, it would appear that the facts of the Dieudonné case are part of an exceptional scenario
in which, as emphasised by the court, the public unrest constituted by the commission of criminal
offences – and by no means insignificant ones - is in this case sufficiently likely, even certain
(being in some ways the sinister “hallmark” of the show itself), for the administrative police
authorities to be able and even have a duty to intervene. Indeed, the only possible measure would
be to ban such an assembly. The case is extreme but not entirely unprecedented, the
administrative authorities having previously been entrusted with a similar task by the law.
In terms of their legal basis, the orders are fully justified. If we want such scenarios (i.e. criminal
offences “performed” on stage and radical response on the part of public authorities) to remain
the exception, we cannot, for all that, invalidate the exceptional solutions that they demand.
There is, in these decisions of the Conseil d’Etat, a courageous firmness in the apparently (but
only apparently) paradoxical defence of fundamental rights and freedoms.
(1) CE ord 9 January 2014 req n°374508, CE ord 10 January 2014 req n°374528, CE ord 11 January
2014 req n°374552
(2) NOR: INTK1400238C, available in French on the Légifrance website
(3) Cf. The Conseil d’Etat’s landmark decision in Benjamin of 19 May 1933 req n° 17413 17520
(4) Cf. CE 27 October 1995 Commune de Morsang sur Orge req n° 136727
(5) Cf. CE 14 February 2014 Mme Lambert req n° 375081, 375090, 375091
(6) Cf. the conclusions of Patrick Frydman
(7) Cf. Mme Hoffman-Glemane, 16 February 2009 N° 315499, featured in the order’s
endorsements and using that same phrasing
Conseil d'Etat, ORD., 11 January 2014, SARL LES PRODUCTION DE LA PLUME and MD, application
number 374552
Given the application, filed on 11 January 2014 with the Judicial Section of the Conseil d'Etat by the
limited company (SARL) "Les Productions de la Plume" whose registered office is 1, rue des
Volaillers, Saint-Lubin-de-la-Haye (28410) by MD, resident at ... Paris; the applicants ask the
interim relief judge of the Conseil d'Etat to:
1) set aside Order No. 1400080 of 11 January 2014 by which the interim relief judge of the
Administrative Court at Orléans, acting on the basis of Article L. 521-2 of the Code de justice
administrative, dismissed their request for the suspension of the execution of the decree of 9
January 2014 the mayor of Orléans prohibiting the performance of the show "The Wall" by MD,
scheduled for Saturday 11 January 2014 at Orléans;
2) grant the application made at first instance;
3) order the Minister of the Interior and the Prefect of Le Loiret to put the appropriate police
measures in place;
4) order the town of Orléans to pay them the sum of 4,500 euros;
It is argued that:
The urgency condition is met, as the show is scheduled for tonight;
The same applies to the serious infringement of a fundamental freedom;
That indeed the order issued by the mayor of Orleans was not preceded by an adversarial
procedure with the applicants and is not sufficiently justified, failing to note the inability to
prevent possible disturbances to public order by the establishment of police measures;
It is a misuse of power, the mayor having followed the instructions of the Minister of the
Interior ignoring the legal regime of freedom of assembly; and the risk of disturbing public
order has been brought about by people hostile to the performance of the show;
The order itself is not sufficiently substantiated;
Given the contested order;
Given the separate memorandum of law filed on 11 January 2014 with the Judicial Section of the
Conseil d'Etat by "Les Productions de la Plume" and MD, pursuant to Article 23-5 of Ordinance No.
58 -1067 of 7 November 1958; the company "Les Productions de la Plume" and MD ask the
interim relief judge of the Conseil d'Etat to refer the issue of the compliance of the Conseil d'Etat's
Decision No. 136727 of 27 October 1995, Commune de Morsang-sur-Orge, with the rights and
freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution to the Constitutional Council;
They argue that this decision is applicable to the dispute and is contrary to Articles 6, 10 and 11
of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 27 August 1789;
Given the statement, filed on 11 January 2014, in which the Minister of the Interior requests that
the Conseil d'Etat dismiss the application on the grounds relied upon at first instance by the
Prefect of Le Loiret;
Given the other materials on the case file;
Given the Constitution, including its Preamble and Article 61-1;
Given the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;
Given the Penal Code;
Given the Code général des collectivités territoriales;
Given Ordinance 58-1067 of 7 November 1958;
Given the Law of 30 June 1881 on freedom of assembly;
Given the Law of 29 July 1881 on the freedom of the press;
Given the Code de justice administrative;
After summoning, on the one hand, the company "Les Productions de la Plume" and MD and, on
the other hand, the municipality of Orleans and the Minister of the Interior, to a public hearing;
Given the record of the public hearing on January 11, 2014 at 4:00pm, during which were heard:
Maître Ricard, lawyer to the Conseil d'Etat and the Court of Cassation, counsel for the
company "Les Productions de la Plume" and MD;
Representatives of the company "Les Productions de la Plume" and MD;
Maître Hazan, lawyer to the Conseil d'Etat and the Court of Cassation, counsel for the town
of Orléans;
The representative of the Minister of the Interior;
at the end of which the interim relief judge closed the inquiry;
1. Whereas under Article L. 521-2 of the Code de justice administrative: "Where such an
application for interim measures is brought before it on grounds of urgency, the court hearing the
application may order any and all measures necessary to safeguard a fundamental freedom with
which, it is alleged, a public law body, or a private law body responsible for the management of a
public service, has gravely and unlawfully interfered in the exercise of one of its powers. The court
will give its ruling within a period of forty-eight hours" and that under Article L. 522-1 of the
Code: "The court shall rule at the conclusion of written or oral arguments in adversarial
proceedings. When asked to order, modify or halt the measures to which Articles L.521-1 and
L.521-2 refer, the court will immediately inform the parties of the date and time of the public
hearing (...) ";
2. Whereas, by the contested Order, the judge of the Administrative Court at Orléans dismissed
the application of SARL "Les Productions de la Plume" and MD for the suspension of the execution
of the Order of 9 January 2014 issued by the mayor of Orléans prohibiting the show "The Wall",
scheduled to be performed there on Saturday 11 January 2014;
On the defence statement made by the Minister of the Interior:
3. Whereas the Minister has a sufficient interest in maintaining the contested order; his statement
is therefore admissible;
On the appeal brought by the company "Les Productions de la Plume" and Mr. M'Bala M'Bala:
Regarding the preliminary ruling on constitutionality:
4. Whereas under the first paragraph of Article 23-5 of the Ordinance of 7 November 1958 on the
organic law on the Constitutional Council: "The grounds alleging that a legislative provision
infringes the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution can be raised (...) in the course
of proceedings before the Conseil d'Etat (...) ";
It follows from the wording of these provisions that a preliminary ruling on the issue of
constitutionality can only be directed against a legislative provision; that the issue of
constitutionality raised by the company "Les Productions de la Plume" and Dieudonne M'Bala M'B is
directed not against any legislative provision, but against a decision of the Conseil d'Etat; it is,
therefore, inadmissible;
As regards the other grounds:
5. Whereas, as recalled by the interim relief judge of the Administrative Court, the exercise of
freedom of expression is a prerequisite for democracy and one of the guarantees of respect for
other rights and freedoms; it is for the authorities in charge of administrative police to take the
measures necessary for the exercise of the freedom of assembly;
that any interference in the exercise of these fundamental freedoms must be necessary,
appropriate and proportionate for the purposes of maintaining public order;
6. Whereas, to prohibit the performance of the show "The Wall" in Orléans, previously performed at
the Théâtre de la Main d'Or in Paris, the mayor of Orléans noted in particular that this show, as
designed, contains anti-Semitic views that shame members of the Jewish community and makes
disgraceful references to the Holocaust; that the contested order recalls that MD was the subject
of nine criminal convictions, seven of which are final, for views of that nature, and he has made
clear his desire to continue in that same vein; that the order notes, furthermore, that the holding
of this show is likely to incite racial hatred and racial discrimination, in a context of exacerbated
controversy between supporters and opponents of Mr. M'Bala M'Bala and, beyond that, between
supporters and opponents of the messages he conveys;
7. Whereas, under the very terms of Article L. 521-2 of the Code de justice administrative, the
exercise by the interim relief judge of his powers under said article is subject to the serious and
manifest nature of the unlawfulness of an infringement of or interference in a fundamental
freedom; in this regard, the fact, contradicted by the evidence, that the disputed order was not
preceded by an adversarial procedure and would not be sufficiently substantiated is, in any event,
not likely to characterize unlawfulness of that kind;
8. Whereas in light the evidence before it, the interim relief judge ruling at first instance referred
considered, correctly, that in view of the planned show, as it was announced and scheduled, the
allegations that the views constituting criminal offences, likely to cause serious harm to the
respect of values and principles such as human dignity and provoke hatred and racial
discrimination, raised at meetings held in Paris, would not be repeated in Orléans do not suffice to
prevent a serious risk that the planned show itself constitutes a threat of such a nature to public
order; that the evidence adduced on appeal, particularly the exchanges during the public hearing,
are not such as to cast doubt on that assessment; that the allegation, which cannot, moreover, be
regarded as established by the investigation, that Mr. M'Bala M'Bala could perform a different show
in Orléans does not affect the legality of the decision prohibiting the performance of the show
"The Wall", the suspension of which is requested;
9. Whereas, when the reality of such a risk is sufficiently established, on the evidence put before
the interim relief judge, and where the deployment of police forces is not sufficient to breaches of
public order of such a nature as those in question here, which consist in inciting racial hatred and
racial discrimination, the mayor cannot be considered as having issued a manifestly unlawful act in
the exercise of his administrative police powers by issuing the disputed ban; that, in these
circumstances, the submission that the mayor would thereby have obeyed the instructions of the
Minister of Interior and thus vitiated his decision by a misuse of power must be rejected;
10. It follows from the above that the SARL "Les Productions de la Plume" and MD have no grounds
to argue that, by the contested order, which is sufficiently substantiated, the interim relief judge of
the Administrative Court at Orléans was wrong to dismiss their request; that their submissions
arguing for an injunction and compensation can therefore only be dismissed;
Article 1: The defence statement submitted by the Minister of the Interior is accepted.
Article 2: The application made by SARL "Les Productions de la Plume" and MD is dismissed.
Article 3: This Order shall be notified to the SARL "Les Productions de la Plume", MD, the town of
Orléans, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior.
Issue No.1 January 2015
Civil law:
Compensation for environmental damage under French law: past, present…
but what future?
Laurent Bloch, Associate Professor, University of Bordeaux
Issues relating to the environment are often front and centre in the media or in politics, but rarely
occupy the legal stage. It is true that, behind all the statements of principle and electoral mantras,
it is very difficult to construct civil liability for environmental damage. The latter is nonetheless
necessary, particularly in light of an exhausted ordinary law, even if the Court of Cassation has
shown its ability to breathe new life into it with the Erika case.
There is, however, no lack of law. Thus Article 1 of France’s Charte de l’environnement (Charter for
the Environment) proclaims "[…] the right to live in a balanced environment which shows due
respect for health". The Charter has constitutional value, as it was made part of French
constitutional law in 2005. Equally, the right to a safe environment has been enshrined in the Code
de l’environnement (Environmental Code) as a stand-alone right. Furthermore, Directive
n°2004/35/EC, adopted on 21st April 2004, also considered environmental liability.
Despite wishing to be at the forefront of the struggle in environmental matters, France was
condemned by the ECJ for the late transposition of the above Directive, as it took Law n°2008-757
of 1st August 2008, on environmental liability, various provisions bringing French law into line with
European Community law in the environmental sphere (known as the loi LRE or LRE Law), and
Decree n° 2008-468 of 23rd April 2009 on the prevention of and compensation for particular kinds
of environmental damage. This new mechanism, which institutes a new form of police
administrative (administrative police), imposes a duty on professionals to take the necessary steps
to prevent environmental damage. This is a very different approach to that which had dominated
Indeed, the true difficulty in France’s classic rules relating to civil liability is that these did not
recognise environmental damage per se, but rather addressed the issue as part of the broader
question of damage to property, a consequence of environment damage. This was the case for the
operating losses suffered by a beachfront hotel where the beach was devastated by an oil slick.
French case law thus resorted to the theory of trouble anormal de voisinage (1) or abnormal
neighbourhood disturbance or nuisance; fault-based liability for negligence as provided under
Articles 1382 and 1383 of the Civil Code; the notion of responsabilité du fait des choses (liability
for damage or injury caused by things in one’s care), as provided under Article 1384 paragraph 1;
or even the principle of responsabilité du fait des produits défectueux (liability for damage or
injury caused by defective products) established in 1998 under Articles 1386-1 to 1386-18 of the
Civil Code. Furthermore, such an analysis matches that of the European Court of Human Rights,
which does not directly take environmental damage into account but instead compensates the
victims of an unhealthy environment by applying the concept of infringements of the right to life
As such, the damage suffered by the environment itself appeared to be out of range since it was
viewed only in terms of its repercussions on persons and their property. So the decision that was
handed down by the Court of Cassation on 25 September 2012 in the Erika case – taken from the
name of the petrol tanker that sank off the coast of Brittany – was a real turning point, in that it
clearly enshrined the concept of “pure” ecological damage (see part I below). This warning shot the prelude to probable legislative enshrinement - may yet nevertheless prove to be in vain if the
attacks on the precautionary principle bear fruit. Indeed, it would appear that the precautionary
principle has been under threat for some months (see part II).
I. The Erika decision – a turning point
Despite a proliferation of legislation, environmental damage struggled to emerge prior to the Erika
decision (see section A). Following the decision, its recognition is no longer in dispute (see section
B), and the statutory entrenchment of environmental liability seems possible (section C).
A. Pre-Erika
While the Charter for the Environment provides that " [e]veryone has the right to live in a balanced
environment", whether a person has an actual, existing legal right to act in procedural terms is
quite another matter (3). For associations or legal persons governed by public law, this is difficult
to prove as they represent collective interests. However, the former are authorised under the Code
de l’environnement while the latter benefit from a frequently broad interpretation in French case
law of the right to bring an action. Nevertheless, while the procedural obstacle could thus be
surmounted, the issue of pure ecological damage, i.e. damage to the environment itself, had never
been tackled head-on by the courts.
We may cite a decision of the First Civil Chamber of the Court of Cassation, ordering a hunting
association to pay compensation for the damage suffered by an association for the protection of
birds, owing to the death of an osprey shot by hunters; or even the decision handed down by the
Tribunal de grande instance (regional court) at Bastia on 4 July 1985, ruling in favour of the
départements in Corsica and finding a company liable for the discharge of red mud slurry. In
reality, case law made no provision for compensation for environmental damage per se;
furthermore, the terms "damage to the environment", "ecological damage" or even "environmental
damage" had long been absent from the grounds of the courts’ decisions.
Admittedly, draft legislation (which has often been rejected) such as the bill to reform the law of
obligations and the statute of limitations – known as the projet Catala (Catala Bill) – gave a
glimmer of a possibility of recognition. Indeed, the latter put forward, under a new Article 1343 to
the Civil Code, a very broad definition of reparable losses or damage; this would have
encompassed environmental damage, as “any established damage, consisting in a wrong against a
lawful, proprietary or non-proprietary, individual or collective interest, shall be reparable”. The
reference to collective damage is clearly intended to include environmental damage.
French case law has proved to be more audacious and, above all, more effective than the
legislature. Trial judges have, meanwhile, appeared gradually to be moving towards a separate
concept of environmental damage. In a decision handed down in 2006, the Court of Appeal at
Bordeaux awarded compensation to a group of associations “for the damage suffered by aquatic
flora and invertebrates” when there was no damage to private property (4). This daring on the part
of trial judges had never really been enshrined by the higher courts until the celebrated decision in
B. Back to Erika
In December 1999, off the coast of Saint-Nazaire, the Maltese petrol tanker MV Erika (chartered by
Total) broke up and sank, spilling its cargo of fuel oil along more than 400 km of coastline
between Finistère and Charente-Maritime. The significant environmental damage triggered the
mobilisation of regional bodies and the voluntary sector. What could have been yet another oil
slick instead witnessed particularly innovative legal developments, thus circumventing the “flag of
convenience” stratagem that protected ship charterers.
In its decision of 25 September 2012 (5) in the Erika case, the Court of Cassation ruled that there
had been negligence on the part of Total; this in turn led the Court to find Total and its codefendants jointly liable in civil claims. On the issue of criminal prosecutions, it was confirmed
that French courts did indeed have jurisdiction.
Admittedly, the MV Erika was a foreign vessel sailing in an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but the
environmental damage was suffered in territorial waters and along the French coast. While in civil
matters, legislation in favour of jurisdiction for the place where the damage in question has been
suffered has proliferated (Articles 4 and 7 of the “Rome II” Regulations or Article 5.3 of the
“Brussels I” Regulations), the question of jurisdiction in criminal matters was much vaguer. The
Court of Cassation gave an unequivocal decision on the issue, ruling that the French and not the
Maltese courts had jurisdiction.
Thus Total, having a power of supervision or control in the management or operation of the
vessel, could have checked the latter’s suitability for transporting cargo, without being able to hide
behind its sister classification society, Rina. The criminal offence of negligent pollution had thus
been committed and could be imputed to Total. The guilt established by the Court of Appeal was
not challenged by the decision handed down by the Court of Cassation. The order that Total pay a
fine of €375,000 was therefore final.
As regards the civil claims, the Court of Appeal, applying the 1992 CLC Civil Liability Convention
(CLC), overturned the decision of the court of first instance by clearing the Total Group. The oil
company, deemed a charterer by the appeal judges, could therefore benefit from the immunity
conferred by the CLC’s special scheme, liability falling exclusively to the owner of the vessel. The
Court of Appeal thus ruled that civil liability lay solely with the parties falling outside the scope of
the Convention, namely the owner’s agent, the ship management company and the classification
society. Although the Erika case was admittedly disastrous for its image, the French oil company
came out of it pretty well in financial terms.
Before the Court of Cassation, the argument (contained in a judgment that is over 300 pages long)
centred in particular on the issue of negligence on the part of the oil company. The immunity
enjoyed by the charterer falls down if the latter has been grossly negligent. While the French Court
of Appeal had indeed acknowledged that Total had not respected " the rules that the company it
had itself put in place so as not to risk chartering a vessel unsuited to the transportation of
dangerous pollutants” but that the negligence had not been committed with the “awareness that
by acting in this way, damage caused by pollution would probably ensue”. The Court of Cassation
stepped into this particular breach by imputing negligence to all parties to the shipping operation
– including, therefore, Total: having simply been found guilty by the trial judges, Total became
guilty under criminal law and liable under civil law by France’s highest court. The hierarchy of
blame was thus re-affirmed and the separate concept of environmental damage, which had
already been acknowledged by the trial judges, definitively established. Total was ultimately
ordered to pay the sum of 200 million Euros in damages. Regardless of the amount, the Group,
doubtless out of concern to repair its image, had already got a head start by compensating the
various communities affected by the oil spill. The decision will apply above all for the future: it is
intended to serve as a warning to all those who, hidden in international waters or benefitting from
immunity under international agreements or conventions, thought that they could avoid liability.
A. Post Erika
This vitality in ordinary French law will serve to fill in the gaps left by the law emanating from the
2004 Directive. While the latter does allow environmental damage to be taken into account on a
European Community level, it only covers damage sustained after 30 April 2007. Damage covered
by the Directive relates only to three aspects that must have been “gravely affected”. This
concerns, first of all, those species and habitats protected by Directives 79/409/EEC and
92/43/EC (wild birds; wild flora and fauna); water policy under Framework Directive 2000/60/EC;
and finally, contaminated soil, insofar as the contamination poses a serious risk to human health
(6). Furthermore, only the damage caused or that may be caused by certain activities fall within the
remit of the programme.
The list is contained in Decree n° 2009-468 of 23 April 2009 and codified under Article R. 162-1
of the Code de l’environnement. Thus only professional activities are covered (para. 1). Moreover,
for environmental damage that falls within the scope thereof, the administration – more
specifically, the Prefect of the département - will be responsible for the implementation of
reparations and preventative measures. The Prefect will also be the point of contact for any natural
or legal persons directly affected. We can therefore understand that ordinary law, which has
admittedly be at fault in ignoring environmental damage for far too long, has the merit of being
much more straightforward in comparison with a framework of administrative provisions, which
can seem a little dated. Admittedly, we can take comfort from the fact that the law faithfully
transposing the Directive instituted a strict liability scheme found on the well-known “polluter
pays” principle.
The overly inflexible “co-habitation" of two emerging laws - an ordinary law that managed to
extend the concept of damage and a special law, based on EU legislation – may pose problems in
For the purpose of clarification, following the vote in May 2013 by the Senate on a bill relative to
the insertion into the Civil Code of the duty to repair environmental damage, the Minister of Justice
and Garde des Sceaux (“Keeper of the Seals”, a title held by the Minister) set up a working party on
the issue. The group, chaired by Professor Yves Jégouzo, published its findings in September
2013. The report provides for the creation of sections of legislations that would later become
Articles 1386-19 to 1386-23. These provisions firstly aim to define environmental harm and
create a specific reparations scheme. Environmental harm would therefore be “ abnormal damage
to the elements and functioning of ecosystems, as well the collective benefits drawn from the
environment by humankind”. For the purposes of effectiveness, a list will be established by decree.
The new scheme also provides for the costs incurred in preventing the imminent occurrence of
environmental harm to be borne by the person liable. The courts have been given powers to
prescribe “reasonable measures suitable to prevent or halt the illegal nuisance to which the
environment is exposed”. In order to overcome the usual procedural obstacles, essentially linked
to the issue of the interest to act, in addition to the procedures already provided in the Code de
l’environnement, the State, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the regional and local authorities,
groups from the communities concerned by the area at risk, public institutions, foundations and
voluntary organisations whose purpose is to protect nature and the environment, are all
authorised to institute legal proceedings. A specific limitation period, extended to 10 years, is also
provided. That period runs from the date on which the complainant had knowledge or ought to
have had knowledge of the damage. Following the 2004 Directive on this point, priority is given to
reparation in kind of the damage suffered. In the event of gross negligence, provision is made for
a civil fine.
This draft bill is innovative in many respects and it highlights the necessary operation of a process
to anticipate damage. Admittedly, yet again, positive law is not entirely ill-equipped on this point:
complainants can validly claim imminent damage, which allows them to bring an action for interim
relief on the basis of Article 809 of the CPC, but that remains the exception rather than the norm.
The future has appeared bleaker in recent months. There lay at the heart of environmental
protection provisions the now famous precautionary principle. This keystone of the newly
emerging legal edifice has been the subject of repeated attacks on the part of the French National
Assembly and the Senate.
I. The precautionary principle under threat
While the precautionary principle has been readying itself finally to find the legal tools allowing it
to become truly consistent, it seems to have been confined within new limits so as not to annoy
manufacturers, who were formerly dubbed polluters and recently renamed as innovators. Behind
all those words, there is much political and economic tension. In order to gauge the issues, it is
useful to go back over the origins of the precautionary principle (section A below) the better to
understand the threats that it currently faces (section B below).
A. The origins of the precautionary principle
The precautionary principle took centre stage in 1992, at the United Nations Conference on
Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro (also known as the Earth Summit). It posits
a prudence rule by virtue of which "the absence of absolute scientific certainty must not serve as a
pretext for deferring the adoption of effective measures serving to prevent the deterioration of the
environment". The Maastricht Treaty, which was adopted in the same year, reiterated the principle.
It featured at Article 130-R, which became Article 134 of the Treaty of Amsterdam then Article 191
of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). On a European level, the scope of
the principle is very broad; obviously it concerns the environment but also the fields of human and
plant health.
It was thereafter introduced into French national law by the 1995 Law on Environmental Protection,
though more limited in scope than under European law (Article 110-1 of the Code de
l’environnement). Then, ten years later, it was Article 5 of the Charter for the Environment, on a
constitutional level, which imposed a duty on public authorities to make decisions in light of the
precautionary principle.
Prior to that legislation, the precautionary principle had above all been a doctrinal concept.
Arguing for a new ethical responsibility, some scholars suggested a radical break with classic
theories, at least as regarded the risks of serious and irreversible harm (7). It would therefore be a
preventive responsibility founded on the precautionary principle. Where there is doubt, there must
be no delay: action must be taken as soon as the risk is apparent and even where the harm has
not yet come about. This is potential harm. A person who does not act when he ought to have
intervened is deemed negligent. Ultimately, we come back to negligence: negligence resulting
from the failure to take the steps necessary to prevent a possible risk.
The precautionary principle is now part of the French Constitution but is only incumbent on public
authorities. Its scope is for the time being relatively limited except that it will undoubtedly be
behind a restoration of the preventive aspects of civil liability. In spite of it all, the principle seems
to frighten a number of France’s elected representatives.
B. The threats faced by the precautionary principle
Surprisingly, both Houses of the French Parliament are currently proving to be less than
benevolent towards the precautionary principle. On 27 May 2014, the Senate adopted a
constitutional bill (PPL n° 532) that aimed to define the scope of the precautionary principle and to
amend Articles 5, 7 and 8 of the Charter for the Environment. In detailing the reasoning behind
the bill, the rapporteur stressed that "the assessment of the application of the new constitutional
principle reveals its limits. An often excessive, even unreasonable interpretation of deviations, but
also of material difficulties in its application". He adds that "[i]n a context of increased competition
and a loss of competitiveness, the precautionary principle must not manifest itself in an standstill
that would harm our economy; on the contrary, it must bring out truly dynamic activity: the
precautionary principle now cannot be divorced from the innovation principle".
The rapporteur for the bill pursues his line of argument by asserting that the precautionary
principle "may have amplified the atmosphere of suspicion towards innovation, and even towards
scientific and technical progress". He states further that "this danger is all the more worrying in
that it now entails a dismissal of scientific expertise". The purpose of the bill is therefore to
reassure citizens terrified by the precautionary principle by amending Article 7 of the Charter for
the Environment which may consequently provide that " public information and policy-making are
based on the dissemination of research results and the use of independent, multidisciplinary
scientific expertise, conducted in line with the conditions defined by law” . The Senate has not,
however, sought to strip the precautionary principle of its constitutional status. The final blow may
well come from the National Assembly. On 12 June 2014, a group of 121 deputies put forward a
bill seeking to remove the principle from the Constitution. Deputy Eric Woerth, who proposed the
bill, takes the view that the precautionary principle "has, over time, become a principle of inaction,
all too often obstructing research and risk-taking in the economy".
The bill seeks nothing less than the repeal of Article 5 of the Charter for the Environment, the
main provision containing the principle. But the proponents of the precautionary principle need
not worry. It is simply a matter of stripping it of its constitutional status so that it may be
reinvigorated. The reasons for the bill state that “by stripping the precautionary principle of its
constitutional scope, it is not a matter of bringing the principle to an end but rather giving
Parliament, the nation’s representatives the opportunity better to define it and thus strengthen
and make it more indisputable than it currently is".
It remains to be seen whether these bills or drafts are passed into law. In any event, they reveal an
attitude of defiance towards the precautionary principle. The issue of environmental liability is far
from resolved. To paraphrase Robert Badinter, who said with some malice that France was not the
land of human rights but the land of the declaration of human rights, let us hope that France does
not become merely the land of the Charter for the Environment.
(1) Recent applications: Versailles, 4 February 2009, n° 08/08775, - Montpellier, 15 September
2011, n° 10/04612, and Ph. Stoffel-Munck, La théorie des troubles anormaux de voisinage
à l'épreuve du principe de précaution : observations sur le cas des antennes relais, Dalloz.
2009. 2817; J.-Ph. Feldman, Le trouble voisinage du principe de précaution, Dalloz 2009. 1369
(2) See, in particular, ECHR, Öneryildiz v Turkey, Application no. 48939/99, 18 June 2002.
(3) Section 31, CPC
(4) CA Bordeaux, n° 05-00.567.
(5) n°10-82.938
(6) Now Article L. 161-1 of the Code de l’environnement
(7) For example, C. Thibierge, Libres propos sur l'évolution du droit de la responsabilité. Vers un
élargissement de la fonction de la responsabilité civile?, RTD civ. 1999; Avenir de la
responsabilité, responsabilité de l'avenir, Dalloz 2004. Chron. 577
Issue No.1 January 2015
Civil law:
The end-of-life decision: the Vincent Lambert case
Cécile Castaing, Associate Professor of Public Law, CERDARE, University of Bordeaux
Marie Lamarche, Associate Professor of Private Law, CERFAP, University of Bordeaux
After the medicalization of the end of life, the "jurisdictionalization" of the end of life demands
that the issue be re-addressed in terms of the legal restrictions on individual autonomy. In light of
the prohibition on ending a person’s life and of individual freedom opposed by those invoking a
right to die with dignity (1), the balance sought from a legislative point of view compels a court to
intrude into a troubling sort of “medico-legal intimacy”. The distinctive feature of the end-of-life
decision is that it results in a person’s death. It concerns not only those persons at end-of-life,
but any person who decides to end their life. In French medical law, the end-of-life decision is the
choice made by a doctor and the patient where the latter is able to express their wish to terminate
treatment, the consequence of which is to bring about the patient’s death.
The scientific, legal and ethical issues raised by this decision affect each person’s moral or
religious convictions, society’s choices and the fundamental rights of the individual.
While some foreign legislations have already made the final leap and, as in Belgium (2), allow endof-life applications to be granted, discussions are ongoing in Europe which may result in a
legislative framework for “assisted dying” (3).
In France, the Conseil d’Etat had the opportunity to rule for the first time on the end-of-life
decision, in the context of an appeal brought against an interlocutory order, where it had to decide
whether the medical decision to stop Vincent Lambert’s artificial nutrition and hydration was legal.
Vincent Lambert has been hospitalized since 2009 following an accident that left him in a
vegetative, then a minimally conscious state. He is fed and hydrated through tubes but does not
receive any other medical treatment. On 10 April 2013, Vincent Lambert’s attending physician
decided to stop artificial nutrition and reduce hydration and implemented the decision. The
patient’s parents asked the doctor to resume treatment and, when the doctor refused, applied to
the administrative court for an interim order ordering the hospital to resume the patient’s usual
nutrition and hydration. As the interlocutory application to the court concerned the safeguarding
of a fundamental freedom (Article L. 521-2 of the Code de justice administrative (4)), the urgency
and the serious and manifestly unlawful violation of a fundamental freedom had to be
characterized. The urgency is characterized "where the action or failure to act on the part of the
establishment creates a characterized and imminent danger to a patient’s life"; there is indeed a
serious violation of the right to life (5), as stopping artificial nutrition and limiting hydration
reveals a danger to the patient’s life. Where the patient is not at end-of-life, it is not the special
provisions contained in the Law of 22 April 2005 (known as the loi Léonetti) that apply but rather
the ordinary law on patients, in particular Article L. 1111-4 para. 5 of the Code de la santé
publique (Public Health Code) under which "where the person is not in a state to express his
wishes, the limitation or termination of treatment likely to put his life in danger may not be carried
out without following the collegiate procedure […] and without consulting the person of trust
[…]or the family or, failing which, a relative and, where necessary, the person’s own advance
directives”. Having qualified artificial nutrition and hydration as care or treatment that could
therefore be limited or stopped altogether, the tribunal administrative (administrative court) at
Châlons-en-Champagne considered that the failure to follow the collegiate procedure constituted
sufficient grounds for the injunction requested to be granted (6). This case reveals one of the
difficulties arising from the duty imposed on a doctor to initiate a collegiate procedure. In the
present case, the patient had not appointed a person of trust or drawn up any advance directives,
but there remained the family to be consulted. The administrative court held that while the
patient’s wife had been involved in the collegiate discussion, the same could not be said for his
parents, who had not even been informed of it.
Following another collegiate procedure, Vincent Lambert’s attending physician again decided on
11 January 2014 to stop artificial nutrition and hydration as of 14 January 2014, though the
implementation of this medical decision would have to be deferred in the event of an application
to the administrative court.
The patient’s parents made another interim application to the
administrative court, following the same procedure, to order the hospital to forbid the termination
of artificial nutrition and hydration. In order to characterize the serious and manifestly unlawful
violation of a fundamental freedom, the panel of judges had to rule on two issues: could the
doctor base his decision to stop treatment on a wish that the patient allegedly expressed that he
not be kept alive in a state of high dependency, although this statement was made outside any
formal framework? Did the continued nutrition and hydration constitute "unreasonable obstinacy",
thus justifying the interruption thereof? The administrative court, sitting in plenary session, found
in the negative on both points and consequently held that the disputed medical decision
constituted “a serious and manifestly unlawful violation of Vincent Lambert’s right to life" (7).
The patient’s wife, other family members and the centre hospitalier universitaire (university
hospital) in Reims appealed the decision to the Conseil d’Etat which, in light of the "extreme
gravity of the situation”, decided to bring the dispute before the General Assembly of
the Conseil d’Etat sitting as a panel of judges. The formation of the court, prior to staying
proceedings, enshrined a new fundamental freedom to stand alongside the right to life and the
right to consent to a medical procedure (8): the right “not to undergo a treatment that may result
from unreasonable obstinacy”. The Assembly hearing the case also stated that the legislative
provisions on the notion of unreasonable obstinacy are of general application and apply in respect
of all users of the French health system, be they at end-of-life or not. The Conseil d’Etat decided
to stay proceedings while awaiting, on the one hand, new expert evidence which would describe
the patient’s clinical state, the irreversible or otherwise nature of his brain damage, his ability to
communicate with the people around him and to respond to the care given to him; and, on the
other hand, observations, as amici curiae, from the Académie nationale de médecine (French
National Academy of Medicine), the Comité consultatif national d’éthique (National Consultative
Ethics Committee), the Conseil national de l’ordre des médecins (French national medical
association), and Mr. Jean Léonetti, author of the bill that passed into law on 22 April 2005 on the
end of life (9).
The Conseil d’Etat finally gave judgment on 24 June 2014. Given the importance of the decision,
the novelty of the issues brought before the court and the exceptional nature of the consequences
of the court’s decision, the Conseil’s General Assembly again gave judgment sitting as a panel of
judges. It held that the medical decision to stop treatment was lawful, both in terms of the
procedures imposed by law and in terms of its soundness. The Conseil’s decision does not,
however, bring the legal soap-opera to a close as the European Court of Human Rights, following
an application by the patient’s parents, asked the French Government to suspend the Conseil
d’Etat’s judgment until it has ruled on the merits of the case.
The Vincent Lambert case has fuelled the ongoing debate on the end-of-life decision and the
continuation of discussions instigated by the commitment made by the President of the Republic,
during the presidential campaign, to legislating on the end of life. Where a person is in no
condition to express his or her wishes, the end-of-life decision is a medical one, the consequence
of which is a person’s death. The peculiarity of the issues related the end of life and the
quickening pace of scientific, medical and social developments are seen in the demand for new
rights to be secured. Consequently, the temptation to legislate is strong and the number of laws
continues to grow. While it is far from certain that the issue requires further regulation with regard
to existing law, consideration is being given to the amendment of the Law of 22 April 2005 and
the legalisation of assisted dying in order to respond to the President’s commitment. The case of
Vincent Lambert allows the current legislative framework to be compared with medical conditions,
the judicial review of the medical decision on the end of life to be analysed, and then further
consideration potentially to be given to the opportunity of legislating on the issue once again.
1. The patient’s legal position
The Law of 22 April 2005 on patients’ rights and the end of life (10) established the legal
framework in which the decision to limit, interrupt or not to undertake treatment may be taken. A
number of procedures were laid down, which differ depending on a patient’s medical condition.
There is a set of legal rules applicable to each medical condition. It is the patient’s
ability to express his wishes that determines which procedure applies; in this respect, the 2005
Law follows the logic behind the Law of 4 March 2002 on patients’ rights and the quality of the
French health system (11) which enshrines the patient’s right to consent to treatment and,
therefore, his right also to refuse it. Where the patient is able to express his wishes, this must be
respected even when he refuses the treatment and care on offer; in such circumstances, the doctor
must inform the patient of the consequences of his choice (12). The law reinforces the procedural
requirements incumbent on the doctor, as he must "make every effort to convince the patient to
accept essential treatment"; he may, furthermore, call upon another member of the medical
profession and the patient must above all reiterate his refusal to be treated. In any case,
regardless of whether the patient is at end-of-life when he expresses his wishes, where the refusal
of treatment puts the patient’s life in danger, the doctor must safeguard the dying person’s
dignity and guarantee the quality of end-of-life by administering palliative care.
It is where the patient is in no condition to express his wishes at the time when the question of
stopping treatment is under consideration that the doctor again has full decision-making power,
without being legally bound by wishes other than his own. Where a patient is not at end of life,
which is the case for Vincent Lambert, the decision to restrict or stop treatment, which is likely to
put the patient’s life in danger, cannot be made without having followed the collegiate procedure
and consulted the appointed person of trust, the family or relatives as well as any advance
directives where these have been drafted (13). When the patient is at end-of-life, the law expressly
frees the doctor of his obligation to provide treatment, providing that he may decide to limit or
stop treatment that would amount to unreasonable obstinacy subject to a number of conditions,
which are the same as those applicable when a patient was not at end of life when the decision to
stop treatment was taken: collegiate procedure and consultation of the appointed person of trust,
the family or the relatives as well as any advance directives where these have been drafted (14).
Legally, Vincent Lambert is at the stage when the first decision to stop artificial nutrition and
hydration resides with the patient who is not at end of life and is unable to express his wishes. The
medical decision is based on Articles L. 1110-5 and L. 1111-4 (5) of the Code de la santé
publique (Public Health Code). Article L. 1110-5 prohibits medical acts pursued on grounds of
unreasonable obstinacy; the only legal duty incumbent on the doctor deciding to stop treatment is
to safeguard the dying person’s dignity and guarantee the quality of end-of-life by administering
palliative care. This provision is general in scope, and the procedure to be followed in order to
make the decision depends on the patient’s medical condition.
2. Review by the administrative courts
The law is quite clear on one point: it is the doctor, and the doctor alone, who bears full
responsibility for the decision to stop treatment where the patient is not able to express his
wishes. This does not imply that his decision goes completely unsupervised or that it is made in
isolation: the legislature has set the legal framework in which the decision can be made. Where the
attending physician is considering limiting, stopping or not starting treatment and the patient is
unable to express his wishes, the doctor is legally bound to instigate the collegiate procedure in
order to make the necessary decision. The decision must be reasoned, and a continuation of
treatment as may amount to unreasonable obstinacy is clearly a legal ground allowing – even
requiring – the doctor to halt treatment. From the moment when the doctor considers, "following
discussions with the healthcare team where applicable and on the basis of the reasoned opinion of
at least one doctor" (15), that continuing artificial nutrition and hydration amounts to
unreasonable obstinacy, taking into account any wishes as the patient may have expressed
beforehand and discussions with the relatives will allow the doctor to make a legally sound
While there is nothing unusual in the courts reviewing medical decisions, the decision to stop
treatment bringing about the patient’s death is such as to justify close judicial scrutiny. It is in
those terms that the Conseil d’Etat recalled that it fell to it to ensure that the medical decision
"had met the conditions laid down by law so that a decision may be made to end a treatment, the
continuation of which would amount to unreasonable obstinacy”. It thus went on to check whether
the collegiate procedure had been followed; whether the patient’s medical condition would bear
the hallmarks of unreasonable obstinacy if treatment were to be continued; and whether the
patient’s wishes and requisite opinions of third parties had been sought.
Following the collegiate procedure
The Conseil d’Etat considered that the collegiate procedure had been followed and that the doctor
treating Vincent Lambert had even gone beyond what was required under the code of ethics,
having consulted six other doctors where the law requires only "the reasoned opinion of at least
one doctor”. The Conseil did not have to rule on the issue raised by the first decision of 11 May
2013 concerning the concept of "family", who must be informed that the collegiate procedure has
been instigated and whose opinion must be sought; this was because a new collegiate procedure
had begun between the first two decisions.
The hallmarks of unreasonable obstinacy
The Conseil d’Etat also reviewed the legal classification of the patient’s medical condition. The
doctor had taken the view that to continue artificial nutrition and hydration amounted to
unreasonable obstinacy in light, on the one hand, of the patient’s state of health and, on the other
hand, the certainty that the patient did not wish to live under such circumstances. The Conseil
d’Etat reviewed these two aspects. In order for the continuation of treatment to be qualified as
unreasonable obstinacy, French law has set down three alternative criteria, the meaning of which
emerges from the parliamentary work on the subject and was clearly explained in the public
rapporteur’s conclusions on the judgment of 14 February 2014 (16). These are: effectiveness of
treatment; proportionality of treatment; and artificial life support. Effective treatment being
understood as that which will cure a patient or improve his health, this criterion does not apply
to artificial nutrition which compensates for a failing vital function but does not cure.
The relevant parliamentary debates serve to qualify as “disproportionate any treatment, the benefit
of which is average compared to its aggressiveness or painfulness for the patient, even the
suffering that it may entail” (17). As artificial nutrition and hydration are not aggressive techniques
and do not appear to entail real suffering, this criterion does not apply either, except to consider
that given the state of Vincent Lambert’s health, any treatment seems disproportionate. It was the
artificial life support criterion that was applied in this case by the doctor and confirmed by
the various experts. Artificial nutrition and hydration indisputably allow Vincent Lambert to be
kept alive, but the crux of the issue is whether they have this "sole effect" (18) and
therefore amount to unreasonable obstinacy or, on the contrary, they have another effect.
The administrative court in interlocutory proceedings on 16 January 2014, taking inspiration from
Jean Léonetti’s report evaluating the Law of 22 April 2005 (19), ruled that the fact that treatment
allowed the patient to maintain “a relationship” was sufficient grounds to dismiss the unreasonable
obstinacy argument. However, the limits of unreasonable obstinacy are difficult to define and that
one fact did not suffice in resolving the issue of unreasonable obstinacy, in the view of the Conseil
d’Etat, taking inspiration from the same evaluation report, which concluded that "the law clearly
condemns any watch-and-wait attitude, the consequence of which would be to allow individuals
unable to express their wishes to waste away over many years, without a convincing argument
particular to each case being constructed, formulated and communicated” . This is why the Conseil
d’Etat preferred to stay proceedings on 14 February 2014 while another expert opinion was
sought. Once this was done, and in light of the results thereof, the Conseil considered on 24 June
2014 that the expert opinions confirmed the attending physician’s analysis of the patient’s health,
and in particular the fact that his brain damage was irreversible, his consciousness was
deteriorating, his clinical prognosis was poor and his response to treatment could not be
Taking account of the patient’s wishes
From the moment when the attending physician considered that to continue artificial nutrition
and hydration amounted to unreasonable obstinacy, the collegiate authority - together with the
consideration of the wishes the patient would have expressed and discussions with the relatives allowed him to make his decision.
Where the patient is unable to express his wishes at the time when the decision to stop treatment
must be made, as in the present case, the attending physician must establish whether the patient
has expressed those wishes previously. The Law of 22 April 2005 laid down various possibilities
for persons in such situations. The patient may have expressed his wishes by drawing up an
advance directive or by appointing a person of trust to whom he may have confided his wishes.
Advance directives (20) are instructions given in advance by persons in good health or who are
affected by old age or a terminal illness, on the action to take in the event that they find
themselves unable to express their wishes. This practice has developed in a number of Western
countries, but the indicative or binding value of such directives varies. The choice made by the
French legislature is to confer purely indicative value; it is even stipulated that an advance directive
must be drawn up at least three years before the patient’s unconscious state in order that the
attending physician "take it into account”. The various reports submitted in 2014 highlight the
confusion surrounding the concept of advance directives, founded on a lack of knowledge on two
counts: people (be they healthy or ill) often do not know about the measure and the very existence
of a directive is not always known insofar as provisions on keeping and publicising advance
directives are phrased in rather vague terms (21). Furthermore, the purely indicative nature of
advance directives may undermine the measure and may not incite people to draft their own. It is
for that reason that the most recent report from the CCNE, published in October 2014,
recommends that directives be made binding (22).
The law also provides that the patient may appoint a person of trust to whom they may have
confided their wishes as to the end of their life for the time when they may no longer be able to
express them (23). The law states that the opinion of the person of trust prevails over any other
non-medical opinion, thus recalling the principle under which the decision ultimately falls to
the attending physician. When the patient’s wishes have thus been expressed in this formal
framework, the law simply requires that the attending physician take these into account when he
makes his decision: they constitute an element that will be taken into consideration but the
physician will in no way be bound by them. The only duty that the formal expression of the
patient’s wishes may imply is an ethical one: the physician must initiate the collegiate procedure
Outside this formal framework, the law does not prohibit the patient’s wishes being taken into
account in another form. The code of ethics states that the physician must take into consideration
“the wishes that the patient may have expressed previously, in particular [therefore not only] in
advance directives”. This issue was raised before the administrative court in the Vincent Lambert
case, the administrative tribunal having refused, in its order of 16 January 2014, to take into
account the wishes that Lambert had expressed before his accident. The Conseil d’Etat overturned
this point and went further in considering that the physician must "pay special attention to the
wishes that the patient may, where applicable, have expressed previously, whatever the form and
meaning” (25). Thus, in terms of the order of importance to be given to the opinions taken into
consideration, it must be understood that the patient’s wishes prevail over those of the family or
the relatives. Where those wishes have been expressed outside the formal framework provided by
law, the attending physician checks that they have been expressed clearly, in full knowledge of the
facts and with conviction. This is how, in its decision of 24 June 2014, the Conseil d’Etat noted
that the patient and his wife were nurses and were therefore well versed with the issue of the end
of life, that Vincent Lambert had "clearly and a number of times" expressed the wish not to be kept
on life support in the event that he should find himself in a state of high dependency, that the
content of those wishes had been accurately reported by his wife, confirmed by one of his brothers
and was not disputed by the parents, who nevertheless opposed the termination of treatment. In
such circumstances, not only must the wishes expressed be taken into consideration by the
physician, but he must also pay special attention thereto.
Discussions with the family and/or relatives
It was the problem posed by the very notion of “family” whose opinion must be sought, and by
that of "relatives" as regards the observance of the collegiate procedure (mentioned above), that
emerged as the focus for discussion from the media’s point of view. In making the relevant
medical decision, where the patient is no longer able to express his wishes, the law requires the
physician to consult either the person of trust, or the family or, failing that, one of the patient’s
relatives (26).
In the initial order, the administrative tribunal considered that it did not suffice that the deciding
physician should involve one or several members of the family only and that he must, as far as
possible, seek the opinion of each family member – or at least those closest to the patient. The
tribunal’s decision seems unfortunately to complicate a situation for the physician that is already
highly complex on the facts, particularly where the family members do not share the same opinion
on the end of the patient’s life. To which circle should the consultation be extended? And which
opinion takes priority where there is disagreement? (27)
In the absence of any indication as to the persons to be consulted, should the notions of family
and relatives be understood within the meaning of Article L. 1231-1 of the Code de la santé
publique (Public Health Code) on the removal of organs from living persons? Under the terms of
the latter provision, the donation may only proceed in the direct therapeutic interests of the
recipient, and the law states that the donor must have capacity as the father or mother of the
recipient, before enumerating a list of persons likely, by way of derogation, to have capacity as
donor: sons or daughters, grandparents, uncles or aunts, first cousins, together with the partner
of the patient’s father or mother. The law also adds that the donor may be “any person able to
provide proof of communal life with the recipient for a period of at least two years, as well as any
person able to prove a close and stable bond of affection with the recipient for a period of at least
two years". The tribunal’s decision gave no guidance and Vincent Lambert’s attending physician
had to initiate another collegiate procedure, involving the parents as well as the patient’s wife and
siblings. However, such an approach does not seem appropriate as, transposed to the end-of-life
decision to stop treatment, on principle the patient’s parents would have to be consulted first,
while the other family members or relatives would only be consulted by way of exception. The
administrative court ruling on the case of Vincent Lambert gave priority to the those persons who
had remained close to the patient, requiring the physician to "strive to achieve a consensus" (28)
and clearly stating that although those opinions had to be taken into consideration by the
physician, the fact that the persons consulted did not hold a unanimous view as to the direction of
the medical decision to be made would not constitute an obstacle to that decision (29).
3. Is further legislation needed?
Would a new law improve the current legal measures? The issue of a new law on the end of life is
regularly raised and, just as regularly, proposals are tabled but go no further (30): proposal on the
right to end life with dignity (31), proposal to guarantee patients at end of life the right to die with
dignity (32), proposal on the free and informed choice of medical assistance for a dignified end of
life (33). The process of reflection on the amendment of the Law of 22 April 2005 and the
legalisation of active assistance in dying supports these proposals and is ongoing. It is a response
to President François Hollande’s commitment during the 2012 electoral campaign, where he stated
that, if elected, he would propose that "any person of legal age, at an advanced or terminal stage
of an incurable illness, causing unbearable physical or psychological suffering, under clear
and strict circumstances, benefit from medical assistance in ending their life with dignity” (34). In
line with that commitment, the President set up a mission entrusted to Professor Sicard; since
then, other consultations have taken place and given rise to the adoption of reports, texts
or instructions (35). The reports unanimously acknowledge that the Law of 22 April 2005 is
apparently "an unknown and untaken path" (36) but which nevertheless responds to the majority
of situations, thus dismissing the need for a new law; only the Conférence des citoyens (citizens’
conference) declared itself in favour of an amendment of the 2005 Law. However, the most recent
report from the CCNE on the end of life accepts the use of “deep sedation” (37).
The law as it stands allows treatment or care to be limited, stopped or not begun at all, whether
the patient is at end of life or not, when the patient requests it or, when they are no longer able to
express themselves, by following an enhanced procedure. The current legislative framework is
therefore sufficient to respond to Vincent Lambert’s situation, and all the more so given that his
continued treatment amounts to unreasonable obstinacy according to the physicians on the one
hand, and the Conseil d’Etat on the other. Obviously the fact that he did not draw up any advance
directives or appoint a person of trust has undoubtedly made the decision-making process more
According to the various reports and opinions, the text of the law has been poorly circulated,
poorly explained and misunderstood by all, particularly as regards the procedure for stopping or
limiting treatment for patients at end of life. The merely indicative nature of advance directives is
unanimously singled out, but the reports are ultimately fairly reluctant to make them binding (38),
as such instructions can lose their meaning between the time when they are drawn up (when the
person is in good health) and the time when the person is ill. The only constraints that may result
from a directive expressing the wish not to be artificially kept alive could be that of initiating a
collegiate discussion and to raise the issue of sedating the patient to alleviate suffering. The
reports all decry the absence of any real culture of collegiality; the latter ought to be applied more
widely and thoroughly for any decision involving the end of life, and be opened systematically to
the patient or, failing that, to the person of trust, the family or relatives. Again, the Vincent
Lambert case reveals the difficulties encountered in implementing a real process of collective
deliberation for any decision involving the end of life.
In a more limited way, the law provides for situations in which the attending physician may take
positive action, i.e. administer a substance, the effect of which would be to bring the patient’s life
to an end. The only scenario is that of a patient who is at end of life and suffering; the attending
physician may then administer a product intended to alleviate pain, even where the secondary
effect of that treatment is to shorten the patient’s life (39). However, the qualifications remain
extremely difficult to establish and the various attempts to distinguish legal medical interventions
from criminal acts – as shown by a circular from the French Ministry of Justice dated 20 October
2011 (40) published the day after media coverage of the Bonnemaison case – struggle to account
for the variety of situations and the distinction between the intention to alleviate suffering and the
intention to kill within the meaning of Article 221-5 of the Code pénal (Penal Code) (41). The
terminological subtleties – see in particular the difference between le traitement qui peut avoir
pour effet secondaire d’abréger la vie (“treatment which may have the secondary effect of
shortening life”) under Article 1110-5 of the Code de la santé publique and la possibilité d’un
geste accompli par un médecin, accélérant la survenue de la mort ("the possibility of an action
performed by a doctor, accelerating death") considered in the Sicard Report (42) – are but a
reflection of a development that co-operation between physicians and judges can make easier.
In any event, the possibility of a "treatment which may have the secondary effect of shortening life"
does not concern patients who are not at end of life or those patients, even at end of life, who are
not suffering.
The reports have considered exceptional situations not taken into account by current legislation:
patients suffering from a serious and incurable illness, who are not at end of life yet wish to
accelerate their death; patients who are unable to express their wishes, are not at end of life, have
never formulated their wishes as to their death and for whom treatment does not amount to
unreasonable obstinacy; or patients at end of life, who are not suffering, who refuse any and all
treatment and ask to die. It is in respect of these situations that the issue arises as to “terminal
sedation for distress" (43) or a real "right to sedation” (44), assisted suicide or even a euthanasia
exception. The United Kingdom Supreme Court gave a decision on 25 June 2014 on three separate
cases that were similar on the facts: each of the men concerned suffered “such a distressing and
undignified life that he had long wished to end it but could not do so himself because of his acute
physical incapacity” (45). Each claimed a right to “assisted suicide” and all three argued that
English law on assisted suicide, and in particular Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 on criminal
liability for complicity in another’s suicide, infringed their fundamental human rights, particularly
Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR. In a 132-page decision, the Supreme Court (exceptionally composed
of nine law lords) dismissed the appeals brought by the three appellants and ruled that national
legislation (in the context of the State’s margin of appreciation, as acknowledged by the ECHR) still
prohibited assisted suicide whatever the circumstances and that it was for Parliament to decide, it
being “institutionally inappropriate” for the Court to do so. In this sense, the Assisted Dying Bill is
currently at the committee stage.
In France, a quick comparison between the President’s commitment and such situations shows a
lack of political will to resolve the difficulties raised by these exceptional cases. The President’s
commitment was to propose that “any person of legal age, at an advanced or terminal stage of an
incurable illness, causing unbearable physical or psychological suffering, under clear and strict
circumstances, benefit from medical assistance in ending their life with dignity” (46). The scope is
voluntarily limited to persons of legal age at end of life and suffering. The question put before the
Comité consultatif national d’éthique in 2013, in line with that same political commitment, is
doubtless even more restrictive: "By what procedures and under what strict conditions can a
conscious and independent patient, suffering from a serious and incurable illness, be permitted to
be supported and assisted in his wish to end his own life?” (47). The legalisation of assisted suicide
considered through that question would only benefit conscious and independent patients at end of
life and physically capable of administering the lethal substance to themselves, therefore
excluding requests made by third parties for persons who are no longer able to express
themselves, persons who are not at end of life and also excluding the scenario of a lethal act
administered by a third party.
(1) See ECHR, Pretty v United Kingdom, Application n° 2346/02, 29 April 2002
(2) After extended assisted dying to children, Belgium has seen a surge in the number of
problematic cases. In particular, a second inmate (imprisoned for nearly 30 years in the closed
psychiatric wing of a prison near Antwerp, for the rape and murder of a 19 year-old student)
has asked to be euthanized, a request granted by the Belgian courts on 14 September 2014.
(3) This is the case particularly in Scotland, where the Parliamentary Justice Committee is
preparing to debate a bill allowing assisted suicide from the age of 16 for terminally ill
patients or suffering from serious illnesses with low life expectancies. In the United Kingdom,
the Assisted Dying Bill ([HL] 2014-2015) comes over ten years after the decision in Pretty. In
Germany, however, a bill put forward by the Christian Democrat Union should soon be put
before the Bundestag, prohibiting organised assistance for suicide and thus fill what seems to
be a legislative void and allows charities to offer lethal substances for patients to inject
(4) Translator’s note: Article L. 521-2 reads: Where such an application had been made, the
urgency of which is justified, the court in interlocutory proceedings may order any and all
measures necessary to safeguard a fundamental freedom that a public body or a private body
entrusted with the operation of a public service may have seriously and manifestly unlawfully
violated in the exercise of one of its powers. The court shall give a ruling within forty-eight
(5) The right to life has already been described as a fundamental freedom within the meaning of
Article L. 521-2 of the Code de justice administrative (Administrative Justice Code): CE, Sect.,
16 November 2011, Ville de Paris et Société d’Economie Mixte PariSeine, n°s 353172 and
(6) TA Châlons-en-Champagne, 11 May 2013, n° 1300740.
(7) TA Châlons-en-Champagne, 16 January 2014, M. Pierre Lambert et autres, n° 1400029.
(8) CE, 16 August 2002, Mme Valérie Feuillatey et Mme Isabelle Feuillatey, n° 249552.
(9) CE, Ass., 14 February 2014, Mme Lambert et autres, n°s 375081, 375090 and 375091.
(10) Loi n° 2005-370 du 22 April 2005 relative aux droits des malades et à la fin de vie (Law n°
2005-370 of 22 April 2005 on patients’ rights and the end of life), JORF n°95 23 April 2005
page 7089.
(11) Law n° 2002-303, JORF 5 March 2002, p. 4118; Article L. 1111-4 CSP.
(12) Article L. 1111-4 para. 2 and L. 1111-10 CSP.
(13) Article L. 1111-4 para. 5 CSP.
(14) Article L. 1111-13 CSP.
(15) Article L. 4127-37 CSP.
(16) Rémi Keller on CE, Ass., 14 February 2014, Mme Lambert et autres, n°s 375081, 375090 and
375091, RFDA 2014, p. 255.
(17) See conclusions of Rémi Keller, ibid.
(18) Article L. 1110-5 CSP.
(19) Rapport d’évaluation de la loi n° 2005-370 du 22 avril 2005 relative aux droits des malades et
à la fin de vie (Evaluation Report on Law n° 2005-370 of 22 April 2005 on patients’ rights and
the end of life), 28 November 2008, AN n° 1287, p. 52.
(20) Article L. 1111-11 CSP.
(21) Décret n°2006-119 du 6 février 2006 relatif aux directives anticipées prévues par la loi n°
2005-370 du 22 avril 2005 relative aux droits des malades et à la fin de vie et modifiant le
code de la santé publique (dispositions réglementaires) (Decree n°2006-119 of 6 February
2006 on advance directives provided by Law n° 2005-370 of 22 April 2005 on patients’ rights
and the end of life and amending the Code de la santé publique (regulatory provisions);
Articles R. 1111-17 to R. 1111-20 CSP.
(22) CCNE Report, 23 October 2014, on the end of life. Directives must, according to Professor
Aubry, a member of the CCNE, embody “the patient’s thoughts on his future”.
(23) Article L. 1111-12 CSP.
(24) Article R. 4127-37 CSP.
(25) CE, Ass., 24 June 2014, para. 17.
(26) Article L. 1111-4 para. 4 CSP and L. 1111-13 CSP in particular.
(27) Questions arise in the same way regarding funeral arrangements, or the choice of burial for
the urn containing the deceased’s ashes (see, on the last point Cass. 1ère civ. 30 April 2014,
n° 13-18.951, which found in favour of the mother, sister and son of the deceased against
the spouse).
(28) CE, Ass., 24 June 2014, para. 17.
(29) CE, Ass., 24 June 2014, para. 31.
(30) Proposition de loi relative au droit de finir sa vie dans la dignité (Proposal on the right to end
one’s life with dignity), AN n° 1960, 7 October 2009, rejected at first reading by the National
Assembly on 24 November 2009, TA n° 361.
(31) Proposition de loi, visant à renforcer les droits des patients en fin de vie (Proposal aiming to
enhance the rights of patients at end of life), AN n° 754, 27 February 2013.
(32) Proposition de loi visant à assurer aux patients en fin de vie le droit de mourir dans la dignité
(Proposal aiming to guarantee patients at end of life the right to die with dignity), AN n° 1140,
13 June 2013.
(33) Proposition de loi relative au choix libre et éclairé d'une assistance médicalisée pour une fin
de vie digne (Proposal on the free and informed choice for medical assistance for a dignified
end of life), Sénat n° 182, 2 December 2013.
(34) Proposal 21 of presidential candidate François Hollande, 2012.
(35) See in particular « Penser solidairement la fin de vie », the Report of the Commission de
réflexion sur la fin de vie en France, dite « Commission Sicard » (Sicard Report), 18 December
2012; « Fin de vie, "Assistance à mourir" », by the Conseil national de l’ordre des médecins, 8
February 2013; Report from the Comité consultatif national d’éthique (CCNE Report), June
2013; Opinion of the Conférence de citoyens, 14 December 2013.
(36) Commission de réflexion sur la fin de vie en France, dite « Commission Sicard » « Penser
solidairement la fin de vie » (Sicard Report), 18 December 2012, p. 42.
(37) CCNE Report, 23 October 2014.
(38) Except the CCNE Report of 23 October 2014.
(39) Article L. 1110-5, final para..
40) Circ. 20 octobre 2011, concernant la mise en œuvre de la loi du 22 avril 2005 relative aux
droits des malades et à la fin de vie et de traitement judiciaire des affaires dites de « fin de vie
» (Circular of 20 October 2011, on the implementation of the Law of 22 April 2005 on
patients’ rights and the end of life and the judicial treatment of "end of life" cases), NOR :
JUSD1128836 : BO min. justice n° 2011-10, 31 October 2011.
(41) The Pyrénées-Atlantiques Assize Court, ruling at first instance on 25 June 2014, was not
convinced of Nicolas Bonnemaison’s guilt in making attempts on the life of seven patients
through the use or administration of substances likely to cause death as it had not been
proven that, in proceeding with the injections, he had intended to kill within the meaning of
Article 221-5 of the French Penal Code.
(42) Sicard Report, p. 93. See also the Opinion of the CCNE (para. 4) which envisages the
possibility of implementing a euthanasia exception under the supervision of the French
judicial authorities.
(43) Sicard Report and CCNE Report.
(44) CCNE and Conférence des citoyens.
(45) R (on the application of Nicklinson and another) (Appellants) v Ministry of Justice
(Respondent); R (on the application of AM) (AP) (Respondent) v The Director of Public
Prosecutions (Appellant); R (on the application of AM) (AP) (Respondent) v The Director of
Public Prosecutions (Appellant) [2014] EWCA Civ 961
(46) Proposal 21 of presidential candidate François Hollande, 2012.
(47) CCNE Report, June 2013.
Issue No.1 January 2015
Civil law – family law:
Marriage and the prohibition on incest
Jean Hauser
Emeritus Professor of Civil Law, University of Bordeaux (CERFAP, Faculty of Law)
The prohibition on incest is a constant of humanity long emphasised by ethnology and sociology.
However, contrary to what may be thought, it is susceptible to nuances and distinctions within the
various marriage laws in existence, quite aside from those differences connected to the
civilisations in question (1).
Under European law, the prohibition has never been limited solely to biological incest (be it in the
direct or the collateral line), but has often been extended to what French doctrine has termed the
sociological prohibition, i.e. between persons related by affinity. Thus the French Code civil
imposes a prohibition on remarriage between son-in-law and mother-in-law, daughter-in-law
and father-in-law, and even between sister-in-law and brother-in-law. In the absence of
biological grounds, the risk of social scandal has often been argued but that justification has
diminished considerably.
In reality, fine distinctions have always been admitted; in the modern era, some prohibitions have
even disappeared altogether. Firstly, a distinction has often been made depending on whether the
marriage which yielded the affinity has been dissolved by death or divorce. Where the latter has
raised fears of foul play on the part of one person in order to bring about the divorce of his or her
son, daughter, brother or sister, the former scenario is considered more acceptable and
remarriage may emerge as a happy solution for the family.
Furthermore, these social prohibitions have been diminished in French law either by the
disappearance of such cases, or by the admission of dispensations. We could be permitted to
wonder whether the non-biological prohibitions on marriage continue to be truly justified when
the conditions of marriage in general, together with its social role, have been considerably relaxed.
In French law, there remains a prohibition in the direct line between all ascendants and
descendants and persons related by affinity in the same line (Civil Code, Article 161). However, if
the marriage producing the affinity has been dissolved by the death of the spouse producing the
affinity in question, it is possible to obtain a dispensation from the President of the Republic.
There is no dispensation available where the marriage has been dissolved by divorce.
In a case that came before the Court of Cassation in 2013 (2), two people married in 1969. A
daughter was born in 1973 before the marriage was dissolved by divorce in 1980. The woman
then married her ex-husband’s father – her former father-in-law – in 1983 and this without any
objection on the part of the French état civil français (civil status registry). The second husband,
who died in 2005, named his wife as sole legatee. The first husband subsequently invoked the
nullity of the marriage contract entered into by his father in 1983, arguing on grounds of moral
and successorial interests.
The answer provided by statute left no room for doubt: the abovementioned Article 161 of the
Civil Code absolutely prohibits marriages between relatives by affinity and the relevant
dispensation may only come into play in the event of death, not divorce.
It is generally admitted that actions for the nullity of a marriage - absolute nullity - is not subject
to limitation. In application of those rules, the Court of Appeal at Aix-en-Provence, in its decision
of 21st June 2012, therefore declared null and void the marriage celebrated in 1983. That decision
was subsequently overturned.
Several years prior to the above, the issue of the conventionality of such a prohibition was brought
before the European Court of Human Rights. In its decision in B and L v United Kingdom (decision
& just settlement) Application no. 36536, 13 September 2005, the Court ruled in similar
circumstances that the United Kingdom was in breach of Article 12 ECHR on the right to marry,
though this provides that the exercise of this right must be in accordance with national laws. The
scope of the decision, however, remained dubious. Indeed, the Court had above all stressed the
cumbersome and costly nature of a possible dispensation, where an application had to be made to
the UK Parliament itself, without really ruling on the very principle of the prohibition in the case of
The French Court of Cassation therefore remained free to assess French law in principle. Contrary
to all expectations, it overturned the decision of the lower court at Aix-en-Provence when the law
itself was perfectly clear, essentially relying on Article 8 ECHR on the right to respect for private
and family life. The court held that “the nullity declaration made in relation to the marriage of
Raymond Y… to Mrs Denise X… was, in relation to the latter, such that it constituted an unjustified
interference in the exercise of her right to respect for private life when the union, celebrated
without objection, had lasted for over twenty years…”. Having been handed down without leave to
appeal, the decision of the Court of Cassation was final.
The much-commented decision has consequences on two fronts.
On the one hand, the system of social prohibitions on marriage is legally in question and, bearing
in mind the above, one might wonder whether the decision is a call for legislative reform. Indeed,
it may be argued that the absolute nature of the prohibition, even limited to the case of divorce,
barely corresponds to the reality of modern times. The ease with which a divorce may be obtained;
the fact that it is now an integral part of the prevailing mores in all European countries; the
complexity of stepfamilies; increasing human longevity which can lead to a multiplication in the
number of stepfamily scenarios; all militate in favour of a change in legislation. If we accept the
argument, we can envisage two possible avenues for such a change: simply abolishing the
prohibition altogether, or extending the possibility of obtaining a dispensation to all scenarios. In
the latter case, and in view of the decision discussed above, UK law doubtless ought to make
provision for a system other than applications to Parliament. As for French law, it too ought to
settle the issue of the potential right of appeal against a decision of the President of the Republic:
there is no clear indication as to whether there is such a right; and, if there is, whether it would fall
within the remit of either a judicial or an administrative jurisdiction.
However, while the substance of the decision has barely been criticised (the facts of the case being
such as to inspire leniency), it has been the topic of lively debate as regards the sources of French
law. French civil law is legalistic and the court does not have the authority to set aside a clear,
precise provision, its role being one of interpreting obscure or insufficient statutes (Civil Code,
Article 4).
Article 5 of the Civil Code expressly provides that: "[j]udges are hereby forbidden from ruling by
way of general and regulatory provisions on cases brought before them”. In this instance, the
Court has drafted a factual decision that carefully avoids any reproach as to a breach of Article 5,
but there then arises a further sizeable obstacle in the form of Article L.411-2, sub-paragraph 2
of the Code de procédure civile (French civil procedure code): “[t]he Court of Cassation shall not
rule on the substance of cases, unless otherwise provided by law”. The Court of Cassation has
quite evidently based its decision on the substance of the case here.
Aware as it was of appearing to spark a revolution in terms of the sources of French law, and
following a procedure that it otherwise rarely employs, the Court issued a communiqué along with
its decision, stressing the fact that its ruling did not constitute a landmark decision and that the
rules contained in the Civil Code were still applicable. It may also be accepted that, given the
lengthy grounds given on the basis of Article 8 ECHR, the Court applied the Convention directly to
domestic law. While this procedure has been employed for the purposes of interpreting particular
legal provisions or limiting their scope, it has never been used purely and simply to set aside a
statute; the scope of such an action could be considerable and well beyond the bounds of the
matter in question.
Thus the social impediments to marriage, which could well be viewed as relics of the past, have
led to UK and French law being called very specifically into question. Sometimes smaller issues
reveal much bigger ones.
(1) C. Levi-Strauss (1948) Les structures élémentaires de la parenté : la prohibition de l’inceste
naturelle? Editions Mouton, Paris, p.28-29
(2) Decision n°12-26066, Court of Cassation, First Civil Chamber, 4th December 2013
Judgment no.1389 of 4 December 2013
Case no. 12-26.066
First Civil Chamber
By a judgment handed down on 4 December, 2013, the First Civil Division of the Court of
Cassation, has ruled that the nullity declaration issued in respect of the marriage between a
father-in-law and his daughter-in-law, the latter having divorced his son, constitutes in relation
to the latter an unjustified interference in the exercise of her right to respect for private life when
the union; celebrated without objection, had lasted for over twenty years.
The factual circumstances played a determining role in this case, where the annulment of the
marriage had been requested and granted by the court of first instance on the basis of Article 161
of the Civil Code which, in particular prohibits a marriage between a father-in-law and his
daughter-in-law where the union between the latter and the son of the former has been dissolved
by divorce. The husband’s son had brought the nullity action 22 years after the marriage had been
celebrated, following the death of his father, who had named his wife as sole legatee.
In countering the son’s claim, the widow argued that there was a breach of the substance of the
right to marry guaranteed under Article 12 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights
and Fundamental Freedoms, basing her argument on a decision handed down by the European
Court of Human Rights on 13 September 2005, concerning the proposed marriage between
persons related by affinity claiming many years of cohabitation.
The court of first instance entertained the nullity application, ruling that the prohibition on
marriage between a father-in-law and his daughter-in-law, as provided under Article 161 of the
Civil Code, was justified insofar as it achieved the legitimate purposes of preserving family
homogeneity and, in the present case, the presence of a surviving spouse necessarily brought
about prejudicial successorial consequences for this sole heir who therefore had an investment in
the annulment.
The Court of Cassation has ruled that the findings of the court of first instance were sufficient to
infer that the right to respect for private and family life, within the meaning of Article 8 of the
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, had of necessity to
result in the in the dismissal of the application for the annulment of the marriage, celebrated
without any objection being raised by the Public Prosecutor when the civil status papers produced
by the future spouses necessarily revealed the cause of the obstacle to the marriage.
Owing to its basis, the scope of this decision is limited to the case in point. The principle of the
prohibition on marriage between persons related by affinity has not been overturned.
Issue No.1 January 2015
Constitutional law:
Recent proposed amendments to the Charter for the Environment
Florian Savonitto, Lecturer, CERCCLE, University of Bordeaux
Almost ten years on since its promulgation, France’s Charter for the Environment continues to
surprise (1). Its adoption on 1 March 2005 on the initiative of the then President of the Republic,
Jacques Chirac, was just one such surprise (2), even when the idea of extending the corpus of
French constitutional law to include the environment was not new (3). Another surprise was its
immediate application by the constitutional (4), administrative (5) and criminal (6) courts, as
compared with the contentious fate of other declarations under French law to which the Preamble
to the 1958 Constitution refers, i.e. the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the
Preamble to the 1946 Constitution. A third surprise lays in the situation whereby the nature of
some of the Charter’s provisions remains as yet undecided, almost ten years after the
promulgation of a law composed of ten articles preceded by a Preamble of seven short
The uniqueness of the Charter on the Environment is well established. It is unique, firstly, in terms
of its ambition. Contained as it is within the Preamble to the 1958 Constitution, it is intended to
become the 21st-century equivalent of the very declarations of rights which the Charter features
alongside, namely the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, together with the
Preamble to the 1946 Constitution. Secondly, the Charter is also unique in terms of the context in
which it was drafted. Unlike the adoption of other French declarations of rights, the 2005
constitutional amendment was quite removed from any change of regime such as the French
Revolution of 1789 or the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1946. Thirdly, it is unique in terms of
the drafting process, which attached particular importance to the involvement of civil society. Prior
to the parliamentary debates and the adoption of the constitutional law by the Congress of the
French Parliament, a national consultation and regional workshops were conducted and followed
by the Yves Coppens Commission (named after the palaeontologist chairing it). Composed
primarily of representatives from employers’ organisations, trade unions, agricultural and
consumer groups, together with qualified individuals from the fields of the social sciences,
medicine and biology, the Commission was tasked with producing a report which served as the
basis for the Government’s draft amendment. Finally, the Charter is unique in terms of its content.
Indeed, this was the first time that a State had armed itself with a constitutional law devoted
entirely to the environment. The purpose of this constitutionalisation was to respond "to the
gradual assertion, in the second half of the previous century, of so-called "third-generation"
rights, environmental rights, consumer rights, citizens’ rights, etc.” (7).
Thus the 2004 Charter recognises, under Article 1, " the right to live in a balanced environment
which shows due respect for health"; and, under Article 7, "the right […] to have access to
information pertaining to the environment in the possession of public bodies and to participate in
the public decision-making process likely to affect the environment”. While it is no longer
considered “fashionable”, the Charter also specifies a number of duties: the duty to participate in
preserving and enhancing the environment (Article 2); to prevent damage that anyone may cause
to the environment or, failing that, limit the consequences thereof (Article 3); to contribute to the
reparation of the damage that anyone may cause to the environment (Article 4). Finally, aside from
the requirement that public policies promote sustainable development (Article 6), it is incumbent
upon public authorities, in applying the precautionary principle and in their respective fields of
commensurate to the risk involved in order to preclude the occurrence of any damage, albeit
unpredictable in the current state of scientific knowledge, which may seriously and irreversibly
harm the environment (Article 5).
Nevertheless the Charter’s uniqueness must not be overstated. It is not a revolutionary legal
document. It is not “as innovative in its field as were some landmark, historic declarations in the
field of individual rights and civil liberties" (8). Indeed, on the one hand, “a comparison with
foreign States shows France to be a latecomer to the constitutionalisation of environmental law"
(9). On the other hand, the Charter for the Environment has not had the same influence in the
world as the other two French declarations of rights. Finally, the Charter’s content is not
particularly innovative. Firstly, "since the 1970s, international law and European Union law have
broadly recognised a large part of the general rights and principles of environmental law that are
enshrined by the Charter”. Secondly, some principles or rights laid down by the Charter already
featured in the Code de l’environnement or Environmental Code, although the phrasing differs.
This is the case, for instance, of the right to live in a balanced environment, the precautionary
principle, the right of access to information and to participate in environmental matters under
Articles L.110-1 and L.110-2 of the Code de l’environnement.
Today, the surprising aspect of the Charter for the Environment is the number of proposals to
amend it. And these are themselves surprising for several reasons: firstly, the proposed
constitutional bills are put forward as much by Deputies in the National Assembly as they are by
Senators; secondly, the proposed bills were all tabled very recently, whereas the members of
France’s Parliament had not previously shown the slightest inclination to make any changes to the
Charter; thirdly, they all concern the same provision, namely the precautionary principle. Some aim
to de-constitutionalise it (10), while others provide that the scope of the principle is to be defined
(entrusting Parliament with the task of establishing the conditions for its application (11)), while
still others aim to balance the principle out with the addition of a new principle, the innovation
principle – although the term already features in the text of the Charter – in order to compensate
for the excesses that the precautionary principle has allegedly brought about (12). It is surprising
that the principle should be at the heart of all of these challenges: on the one hand, it drew the
attention of all members of Parliament during the debates on the Charter in 2004; on the other
hand, it was the members of Parliament themselves who carved the principle into the
constitutional marble when the Coppens Commission,
which was behind the constituent
procedure, had itself refused to do so, precisely because it could not reach a consensus (13);
finally, while the definition of the conditions of application and limits of the principle was not
referred back to the legislature (unlike other rights and freedoms laid down in the Charter), the
phrasing of the principle is quite precise (14).
Nonetheless, while Parliament’s challenge to the precautionary principle is astonishing compared
with the debates in 2004, it is only half a surprise in light of the relevant reports. According to the
report from the Commission pour la libération de la croissance française (France’s Commission for
Growth) chaired by Jacques Attali, the constitutionalisation of the principle is allegedly based on a
petrified notion of reality and thus is an obstacle to growth; the report recommends that the
principle should either be repealed or, at the very least, its scope be clearly defined in an
amendment (15). Equally, Le Pacte pour la compétitivité de l’industrie (16), written by Louis
Gallois, and an official report titled Pour un Big-Bang économique fiscal et culturel (17) by
"Génération Entreprise-Entrepreneurs associés", an industry lobby group, both challenge broad,
even abusive, interpretations (without mentioning which) of the precautionary principle which
prevent technical progress and paralyse research. Also, the precautionary principle faced more
criticism when the Innovation 2030 Commission "proposes to acknowledge at the highest level the
existence of an innovation principle" (18) in order to redress the balance of its effects, or when the
Académie des sciences morales et politiques suggested that the rights and duties of citizens in the
protection of the environment and its conservation for future generations are exercised under the
conditions laid down by the law (19). Finally, further to an information report highlighting the
issues surround the application of the precautionary principle and the concerns raised (20), the
National Assembly adopted a draft resolution on 1 February 2012 aiming to establish guidelines
for the implementation of the precautionary principle with a view to defining the intentions of both
the legislature and Parliament and thus take the monopoly away from case law (21).
The recent proposed constitutional laws are therefore the result of the constant and growing
challenges to the precautionary principle laid down under Article 5 of the Charter. The recurring
criticisms of the excessive interpretations of the principle would justify the amendment of the
Charter, on condition that both Houses of Parliament decide so, as well as the French people, who
would necessarily be consulted in view of the author of the initiative (22). This constitutional
review is not welcome in light of the doctrine of the Veil Committee, developed in 2008 during the
review undertaken of the Preamble to the 1958 Constitution (23). The Comité de réflexion sur le
Préambule de la Constitution (Committee appointed to review the Preamble to the Constitution) –
generally known to as the Veil Committee after the chairwoman, Simone Veil – was tasked by the
then President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to examine "whether and to what extent the fundamental rights
acknowledged by the Constitution must be supplemented by new principles” (24). However, before
publishing its findings, the Committee attempted to develop a doctrine on its idea "of the
constituent power’s role in fundamental rights" (25). This methodological preliminary led it to
establish four principles, the first of which are "to respect France’s constitutional heritage” and “to
guarantee the inviolability of recent constitutional texts”.
The Charter for the Environment is not yet ten years old. Furthermore, it is mentioned in the
Preamble to the 1958 Constitution alongside other French declarations of rights. Consequently,
owing to its relative “youth”, any proposed amendment surely constitutes a correction of recent
constitutional texts (I) and, in view of its position in the Constitution, a challenge to France’s
constitutional heritage (II). The doctrine is therefore an invitation to Parliament to bring an end to
the current procedure to amend the Charter for the Environment, owing to the questionable
subject to which Parliament’s proposals relate.
I - A correction of recent constitutional texts
Although the Constitution is no longer "that work etched in bronze which, as in ancient Rome, it
would suffice to admire and respect" (26), its stability remains essential. Indeed, “the instability of
the Constitution is harmful to maintaining constitutionalism” (27). Between 1992 and 2008, 19
amendments were made to the Constitution; bearing in mind that the current President of the
Republic also intends to alter it before the end of his term of office, this will bring the total
number of amendments under the Fifth Republic to 25. Furthermore, some have been quite
significant. For example, the amendment of 23 July 2008 changed or added no fewer than 47
articles (28). An umpteenth amendment would surely add further instability to the Constitution.
Above all, according to the Veil Committee, when it comes to “setting aside one of the
constitutionalized norms, qualifying it, supplementing it, even expressing it differently, the answer
could only ever be in the negative (…) the experiment is too recent for any potentially corrective
lessons to be drawn from it” (29). While some members of Parliament refuse to undertake any
corrections (30), where it is a matter of deconstitutionalising the precautionary principle, to
balance it out or even task the legislature with defining it, the proposals surely aim to correct the
work done by the constituent power in 2004. Some members of Parliament clearly acknowledge as
much when they admit either that the proposed bill proceeds with a “substantial redrafting of the
Charter” (31) or that what it produces "is not perfect” (32), or that “the abolition of the
precautionary principle’s direct effect could be perceived as a step backwards” (33). Furthermore,
the constitutionalisation of the principle was the subject of vigorous debate (34), thus expressing
a real choice on the part of members of Parliament, and all the more so given that the Coppens
Committee hesitated as to its inclusion in the Constitution. Moreover, the direct effect of Article 5
is the result of a desire on the part of the constituent power in 2005. This choice is confirmed, a
contrario, by Articles 3, 4 and 7 of the Charter, which refer to the law, namely the duties to
prevent environmental damage and to contribute to the repair of any damage, as well as the rights
of access to information and
public participation on environmental issues. Consequently,
correcting the deliberate choice made by Parliament less than ten years after that choice was made
may serve to emphasise the Constitution’s instability even further. Besides, this is not an isolated
case. A proposed constitutional bill on the jurisdictional liability of the President and the
Government (35) was tabled on 14 March 2013 at the National Assembly, when the provisions on
the liability of the Head of State under Articles 67 and 68 of the Constitution (which, incidentally,
have never been applied) had already been reformed on 23 February 2007.
The precautionary principle did not escape the Veil Committee’s scrutiny either. The Committee
explicitly refused to recommend any amendments to it, along with the other provisions of the
Charter for the Environment, owing to the legal authority that it carries (36). Indeed, having
acknowledged the constitutional value of all of the Charter’s provisions in 2008, the Conseil d’Etat
and the Constitutional Council went so far as to state that they "are binding on the government
and on administrative authorities in their respective areas of responsibility” (37). It follows that it
would be regrettable for the Constitution’s readability and stability if Parliament were to follow the
trend of demolishing that which they have only just built and if the same problems affecting
France’s laws were also to impact on the Constitution.
II - The challenge to France’s constitutional heritage
According to the Veil Committee, "when it comes to fundamental rights, France’s constitutional
heritage rests indissolubly both on the founding legal texts and on the case law arising therefrom"
(38). By “founding texts”, the Committee means the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of
the Citizen, the Preamble to the 1946 Constitution, and the Charter for the Environment that came
into force in 2005. In other words, France’s constitutional heritage is made up of texts, each
drawing on a different source of inspiration, to which the Preamble to the 1958 Constitution
refers. Indeed the framers of the 1958 Constitution had "deliberately chosen the path of
sedimentation" (39) and "the constituent power, in recent times, has not moved away from the
same of reverence towards the bequests of 1789 and 1946. The constitutionalisation of the
Charter for the Environment in March 2005 came about in the form of the simple addition of a new
level to the constitutional edifice, without amendment and, therefore, without entrenchment vis à
vis the existing one” (40). The Charter for the Environment cannot be amended without this
affecting France’s constitutional heritage, especially as it is a matter here, not of enhancing it, but
of excising – or at least limiting the effects of – one of its articles. Admittedly, there are no
constitutional provisions preventing the framers of the Constitution to amend the Charter for the
Environment. Aside from a number of time limits scattered through the Constitution, the derived
constituent power has only one material limit imposed on it by Article 89: the impossibility of
amending the republican form of government. An amendment to the Charter for the Environment
would certainly not contravene that interdict. Nevertheless, proceeding with such an amendment
would necessarily go against the historic tradition of stratification of constitutional standards on
the protection of fundamental rights.
Even more fundamentally, the question is whether the provisions of the Charter for the
Environment are constitutional provisions like the others. Formally, there is nothing to suggest
that they could be anything else insofar as, by virtue of the principle of parallel powers, that which
the derived constituent power can do, it can also undo. Conversely, still others consider that the
Charter "is a rather poorly identified legal and constitutional object" (41) with “the same character
as the two declarations of rights” (42). Certainly, its position in the body of the Constitution
alongside the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the Preamble to the
1946 Constitution renders the three declarations indissociable, although the Charter does not
have the seniority of its counterparts. The Conseil d’Etat has acknowledged this bond - indeed,
more explicitly than did the Constitutional Council in its decision concerning to the law on
genetically-modified organisms (43) when it asserted that the provisions under Article 7 of the
Charter "as with all rights and duties defined in the Charter for the Environment, and like all those
proceeding from the Preamble to the Constitution, have constitutional value” (44). Consequently,
to envisage an amendment of the Charter for the Environment is akin to opening a Pandora’s Box.
Once the newest declaration of rights has been amended, there will no longer be any obstacle, in
view of the precedent created, to an amendment of the older declarations (i.e. those of 1789 and
1946), although that possibility remains unimaginable for the time being (45). It follows that if the
amendment process reaches completion, this will break down the political – if not psychological –
barriers which currently prevent any amendment of the rights to which the Preamble to the 1958
Constitution refers. France’s constitutional heritage would then be called into question in its
All in all, as far as the precautionary principle is concerned, amending the Constitution is not the
answer, especially where this involves amending a part of France’s constitutional heritage that is
so firmly focused on future generations.
(1) HEDARY D., « Les surprises de la Charte de l’environnement », Droit de l’environnement,
2009, n°175, p. 3.
(2) PRIEUR M., « Promesses et réalisations de la Charte de l’environnement », NCCC, 2012, n°43,
p. 5.
(3) PRIEUR M., « La constitutionnalisation du droit de l’environnement », in Cinquantième
anniversaire de la Constitution française, MATHIEU B. (dir.), Dalloz, 2008, p. 489.
(4) CC n° 2005-31 REF, 24 March 2005, Rec. p. 56 ; CC n°2005-516 DC, 7 July 2005, Rec. p.
(5) TA Chalons-en-Champagne, order of 29 April 2005; CE, 6 April 2006, Ligue pour la
protection des oiseaux, n°283103 ; CE, 13 June 2006, Association FNE, n°293764 ; CE, 19
June 2006, Association eaux et rivières de Bretagne, n°282456.
(6) Tribunal correctionnel (criminal court) of Orléans, 9 December 2005, note J.-Ph. Feldman,
Rec. Dalloz, 2006, p. 814.
(7) JEGOUZO Y., « La Charte de l’environnement », AJDA, 2005, p. 1156.
(8) Ibid.
(9) MORAND-DEVILLER J., « L’environnement dans les constitutions étrangères », NCCC, 2012,
n°43, p. 83.
(10) Proposition de loi constitutionnelle visant à ôter au principe de précaution sa portée
constitutionnelle, (Constitutional proposal to strip the precautionary principle of its
constitutional scope), National Assembly, n°1242, 10 July 2013; Proposition de loi
constitutionnelle visant à retirer le principe de précaution du bloc de constitutionnalité
(Constitutional proposal to withdraw the precautionary principle from the constitutional frame
work), National Assembly, n°2033, 13 June 2014.
(11) Proposition de loi constitutionnelle visant à modifier la Charte de l’environnement pour
préciser la portée du principe de précaution (Constitutional proposal to amend the Charter for
the Environment in order to stipulate the scope of the precautionary principle), Senate, n°125,
27 May 2014.
(12) Proposition de loi constitutionnelle visant à équilibrer le principe de précaution avec le
principe d’innovation (Constitutional proposal to balance the precautionary principle against
the innovation principle), National Assembly, n°1580, 26 November 2013; Proposition de loi
constitutionnelle visant à modifier la Charte de l’environnement pour exprimer clairement que
le principe de précaution est aussi un principe d’innovation (Constitutional proposal to amend
the Charter for the Environment to state clearly that the precautionary principkle is also an
innovation principle), Senate, n°183, 3 December 2013.
(13) See the two proposed variations: Yves Coppens, Rapport de la Commission Coppens de
préparation de la Charte de l’environnement, published by the French Ministry for the
Environment and Sustainable Development, 2005, p. 38 et s.
(14) PRIEUR M., « Promesses et réalisations de la Charte de l’environnement », cited above, p. 13.
(15) Jacques Attali, Rapport de la Commission pour la libération de la croissance française : 300
décisions pour changer la France, La documentation française, 2008, p. 91-92.
(16) Louis Gallois, Pacte pour la compétitivité de l’industrie française, La documentation française,
2012, p. 39.
(17) GEEA, Pour un Big-Bang économique, fiscal et culturel, 2013,
(18) Anne Lauvergeon, Un principe et sept ambitions pour l’innovation, La documentation
française, 2013, p. 14.
(19) Avis de l’Académie sur le projet de loi constitutionnelle concernant la Charte de
l’Environnement, http://www.asmp.fr/travaux/avis_charte.htm
(20) Alain Gest et Philippe Tourtelier, Evaluation de la mise en œuvre de l’article 5 de la Charte de
l’environnement relatif à l’application du principe de précaution, Rapport d’information
(Information Report: Evalutating the implementation of Article 5 of the Charter for the
Environment on the application of the precautionary principle), National Assembly, n°2719, 8
July 2010.
(21) Alain Gest et Philippe Tourtelier, Proposition de résolution sur la mise en œuvre du principe
de précaution (Proposed resolution on the implementation of the precautionary principle),
National Assembly, n°4008, 25 November 2001.
(22) Under Article 89 of the Constitution, only Government Bills to amend the constitution may be
submitted to Parliament convened in Congress where the President of the Republic so decides
where these are passed by both Houses in identical terms. As to proposed constitutional
amendments, these are compulsorily subject to final approval, not by Parliament convened in
Congress, but by referendum.
(23) Simone Veil, Redécouvrir le Préambule de la Constitution, La documentation française, 2008,
p. 18 et s.
(24) Article 1, Décret n°2008-328 du 9 avril 2008 portant création d’un comité de réflexion sur
le Préambule de la Constitution (Decree n°2008-328 of 9 April 2008 for the creation of a
committee to examine the Preamble to the Constitution).
(25) Simone Veil, Redécouvrir le Préambule de la Constitution, op. cit., p. 21.
(26) LAVROFF D. G., « De l’abus des réformes : réflexions sur le révionnisme constitutionnel »,
RFDC, 2008, n°5, p. 57.
(27) Ibid., p. 58.
(28) MONTALIVET P., « La dégradation de la qualité de la norme constitutionnelle sous la Ve
République », RDP, 2012, n°4, p. 925.
(29) Simone Veil, Redécouvrir le Préambule de la Constitution, op. cit., p. 26.
(30) "The aim of Amendment n°3 put forward by M. Détraigne (…) is not to restrict the scope of the
precautionary principle, but to stipulate for educational purposes that it is not an obstacle to
scientific research”, Patrice Gélard, Compte rendu des débats de la commission des lois
(Transcript of debates, Law Commission), 27 May 2014, Senate.
(31) Michel Teston, Séance du 27 mai 2014 (compte rendu intégral des débats) [Session of 27 May
2014 (full transcript of debates)], Senate.
(32) Yves Détraigne, Comptes rendus de la commission des lois (Report from the Law
Commission), 21 May 2014, Senate.
(33) Patrice Gélard, Compte rendu des débats de la commission des lois (Transcript of debates,
Law Commission), 27 May 2014, Senate.
(34) Jean Bizet, Avis visant à modifier la Charte de l’environnement pour exprimer plus clairement
que le principe de précaution est aussi un principe d’innovation (Opinion on amendments to
the Charter on the Environment to state more clearly that the precautionary principle is also
an innovation principe), Senate, n°532, 14 May 2014, p. 13.
(35) Projet de loi constitutionnelle relatif à la responsabilité juridictionnelle du Président de la
République et des membres du Gouvernement (Draft constitutional law on the jurisdictional
responsibility of the President of the Republic and members of the Government), National
Assembly, n°816, 14 March 2013.
(36) Simone Veil, Redécouvrir le Préambule de la Constitution, op. cit., p. 27 et 28.
(37) CE, Ass., 3 October 2008, Commune d’Annecy, n°297931 ; CC n°2008-564 DC, 19 June 2008,
Rec. p. 313.
(38) Simone Veil, Redécouvrir le Préambule de la Constitution, op. cit., p. 21.
(39) Ibid., p. 11.
(40) Ibid., p. 26.
(41) Jean-Jacques Hyest, Séance du 27 mai 2014 (compte rendu intégral des débats) (Session of
May 2014 (full transcript of debates), Senate.
(42) Alain Richard, Comptes rendus de la commission des lois (Report from the Law Commission)
21 May 2014, Senate.
(43) CC n°2008-564 DC, 19 June 2008, Rec. p. 313.
(44) CE, Ass., 3 October 2008, Commune d’Annecy, n°297931.
(45) "From a sociological or historical point of view, the 1789 Declaration is an irreversible
achievement in the minds of the French people (…) For the French, the 1789 Declaration is an
intangible treasure. That precludes the slightest thing being excised from it", G. VEDEL, La
déclaration des droits et la jurisprudence, PUF, 1989, p. 72.
The Charter for the Environment
The French People,
Considering that:
Natural resources and equilibriums have conditioned the emergence of mankind;
The future and very existence of mankind are inextricably linked with its natural environment;
The environment is the common heritage of all mankind;
Mankind exerts ever-increasing influence over the conditions for life and its own evolution;
Biological diversity, the fulfilment of the person and the progress of human societies are affected
by certain types of consumption or production and by excessive exploitation of natural resources;
Care must be taken to safeguard the environment along with the other fundamental interests of
the Nation;
In order to ensure sustainable development, choices designed to meet the needs of the present
generation should not jeopardise the ability of future generations and other peoples to meet their
own needs,
Hereby proclaim:
Article 1
Everyone has the right to live in a balanced environment which shows due respect for health.
Everyone is under a duty to participate in preserving and enhancing the environment.
Article 3
Everyone shall, in the conditions provided for by law, foresee and avoid the occurrence of any
damage which he or she may cause to the environment or, failing that, limit the consequences of
such damage.
Article 4
Everyone shall be required, in the conditions provided for by law, to contribute to the making good
of any damage he or she may have caused to the environment.
Article 5
When the occurrence of any damage, albeit unpredictable in the current state of scientific
knowledge, may seriously and irreversibly harm the environment, public authorities shall, with due
respect for the principle of precaution and the areas within their jurisdiction, ensure the
implementation of procedures for risk assessment and the adoption of temporary measures
commensurate with the risk involved in order to preclude the occurrence of such damage.
Article 6
Public policies shall promote sustainable development. To this end they shall reconcile the
protection and enhancement of the environment with economic development and social progress.
Article 7
Everyone has the right, in the conditions and to the extent provided for by law, to have access to
information pertaining to the environment in the possession of public bodies and to participate in
the public decision-taking process likely to affect the environment.
Article 8
Education and training with regard to the environment shall contribute to the exercising of the
rights and duties set out in this Charter.
Article 9
Research and innovation shall contribute to the preservation and development of the environment.
Article 10
This Charter shall inspire France's actions at both European and international levels.
Issue No.1 January 2015
Consumer law:
The introduction of class actions in French law
Françoise Gonthier, Associate Professor, ISCJ, University of Bordeaux
The introduction of class actions in French law has been a laborious process. The commission de
refonte du droit de la consommation (Commission for the Reform of Consumer Law), chaired by
Jean Calais-Aulois, had recommended the adoption of class actions as early as 1985, but the draft
bill inspired by the Commission’s report was never tabled. Jacques Chirac made an election
promise on class actions in 2005: new reports were ordered and a draft bill was adopted on 8
November 2006 then withdrawn from Parliament’s agenda at the last minute. In 2007, the new
President, Nicolas Sarkozy, again announced the imminent introduction of class actions, but the
reform was put back several times.
While France was increasingly bogged down by her own prevarication, class actions were
progressing in many countries, and particularly in EU States; this led the European Commission to
issue a Recommendation on 11 June 2013, on the one hand to encourage Member States to make
provision for class actions and, on the other hand, to harmonise national legislations by detailing a
series of common non-binding principles intended to regulate the various measures (1). The
Commission’s recommendations were certainly the last bit of encouragement that France needed
to adopt Law n°2014-344 of 17 March 2014 on consumer affairs (known as the loi Hamon or
Hamon law), which finally instituted class actions in French law (2).
While class actions appear to be the most emblematic provision under the Law of 17 March 2014,
they are only one aspect of a law that brings sweeping reforms to the Code de la consommation
(Consumer Code). Thus, for the first time, the Law provides a definition of "consumer" (3); it also
strengthens existing consumer rights (particularly the right of access to information); it transposes
European Directive 2011/83/EU of 25 October 2011 on off-premises sales and distance selling
and, lastly, regulates a multitude of special contracts concluded between consumers and
professionals. Prior to its promulgation, the Law was referred to the Constitutional Council which,
in its decision n° 2014-690 of 13 March 2014, struck down Article 67 which provided for the
creation of a registre national des crédits aux particuliers (national register of personal loans) to
prevent debt situations. The Council considered that the creation of such a scheme did not bring
with it sufficient guarantees and thus constituted a disproportionate infringement of privacy in
light of the aim pursued. Conversely, it ruled that class actions were not contrary to any
constitutional requirements (neither to personal freedom, nor to the right to a fair trial), as
consumers can only be drawn into the proceedings with their consent, while providers may assert
all useful grounds during the proceedings in the defence of their interests.
It therefore appears that the Law of 17 March 2014 has succeeded in introducing a class action à
la française, i.e. compatible with the principles of French law, and in particular those principles
governing trials (4).
Before we examine the modalities of class actions, we must first explain why their introduction
proved both necessary and delicate.
I- The context of the admission of class actions à la française
Consumer protection is a priority for the French legislature, but the proliferation of regulations
imposed on providers has a purpose only if consumers benefit from effective steps to penalise any
failure to comply with those regulations. Class actions have therefore emerged as the ideal
procedure to remedy the absence of steps available to consumers. However, the excesses linked to
the development of class actions, as have been observed in the United States, raised fears
amongst many providers and a number of legal scholars. The hostility towards class actions was
for a long time based on a procedural obstacle: the principle of nul ne plaide par procureur (only
the injured party has recourse to the law), which is a fundamental principle of French civil
procedure. The Law of 17 March 2014 gives precedence to consumer interests by enshrining an
additional exception to that principle.
A- The deficiencies of existing actions
While consumer law instituted greater consumer protection, there was a lack of effectiveness in
that protection, owing to the absence of remedies appropriate to what often proves to be mass
litigation. Indeed, the failure to comply with consumer protection measures generally results in
very slight damage for consumers, whilst being highly profitable for providers. Although the total
sum of individual damage is high, taken individually they are too low a sum to motivate the victim
to instigate legal proceedings. An individual action therefore proves to be inappropriate.
The use of consumer associations is no more effective. Indeed, accredited consumer associations
were granted legal standing but only in order to protect the collective interests of consumers.
Thus, in the event of a criminal offence, aside from compensation for the damage to those
collective interests, consumer associations may, in bringing a civil action, petition both the civil
and criminal courts to order the cessation of illegal practices or the removal of abusive or illegal
clauses in consumer contracts (5). These actions, provided by the Code de la consommation, do
not allow actions to be brought by associations in defence of the individual interests of
consumers. This is why, in order to improve consumer protection, the Law of 18 January 1992
created l’action en représentation conjointe (6), or joint representation action, which allows any
accredited consumer association, recognised and representative on a national level, to bring an
action before any court for compensation for the damage suffered individually by a more or less
large number of identified consumers, on condition that this damage is the result of the activities
of the same provider and that the cause of the damage is the same for each consumer. In order for
the association to bring an action, a minimum of two consumers must give the association a
written mandate.
This procedure was a failure: it was only used a dozen times in 20 years. This failure is explained
by the fact that the action cannot be publicised and requires significant financial means that
consumer associations do not always have.
Class actions then emerged as the most appropriate means to allow mass litigation, the protection
of consumers’ personal interests and the moralization of trade to be managed at the same time by
deterring offenders from pursuing illegal practices. However, there remained an obstacle to the
admission of class actions: the nul ne plaide par procureur principle.
B- The procedural obstacle to class actions
The action de groupe is a direct translation into French of "class action". A class action is an action
by which one person is authorised to represent a group of persons in legal proceedings without
having obtained their consent beforehand. It first appeared in the United Kingdom and spread to
the United States, Quebec and many other countries. The forms vary from country to country, but
generally there are two systems: the opt-in system, under which only those persons who have
agreed to the action are included; and the opt-out system, under which all victims, even those
who have not expressly agreed, are included in the action and those who expressly refuse are
excluded. The class action is a collective action within the meaning of the Recommendation of 11
June 2013 as it allows compensation to be paid to a group of persons who have been the victims
of the same action or event. It is also an action bought in the personal interest of others. Article 31
of the Code de procédure civile (civil procedure code) provides that "the action is open to all those
who have a legitimate interest in the success or dismissal of a claim". In order to bring a legal
action, there must therefore be proof of an interest to act which must be an actual, existing,
personal and direct interest. To require that the interest be person is to require that any advantage
that the action is likely to yield for the litigant will benefit them personally and directly. The
principle is contained in an adage: nul ne plaide par procureur (only the injured party has recourse
to the law), which means that a person may not in theory act in another’s interests. This
requirement does not preclude the possibility of being represented in bringing legal action. In the
event of such representation, it is the represented person who remains the party to the
proceedings, and it is they who must meet the conditions for bringing the action by proving a
personal interest in particular. Thus consumer groups can bring actions as representatives, on the
basis of a power that is attributed to them by mandate: this is the case with joint representation
If the principle is strictly observed, class actions are not possible as they allow actions to be
brought in another’s interests without obtaining their prior consent or receiving a mandate to that
The principle is not, however, absolute. The legislature may set it aside by giving legal standing to
a person who cannot establish a personal interest in bringing a legal action.
In order to have legal standing, the rule is that it suffices to have an interest in bringing an action,
in such a way that the person who has an interest in bringing an action necessarily has legal
standing. Exceptionally, for some actions known as actions attitrées or dedicated actions, a
personal interest will not suffice: a person must also establish that he or she has the legal
standing required by law. In this sense, divorce proceedings are a dedicated action: it may be
argued that the children concerned have a legitimate interest in bringing such an action, but the
legislature gives legal standing to the spouses only, thus in turn preventing children from
petitioning for their parents’ divorce. The independence of legal standing is all the more evident in
a very small number of cases by becoming the only condition for the right to bring an action. This
is the case where the law recognizes a person’s or a group’s legal standing to bring an action in
another person’s personal interest or in the collective interest. This person or group is then
recognised as having their own right in the interests of a third party: they have the right to bring
an action, although they have no personal interest in doing so, owing solely to the fact that the law
gives them legal standing to do so. This undermines the nul ne plaide par procureur principle.
There are only a few exceptions and these are always provided by law. Thus Article 46 (1) of Law
n°85-98 of 25 January 1985 on the administration and compulsory liquidation of companies
provides that the creditors’ representative alone may act in the creditors’ interests. It is the
representative who brings the action, and it is on that basis that the grounds of the action are
examined. Equally, a trade union is authorised in certain situations provided by the Code du travail
(Labour Code) to act in the individual interest of a salaried employee who, as such, exercises his or
her own right to bring an action. The Law of 17 March 2014 simply introduces a new exception to
the nul ne plaide par procureur rule: the class action. This exception applies to a very narrow
category of actions for the time being, as it only concerns consumer law and competition law and
may only be brought by accredited consumer associations, as established by the modalities of
class actions provided by the Law of 17 March 2014.
II- The modalities of class actions provided by the Law of 17 March 2014
The Law of 17 March 2014 sought to introduce a modest innovation by granting a narrow scope of
application for class actions. It provides for an original standard procedure, together with a
simplified procedure and a specific one for anti-competitive practices.
A- The limited field of application for class actions
Class actions are, first of all, limited in their scope as they are the preserve of consumer law.
Previous bills had intended to introduce a general class action for all catastrophes - including
those linked to the environment and health - regulated by the Civil Code so as to underscore its
general nature. The Law of 17 March did not make the same choice: it limits class actions to
damage within the scope of consumer law or some aspects of competition law, which is why these
actions are regulated by the Code de la consommation.
So class actions are reserved for consumers. Since the Law of 17 March 2014 came into force,
"within the meaning of the present Code, shall be deemed a consumer any natural person who
acts for purposes that do not fall within the scope of their commercial, industrial, craft or
professional activities”. It must therefore be deduced that class actions are reserved for natural
persons and thus exclude legal persons, as these cannot be considered as consumers.
Class actions are also limited in terms of their purpose, as they may only be brought for
compensation in respect of individual damage suffered by a consumer as a result of negligence on
the part of a professional in respect of their legal or contractual obligations in the sale of goods or
the supply of services, or as a result of certain anti-competition practices. Furthermore, the action
may only be brought for compensation in respect of material damage. Article L.423-1 of the Code
de la consommation provides that "a class action may only concern the compensation for financial
loss resulting from material damage suffered by consumers". Thus personal injury is excluded, as
is financial loss resulting from personal injury, such as the loss of professional income or the costs
associated with the assistance of a third party. Non-financial losses, resulting in particular from
the violation of a personality right such as the right to privacy or image rights, are also excluded.
Compensation for other kinds of damage can only be sought in the context of traditional
proceedings. Where a victim suffers damage other than material damage, they must bring an
individual action for compensation for all damage before one single court. Finally, class actions are
limited in terms of whom may bring the action, as they are the preserve of accredited consumer
protection associations that are representative on a national level and accredited under the terms
of Article L. 411-1 of the Code de la consommation (7). In reserving legal standing – and,
therefore, the right to bring an action – for such consumer associations, the legislature clearly
wishes to remain consistent insofar as those same associations are competent to bring the other
actions provided in the individual or collective interest of the consumer. These associations thus
appeared to be the best placed and most legitimate to act in the collective interest of a group of
consumers. It was also certainly a matter of avoiding American-style aberrations by preventing an
excess of zeal on the part of some lawyers or even vexatious applications through the prior
scrutiny of such associations.
This choice has, however, been criticised. The legal conditions for obtaining accreditation are such
that only a handful of associations are successful. The lack of accredited associations will
necessarily restrict the number of class actions brought. Furthermore, the financial burden may
well prove too great for those associations that have the monopoly on class actions, insofar as,
unlike previous proposals, the law does not make provision public funding to be made available
for publicity and the costs associated with recovery and redistribution. It is this lack of funding
that is already partly to blame for the failure of joint representation actions.
B- Procedure
In reality, the 2014 Law provides for three procedures: a specific procedure for anti-competitive
practices; a standard procedure; and a simplified procedure.
Articles L 423-1 and L 423-17 to L 423-19 of the Code de la consommation set down specific
rules for the scenario in which a class action is brought in order to obtain compensation for
damage suffered as a result of anti-competitive practices. Indeed, where the alleged deficiencies
on the part of a provider concern the observance of the rules defined under Title II, Book IV of the
Code du commerce or Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European
Union, the provider cannot be found liable in the context of a class action, but rather on the basis
of a decision against the provider handed down by the Competition Authority or the competent
authorities of the European Union, a decision which finds deficiencies and can no longer be
appealed by the party concerned as regards the identification of those deficiencies. This
mechanism is the follow-on system, the adoption of which in French law raised many reservations
as to the length of the procedure and the submission of France’s ordinary courts to decisions of
the Competition Authority.
The standard procedure provided under Article L 423-3 and subsequent of the Code de la
consommation falls within the remit of the Tribunal de grande instance’s jurisdiction. As
representation by a lawyer is compulsory there, while the latter does not have legal standing, he
still has a part to play in the procedure as a representative ad litem. An accredited consumer
association must issue a writ in order to bring a class action. The court must then rule, in the
same decision, on the admissibility of the action, the provider’s liability in light of the individual
cases presented by the association, and finally on the formation of the group. The court
determines the group of consumers to whom the provider is liable, and sets the criteria for
membership of the group and the damage likely to be compensated, as well as the various aspects
allowing the damage to be assessed. In this way, the particularities of this procedure in
comparison with the systems operating in other countries lay in the fact that the consumer can
wait for the court’s decision before deciding whether to bring an individual action or a class action
by opting to join the group.
Where the court finds the provider liable, it orders advertising formalities, the costs of which are
borne by the provider, to inform consumers likely to belong to the group and sets the timescale
for consumers to join the group in order to obtain compensation for the damage suffered (the
timescale cannot be less than two months or greater than six months following the completion of
the advertising formalities ordered by the court). In this initial phase, the association does not act
by representation but by virtue of its own right (8). As regards the modalities for joining the
group, in accordance with the Recommendation of the European Commission of 11 June 2013,
there is an opt-in system under which only those persons who have expressed their willingness to
do so can join the group: consumers wishing to receive compensation must therefore join the
group. Article L. 423-5 of the Code de la consommation states that "membership of the group
shall be equivalent to a mandate to the association for the purposes of obtaining compensation”.
From that moment on, the action becomes a joint representation action as the association no
longer acts by virtue of its own right but as the representative of the consumer (so there is no
longer any exception to the nul ne plaide par procureur rule).
The provider held liable must then pay compensation to each consumer in the group within the
timeframe set by the court. The provider may however challenge some consumers’ membership of
the group before the same regional court, which triggers a second hearing on the enforcement of
the initial judgment. The court will then rule in one same judgment on all of the difficulties
relating to enforcement. Any sum received by the association as part of the compensation to the
consumers affected must be paid into a deposit account opened with the Caisse des dépôts et
consignation (French Deposit and Consignment Office).
The Law of 17 March 2014 also institutes a simplified procedure, provided under Article L. 423-10
of the Code de la consommation and applicable where "the identity of number of consumers
affected are known and where those consumers have suffered damage in the same sum, an
identical sum per service provided or an identical sum by reference to a period or duration…”. In
such cases, the court ruling on the provider’s liability can order that provider to compensate
victims directly and individually within the timeframe and in accordance with the formalities set by
the court. The consumers concerned having already been identified, the requirements concerning
group membership and publicity are replaced with individual information to be supplied by the
provider at their expense in order to allow the identified consumers to agree to be compensated in
accordance with the terms of the court’s decision.
To conclude, in accordance with the European Commission’s wishes expressed in its
Recommendation of 11 June 2013, which advocates the use of alternative dispute resolution
methods, the possibility of resorting to mediation is expressly envisaged under Articles L 423-15
and L 423-16 of the Code de la consommation. However, only the applicant consumer association
can take part in such mediation and any settlement negotiated on behalf of the group must, in
order to be legally binding, be submitted for approval to the court, which ensures that the
settlement conforms to the interests of those to whom it is intended to apply.
(1) The Commission’s recommendations can be accessed via the website: ec.europa.eu
(2) « L’action de groupe à la française, une curiosité » K. Haeri et B. Javaux, JCP 2014, p. 375;
« L’exorbitance de l’action de groupe à la française » N. Molfessis, D. 2014, p.947; « La
nouvelle action de groupe » V. Rebeyrol, D. 2014, p. 940; « Introduction de l’action de groupe
en droit français » M. Bacache, JCP 2014, p. 377; « L’introduction de l’action de groupe en
droit français » D. Mainguy et M. Depincé, JCP ent 2014, p. 1144.
(3) See below.
(4) The original French expression, action de groupe à la française, is borrowed from Serge
Guinchard, « Une class action à la française ? » D. 2005 p. 2180. The rules on class actions are
set down under Articles L 423-1 to L 423-26 of the Code de la consommation.
(5) Articles L.421-1 and L.421-2 of the Code de la consommation
(6) Articles L.422-1 to L.422-3 of the Code de la consommation
(7) Currently 16 associations.
(8) There is, therefore, a real exception to the nul ne plaide par procureur rule.
Issue No.1 January 2015
Contract law:
The curious process of reforming France’s law of obligations
Professor Hélène Boucard, Agrégée des Facultés de droit, Full Professor of Private Law at the
University of Poitiers, Member of the Civil Law Research Team
For a long time, the reform of France’s law of obligations seemed impracticable. Desired since the
centenary of the Civil Code and announced at its bicentenary, the reform – which concerned
French legal doctrine, above all – had yet to see the light of day. Unlike Germany, which had
already completed out its aggiornamento (1), France simply could not manage the modernisation
of her own law of obligations when she had succeeded in revising her law of succession, securities
law and statute of limitations.
At the time of the Civil Code’s centenary, in 1904 (2), Germany’s BGB had just come into force (3).
In the eyes of certain French scholars, in matters of the law of obligations, the German Code was
more modern while their own was already out of date. For decades, however, case law took
liberties with legislation; to some extent, it managed to adapt the law with the legislature only
having to intervene on an ad hoc basis. Come the late 1920s, a draft Franco-Italian Code of
Obligations had been drawn up but got no further (4). At the end of the Second World War, a
Commission de réforme du Code civil (Commission for the reform of the Civil Code) was set up; it
toiled for a decade but its efforts proved fruitless too – at least as far as the law of obligations was
concerned (5). From the 1960s onwards, entire chapters of the Civil Code were overhauled,
particularly in the law of persons and family law. This regeneration (or at least its beginnings)
owes a great deal to the alliance forged between legal knowledge and political power: Dean Jean
Carbonnier and the then Minister of Justice, Jean Foyer, not to mention Dean Gérard Cornu for the
Code de procédure civile (Civil Procedure Code). On the other hand, the letter of the law of
obligations has essentially remained unchanged. Amendments have been marginal if not minor.
There appears to be no sense of urgency in reforming it; legal practitioners and scholars have
accommodated the status quo. This, however, amounts to a “ décodification” (6) as the "living law"
of obligations is to be found outside the Civil Code, in the Bulletin of Court of Cassation decisions.
The end of the 20th century gave new European and international impetus to the reform of the
French law of obligations. A number of phenomena came together to encourage the reform (part I
below), including the growing influence of the European Union, the danger of a decline in France’s
own influence, or even the new wave of national (re)codifications in a context of global
competition. Nevertheless, French divisions relative to the various ways for reform are so many
obstacles to real recodification (part II below). The doctrinal controversies relating to the direction
to be taken by the new law of obligations have long resulted in stagnation.
Political leaders, now impatient to achieve the reform, have opted for a more expeditious process –
the ordinance technique rather than resorting to statute – which has itself sparked institutional
The initial attempts at reform did not relate to the law of obligations as a whole, but focused
instead on one aspect of it: sales law, the historic model for the theory of contract. These vague
desires to reform the special law of contract sprang from the national transposition of two
European directives in the field of consumer protection (see A below). Responsibility for defective
goods, then consumer goods guarantees still stand as missed opportunities for France. The need
to reform the general law of contract became all the more acute in light of the increased
competition between national laws on a European and, beyond that, an international level (see B
A. National transposition of directives and the vague desires to reform the special law of contract
The EC Directive of 25 July 1985 on responsibility for defective goods ought to have been
transposed by 1988; this was only done in 1998, ten years later, by a statute of 19 May 1998
incorporated into the Civil Code under Title IV bis which follows Title III, Of contracts and
conventional obligations in general and Title IV, Of undertakings formed without an agreement.
There are various reasons for this delay. Firstly, the scheme provided in the directive is, in some
respects, less favourable to victims than French law, be it legislation or case law (7). The
legislature therefore only resigned itself to transposing the directive once the European Court of
Justice gave judgment against France. The legislature was in even less of a hurry as the
contaminated blood scandal had been unearthed, a matter in which a number of political leaders
were likely implicated. Furthermore, the economic and voluntary sectors, together with scholars,
clashed over the possible exemption of producers on grounds of “development risks”. Finally, from
1988 onwards, a draft bill was produced by a working party chaired by Professor Jacques Ghestin
(8). The draft bill went beyond the transposition of the EC directive on responsibility for defective
goods, proposing a partial overhaul of the Civil Code in the form of a renewed sales law. This was
particularly ambitious, as sales are the model on which the French law of contract is based. The
ambitious nature of the draft bill is doubtless one of the reasons for its failure as there was no
academic consensus on sales law.
This holds also true for the EU Directive of 25 May 1999 on sale of consumer goods and
associated guarantees (9). From the French point of view, this directive again presented the
disadvantage of being, in some respects, less favourable to the consumer than the Civil Code and
the relevant developments in case law, particularly as the Directive draws on the United Nations
Vienna Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods 1980, conceived for
international traders. On the other hand, the Directive had the advantage of simplifying those
obligations falling to the vendor: from 1804 onwards, case law and doctrine had complicated
matters at will, and to such an extent that the subject had become a veritable maze for
practitioners. The transposition of the EU Directive was therefore the opportunity to overhaul sales
law and perhaps even the law of obligations (10). This was the path successfully taken by
Germany, with the "great transposition" brought about by the Act of 26 November 2001. France
missed another opportunity, again for various reasons and doctrinal divisions in particular.
Indeed, in 2002 a working party chaired by Professor Geneviève Viney submitted a draft bill to the
Ministry of Justice which went beyond the transposition of the EU Directive and aimed to
modernize French sales law (11). Professor Olivier Tournafond, who was hostile to the proposed
legislation, mobilized members of various professional communities and drafted a counterproposal (12). Again, the lack of academic consensus was obvious to France’s political power,
which consequently opted for a petite transposition or small-scale transposition: the directive was
not transposed into the "big" code, being the Civil Code, but rather the "little” code, being the
Code de la consommation or French Consumer Code (by an Ordinance of 17 February 2005,
ratified by statute on 5 April 2006 (13)). France therefore did not manage to reform its special law
of contract.
Since that time, the Association Henri Capitant has set up a working party chaired by Professor
Jérôme Huet, with a view to reforming the law of special contracts, but the current status of the
group’s work is not known.
B. International competition and the need to reform the general law of contract
In 2004, France celebrated the bicentenary of the Civil Code (14), a venerable ancestor naturally
considered even more ancient than it had been in 1904. The political power seemed to become
aware of the urgent need for reforming the law of obligations. During the conference held at the
Sorbonne to mark the bicentenary (15), President Jacques Chirac promised the legal overhaul
within a period of five years, by ordinance (16). A number of factors contributed to that sense of
Firstly, the BGB had taken on a new lease of life with the major legal reform in 2001 (17). FrancoGerman rivalry being what it is, it was high time that France’s Civil Code be updated. Furthermore,
after Quebec and the Russian Federation, Europe had witnessed a wave of recodification of
national laws of obligations (18); France therefore ran the risk of isolation.
This, secondly, was because international competition between legal systems was intensifying
(19). The World Bank published its famous – and fallacious – Doing Business reports, which
wrongly concluded that the legal tradition in continental Europe was economically inefficient. A
very recent impact study conducted by the French government claimed that the sheer age of the
French law of obligations harmed the competitiveness of French businesses (20). Aside from the
fact that such an assertion is far from convincing (21), it all too prosaically reduces civil law to
little more than a servant of the economy.
The European Union likewise put the national laws of its Member States in competition, with
France and Germany as frontrunners, be it for negotiating harmonization directives and
standardization regulations, or for initiatives with a view to establishing, if not a European Civil
Code (22), then a unified European contract law based on sales law (23).
France was therefore a little late in acknowledging the European Union’s tightening hold on her
civil law and the phenomenon of international competition between legal systems. If she was to
retain or regain her influence, she too would have to breathe new life into her law of obligations.
It is one thing to say it, but quite another to do it: far from becoming less stark, French divisions
have resurfaced on the subject of the various ways for reform.
II. French divisions on the ways for reform of the law of obligations
Over the course of almost a decade, the doctrinal hubbub born out of the rivalry between different
draft bills led to a stalemate on the reform (see A below). For the last year, the controversial
“eviction” of the French Parliament has aimed to speed up the reform process: opting for the
hybrid path of an ordinance rather than a statute would, it is claimed, condition the successful
completion of the reform (see B below).
A. Doctrinal hubbub and stalemate on reform
At first, a working party was set up under the chairmanship of Professor Pierre Catala, bringing
together a large number of scholars, many of whom were members of the Association Henri
Capitant. A White Paper titled Rapport pour une réforme du droit des obligations et de la
prescription (hereinafter referred to as the Catala draft bill) (24) was submitted to the Ministry of
Justice in September 2005, a report in which the working party adopted a double standpoint.
From the French perspective, the reform had to be effective: in order to be readily adopted, it had
to create consensus; it therefore had to be an evolution rather than a revolution. There was no
need to upset everything; it was simply a matter of updating the existing legislation to include the
case law acquis. Consequently, while there was no shortage of innovation, it was often a
recodification of established or almost established law, through the codification of case-law
constructs (i.e. by integrating into the Civil Code those new solutions enshrined by the Court of
Cassation as guided by the existing legislation).
From an international and European perspective, the reform had to be French. There was no point
in systematically discarding what foreign commentators sometimes considered an exception. It
was not necessary for the French law of obligations to lose its identity in order to (re)gain its
rightful place. It was a matter of making the law clearer, modernising it in the very spirit that
nurtures that law. Thus the French legislative model, renewed and revitalized, can continue to
influence within the European Union and beyond. For instance, the theory of the “cause de
l’obligation ou du contrat” or cause of the obligation or the contract, rechristened “cause de
l’engagement”, or the cause of the commitment (25).
This “offre de loi” (26) - literally, “offer of law” - made by legal doctrine to the political power was
of a particularly high standard, though there was a degree of disagreement with some of the
proposed solutions (27). This draft bill had the enormous merit of being in existence; the
discussions could then begin in order to refine and amend it. There was hope, finally, that the
reform would come to pass.
Secondly, a Court of Cassation working party set up by the then First President of the Court, Guy
Canivet, issued a report that painted a mixed portrait of the Catala draft bill (28). One may be led
to wonder whether it was fully representative of the Court of Cassation’s doctrine as, without any
real degree of coherence, the report criticises solutions put forward in the draft bill which draw
inspiration from the same court’s case law. A number of scholars supported the objections (29),
which was more than a little surprising as they were contributors to the Catala draft bill. It is true
that Dean Jean Carbonnier died before the bill could be published covered by his authority his
passing, which preceded that of Dean Gérard Cornu and then Professor Pierre Catala, also marked
the collapse of a rampart.
There was therefore no consensus: neither academic (within the École), nor with the Court of
Cassation (between the École and the Palais). Reluctant and ill-informed, the political power
dithered. The Catala draft bill was not adopted, and the Government drew up its own in 2008 (30).
There would be more of these government draft bills which would immediately be discussed in
French legal doctrine. Conversely, the reform of the statute of limitations was finalised by the Act
of 17 June 2008, which has since been codified.
Thirdly, a working party chaired by Professor François Terré under the auspices of the Académie
des sciences morales et politiques, competed with the Catala draft bill. From 2009 onwards, a
counter-proposal (hereinafter referred to as the Terré draft bill) was published in three parts:
contract, liability, “régime général de l’obligation” (31) or the law of obligations in general (32).
The Terré draft bill, which was also of a particularly high standard, challenged the Catala draft bill
– obviously, otherwise the whole initiative would have been meaningless. On the one hand, the
modernisation of the law of obligations had to be radical, and it had to be European. It was
appropriate to erase that which had made French law unique and, if not “denationalise” it, at least
make it more “Euro-compatible”: neutral enough for it to be understood overseas and particularly
within the European Union. For instance, the Terré draft bill strove to do away with the theory of
cause (if not the theory of the object), for which it substituted "the content of the contract” (33). In
doing so, the draft bill sacrificed the French model and its international influence for the sake of
European integration, thus abandoning one of the major concerns of the Catala draft bill. On the
other hand, the latter was an expression of a constant intention to compensate victims in civil
cases; the Terré draft bill showed itself less generous towards them, hinting at the stance adopted
in the BGB, which incidentally was not universally popular in Germany.
Consensus seemed impossible: fierce competition between the different doctrinal draft bills was
never synonymous with dialogue. Moreover, the situation was further complicated by another
division which did not always coincide with the previous one. There were two schools of thought in
French doctrine with, on the one side the proponents of liberalism, even ultra-liberalism in the law
of obligations; and, on the other side, the supporters of social proactivity, a less economistic and
more human conception of the subject.
France’s reform of her law of obligations therefore reached a stalemate. The Ministry of Justice
either could not or would not choose: all of its draft bills, from the first in 2008 to the last in
2013, sought a third way, a different balance. In the meantime, a bill submitted to the Senate in
2010, looking to reform civil, contractual and extra-contractual liability, fizzled out (34).
B. “Eviction” of Parliament and completion of the reform?
Wishing to bring the reform to a swift conclusion, the Ministry of Justice preferred the hybrid
technique of the ordinance over the ordinary legislative process (1); that choice sparked a symbolic
and institutional conflict between the Senate on one side, the Government and the National
Assembly on the other (2) (35).
1. The alternative between a hybrid and a legislative process
On 27 November 2013, the Government put a bill before the Senate, under an accelerated
procedure, asking Parliament (inter alia) to allow it to reform the law of obligations by means of an
Ordinance (36). The promise made by Jacques Chirac would finally be kept, during President
François Hollande’s five-year term of office.
A few points of constitutional law will be useful at this juncture.
Under Articles 34 and 37 of the French Constitution, the Government has statutory competence to
adopt regulations (decrees or orders) while Parliament has exceptional competence to vote on
statutes. Within the scope of that exceptional competence, firstly Parliament has an exclusive
province in which the Government may not intervene. Here, Parliament alone may set the “ exact
rules" applicable, such as the determination of serious crimes, other offences and the penalties
these carry. Secondly, there is a province shared with the Government. Here, Parliament only sets
downs the "fundamental principles” while the exact rules are set by the Government. This is
precisely the case for civil and commercial obligations.
Under Article 38 of the Constitution, the Government may also ask Parliament for authorisation to
adopt measures by ordinance that would usually fall within the remit of Parliament’s competence.
Where the latter consents to the request, the Government adopts the ordinance, which is a
temporary regulation. On the expiry of the authorisation period, either Parliament ratifies the
ordinance and it becomes a statute; or Parliament refuses to ratify the ordinance and the
regulation is null and void. Unlike statutes, reform via ordinance therefore amounts to a hybrid
process, part regulatory, part legislative.
Coming back to the law of obligations, on 15 January 2014, Les Echos (a financial daily newspaper)
was the first to publish on its website an incomplete working paper dated 23 October 2013,
presented as the Government’s draft reform of the law of obligations by ordinance. Proponents of
French civil law doctrine had been hoping that the law, drafted in secret by the Ministry of Justice,
would finally be revealed – only this was done by the press. Unfortunately, the document was a
disappointment, written in a style that was frequently awkward, containing solutions that were
sometimes poorly thought out; a patchwork of the Catala and Terré draft bills, the coherence of
which left much to be desired as a result. That was regrettable: such a text could not breathe new
life into the French law of obligations, especially as it broke the subject matter up: in accordance
with the draft enabling law, the draft ordinance concerned contracts, quasi-contracts and the
“régime général de l’obligation” (37), excluding civil, contractual and extra-contractual liability.
2. Antagonism between the Senate, the National Assembly and the Government
The Senate’s resistance: Unlike the National Assembly, the Senate is not directly elected by the
people but by the grands électeurs or electoral colleges. The political opposition groups are
occasionally less at odds, and there are instances where the majority is less submissive to the
Government. As with the Assembly, before the Senate votes on a bill, the latter is put before a
Committee, the Commission des lois or Law Commission, which produces a report (be it positive
or negative) and has the power to amend the text that is read before the Senate Chamber. In the
present case, in light of the Report (38) dated 15 January 2014, the Law Commission refused to
authorize the Government to reform the law of obligations by ordinance. The members of the
Commission were unanimous in their
refusal, regardless of their political persuasion.
Consequently, the request for authorization no longer featured in the text put to the vote in the
Senate on 21 and 23 January 2014 (39). During those public debates held on 21 (40) and 23
January (41), the Senators politely but firmly resisted the arguments put to them by the Minister of
Justice, Christiane Taubira. The amendment tabled by the Government, intended to reintroduce the
authorization, was rejected almost unanimously: only one Senator voted in favour.
The grounds for the Senate’s rejection of its arguments prompted the Government to exercise
caution and give further consider to the reform.
The Senate, sitting in committee then in plenary session, did not deny the urgent need to reform
the law of obligations. It stated, however, that the urgency was not reason enough to bypass
Parliament, which had already shown that it could pass laws quickly.
Nor did the Senate deny that the civil law issues were technical and difficult. It stated that
Members of Parliament were neither more nor less knowledgeable than the drafters at the Ministry
of Justice. Parliament had also shown in the past that it was able to pass good civil laws, as with
the statute of limitations or the law governing inheritance – this is doubtless a rose-tinted view of
things, when one thinks that those reforms are tinged with defects.
Above all, the Senate stressed that, quite beyond the matter of legal techniques, the law of
obligations raised political and economic issues that required Parliament’s involvement. Difficult
choices had to be made, balances to be struck in matters relating to civil liability, contracts and
the “régime général de l’obligation”.
It would take time, a mature discussion that only Parliament could conduct. Furthermore,
experience shows that ordinances in civil matters are rarely any good. Once the authorization has
been granted to the Government, when the ordinance is put before Parliament for ratification, it is
too late to make any far-reaching amendments, even where the ordinance proves to be illconceived and/or poorly drafted.
In short, according to the Senate, the reform of the law of obligations by ordinance constitutes a
denial of democracy.
As a jurist and a citizen, one can feel torn: history does not always repeat itself. The Civil Code of
1804 was drafted by some great legal scholars, such as Portalis, Bigot-Préameneu, Tronchet and
Maleville, who surrounded Napoleon on the Conseil d’État (or even Merlin de Douai, more
controversially). Parliament was "purged" by side-lining opponents, thus allowing a vote within a
few months on an unadulterated law. The Civil Code is therefore not a result of the democratic
process. However, despite (though perhaps thanks to) that, it is a “beau droit”, a beautiful law of
obligations. After Demolombe, Glasson and Giraud (42), Dean Jean Carbonnier said that the Code
was, symbolically, "France’s civil constitution” (43). But those times have passed. Foyer,
Carbonnier, Cornu and Catala are no more. Who will stand as the heirs of Portalis and his peers
Had there been scholarly consensus, we could perhaps have imagined that the Government would
have reformed the law of obligations by ordinance. It would have saved on postures so vain as the
disappearance from the Civil code of the “bon père de famille” (44), deemed patriarchal and
therefore archaic and an affront to gender equality (45). Insofar as there is no such consensus,
however, is it not inevitable that the nation’s representative, Parliament, should be called upon to
decide on the reforms to be made? No matter what it says, the Ministry of Justice is all too aware
of the discord. This is why it excluded civil, contractual and extra-contractual liability from the
draft ordinance; incidentally, a bill will soon be put before Parliament – a bill that was apparently
fully drafted in the summer of 2012 but never disseminated. A comparison of various draft bills,
whether doctrinal or governmental, reveal a lack of consensus on many more aspects of the law of
obligations (46).
The obedience of the National Assembly: Deaf to the Senate’s admonition, on 24 January 2014 the
Government nevertheless put the bill before the National Assembly (47), which proved to be rather
more docile. At the meeting of the Law Commission on 19 February 2014, the rapporteur stated
that he had suggested that the Government not present an amendment with a view to
reintroducing the authorization only in public session, so as to allow the Minister of Justice to
present her arguments (48). This is why it does not feature in the Commission’s text that was
tabled for reading before the National Assembly (49). Indeed, during the public debate held on 16
April 2014 (50), each objection raised by the Senate was swept aside by Christiane Taubira,
asserting that an ordinance would be the only avenue for modernising the law of obligations
(liability being excluded), before the end of the five-year term: the reform would therefore be
done, or it would not. Consequently, and despite opposition objections, the authorization was
granted by the National Assembly (51) – with an indefinite majority, because there was no accurate
count of the vote by show of hands.
In accordance with Article 45 of the Constitution, the conflicting votes of the two Houses led to a
meeting of a joint committee, without a second reading beforehand as this was an accelerated
procedure. Unsurprisingly, at the meeting held on 13 May 2014, the committee failed to reach a
consensus (52). The authorisation bill will therefore be subject to a further reading before the
National Assembly (53) and the Senate. The Assembly will have the last word and, unless there is
some unlikely turnaround on its part (54), so will the Government which will, sooner or later,
obtain the authorization necessary to reform the law of contracts, quasi-contracts and the
“’régime général de l’obligation” by ordinance. Meanwhile, again unless there is some unforeseen
about-turn, the overhaul of the law relating to civil, contractual and extra-contractual liability, will
remain in Parliament’s hands. This dividing up of the law of obligations between the executive and
the legislature bodes ill for the coherence of the recodification.
The pangs experienced in reforming the law of obligations are not France’s preserve alone: the
German aggiornamento, to name but one, was not without its issues either (55). The least we
could have expected, however, was a modernisation process for a French law of obligations for the
21st century that was more worthy of the stakes involved.
A comparison with other civil recodifications is edifying. The more former are exemplary: over the
course of decades, Québec (56) and the Netherlands (57) have cultivated a dialogue between
doctrine and practice, Ministry of Justice and Parliament. The quality of the resulting statutes
contributes to their international influence. The German method, though not as long, is similar to
the previous one. The new Romanian Civil Code, the most recent, also associated Parliament with a
Commission of academics set up by the Ministry of Justice (58). For the Russian Federation, the
recodification initiative, more closely subject to the presidential influence, has not escaped
parliamentary discussion either (59). By contrast, France chose a very curious process of reform of
her law of obligations, as disjointed in its substances as in its authors. Is it that a civil
(1) Schuldrechtsmodernisierungsgesetz, Modernization of the Law of Obligations Act, November
26th, 2001; see, specifically, R. Zimmermann The New German Law of Obligations Oxford
University Press 2005, p. 30; German Civil Code, Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB)
translation and commentary, Juriscope / Dalloz 2010.
(2) Livre du centenaire du Code civil Duchemin, Paris, 1904.
(3) See, specifically, R. Saleilles Étude sur la théorie générale des obligations dans la seconde
rédaction du projet de Code civil pour l’Empire d’Allemagne Cotillon, Paris, 1895; by the same
author, Étude sur la théorie générale des obligations dans le premier projet de Code civil pour
l’Empire d’Allemagne Pichon, Paris, 1901.
(4) See C. Witz "La longue gestation d’un Code européen des contrats – Rappel de quelques
initiatives oubliées", RTD civ. 2003 p. 447.
(5) See Travaux de la Commission de réforme du Code civil (années 1948-1949) Sirey 1950,
recension in RID comp. 1950 p.568,
and references in previous volumes.
(6) On this point, see e.g. P. Remy "Le processus de dé-codification", J.-P. Dunand and B. Winiger
(ed.) Le Code civil des français dans le droit européen Bruylant 2005 p. 197.
(7) See again: La responsabilité du fait des produits défectueux (Groupe de recherche européen
sur la responsabilité civile et l’assurance, GRERCA) IRJS Éditions 2013.
(8) See J. Ghestin "L’avant-projet de loi sur la responsabilité du fait des produits défectueux : une
refonte partielle du code civil", Rev. jurispr. comm. 1988 p. 201.
(9) See. H. Boucard L’agréation de la livraison dans la vente, Essai de théorie générale Université
de Poitiers diff. Lgdj 2005 preface by P. Remy.
(10) See e.g. P. Jourdain "Transposition de la directive sur la vente du 25 mai 1999 : Ne pas
manquer une occasion de progrès", Dalloz 2003, Point de vue, p. 4.
(11) Rapport général du groupe de travail sur l’intégration en droit français de la directive no
1999-44 du Parlement européen et du Conseil du 25 mars 1999 sur certains aspects de la
vente et des garanties des biens de consommation (General Report of the Working Party on
incorporating Directive 1999/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 May
1999 on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees into French
law) http://www.justice.gouv.fr/art_pix/0000.pdf; see La transposition en droit français de la
directive européenne du 25 mai 1999 relative à la vente Conference 8 Nov. 2002, Univ. Paris I
Panthéon Sorbonne, Cah. dr. entr. 2003 n° 1.
(12) Proposition de transposition de la directive du 25 mai 1999 sur certains aspects de la vente et
des garanties des biens de consommation (Proposal on the transposition of the Directive of 25
May 1999 on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees), in
conjunction with the Fédération des Industries Électriques, Électroniques et de Communication
(FIEEC – Federation of Electrical, Electronic and Communications Industries) – text no longer
available online.
(13) On the concept of ordinance, see infra.
(14) See, in particular, Le Code civil 1804-2004, livre du bicentenaire Dalloz/Litec 2004; 1804-
2004, Le Code civil, un passé, un présent, un avenir Dalloz 2004.
(15) Colloque de célébration du bicentenaire du Code civil Droit In-Situ 2004.
(16) On the notion of ordinance, see infra.
(17) See, e.g. C. Witz "La nouvelle jeunesse du BGB insufflée par la réforme du droit des
obligations", Dalloz 2002 chr. p. 3156.
(18) See R. Schulze and F. Zoll (ed.) The Law of Obligations in Europe, A New Wave of Codifications
Sellier 2013.
(19) See H. Boucard "La compétition internationale des systèmes juridiques", Les voyages du droit,
Mélanges en l’honneur de Dominique Breillat Université de Poitiers diff. Lgdj 2011 p. 81; adde
"Les instruments internationaux d’unification : concurrence ou modèle pour les droits
nationaux", Droit européen du contrat et droits du contrat en Europe : quelles perspectives
pour quel équilibre ? LexisNexis 2008 p. 21, and the references cited.
(20) Projet de loi n° 175 relatif à la modernisation et à la simplification du droit et des procédures
dans les domaines de la justice et des affaires intérieures (Bill n°175 on the modernisation and
simplification of the law and procedures in the fields of justice and internal affairs), tabled
before the Senate on 27 November 2013,
http://www.senat.fr/dossier-legislatif/pjl13-175.html, Impact study dated 26 November
2013 p. 70, http://www.senat.fr/leg/etudes-impact/pjl13-175-ei/pjl13-175-ei.pdf
(21) See C. Pérès « L’étude d’impact à la lumière de la réforme par ordonnance du droit des
obligations », RDC 2014 p. 275.
(22) See Resolution of the European Parliament of 26 May 1989 on action to bring into line the
private law of the Member States, OJEC C 158 of 26 June 1989 p. 400, French version
available at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/comparl/juri/events/20040428/res_1989_fr.pdf;
Resolution of the European Parliament of 6 May 1994 on the harmonization of certain sectors
of the private law of the Member States, OJEC C 205 du 25 July 1994 p. 518.
(23) Including, firstly , the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European
Parliament on European Contract Law, 11 July 2001 COM(2001) 398 final, OJEC C 255, 13 Sept.
2001, p. 1; lastly, Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a
Common European Sales Law of 11 October 2011 COM(2011) 635 final 2011/0284 (COD),
{SEC(2011) 1165 final}{SEC(2011) 1166 final},
adde Communication of the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the
European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 11 October
2011, A Common European Sales Law to Facilitate Cross-Border Transactions in the Single
Market COM(2011) 636 final,
(24) Rapport sur l'avant-projet de réforme du droit des obligations (Articles 1101 à 1386 du Code
civil) et du droit de la prescription (Articles 2234 à 2281 du Code civil) dir. P. Catala La
documentation française 2005,
English translation by J. Cartwright and S. Whittaker available at
(25) See Exposé des motifs by J. Ghestin, p. 25, and Articles 1108, 1124 and subsequent. p. 79 of
the Catala draft bill; adde G. Wicker "La réforme du droit français du contrat : de la cause à la
causalité juridique", Nouveaux défis du droit des contrats en France et en Europe G. Mäsch, D.
Mazeaud and R. Schulze ed., Sellier 2009 p. 53.
(26) As per the expression coined by J. Carbonnier, P. Catala, J. de Saint Afrique and G. Morin Des
libéralités, Une offre de loi Defrénois 2003 preface by J. Carbonnier.
(27) See, e.g. on contractual damages and interest, H. Boucard Rép. civ. Dalloz v° Responsabilité
contractuelle, 2014.
(28) Rapport du groupe de travail de la Cour de cassation sur l’avant-projet de réforme du droit
des obligations et de la prescription (Report of the Court of Cassation Working Party on the
draft bill of reform of the law of obligations), 15 June 2007,
(29) Some had been formulated in advance; see, in particular, P. Remy « Nouveaux
développements de la responsabilité civile, observations critiques sur l’arrêt SA Planet
Wattohm (Cass. Civ. 1re, 17 janvier 1995) », RGAT 1995 p. 529 ; « Critique du système
français de responsabilité civile », Dr. et cultures 1996 p. 31 ; « La “responsabilité
contractuelle” : histoire d’un faux concept », RTD civ. 1997 p. 323 ; « Réviser le titre III du
livre troisième du Code civil ? », RDC 2004 p. 1169.
(30) Ministère de la justice, Projet de réforme du droit des contrats (juillet 2008) (Proposed reform
of contract law – July 2008), http://www.chairejlb.ca/pdf/reforme_all.pdf ; see also Ministère
de la justice, Projet de réforme du droit des contrats (mai 2009) (Proposed reform of contract
law – May 2009),
Ministère de la justice, Projet de réforme du régime des obligations et des quasi-contrats
(Proposed reform of the law of obligations and quasi-contracts),
http://www.textes.justice.gouv.fr/art_pix/avant_projet_regime_obligations.pdf (May 2011);
and Note de présentation (Introductory note)
(31) I. e. General rules applying to the relationship of obligation independently of its source, and
concerning its modalities (e. g. with term, condition, multiple persons, divisible, alternative),
its transfer (e. g. by assumption or subrogation) and its extinction (e. g. by performance,
novation or compensation). The concept of “régime général de l’obligation”, of doctrinal origin
and a little distinct from that of “general law of obligations” inspired by the correspondent
general part of Germany’s BGB, seems, at least as regards continental Europe, peculiar to
French law (see e. g. J. Flour, J.-L. Aubert et É. Savaux Les obligations t. 3 Le rapport
d'obligation Dalloz/Sirey 2013 by É. Savaux); it’s literally dedicated only by the Terré draft bill,
below, and by the Government draft bill of 2011, above, unlike the Catala bill. Adde Draft
Common Frame of Reference (DCFR) Full ed. Principles, Definitions and Model Rules of
European Private Law prepared by the Study Group on a European Civil Code and the Research
Group in EC private law (Acquis Group), C. von Bar and E. Clive (ed.), Sellier European Law
Publishers 2009, vol. 1 and 2, Book III, about “Rights and Obligations in general”.
(32) F. Terré (ed.) Pour une réforme du droit des contrats Dalloz 2009 ; Pour une réforme du droit
de la responsabilité civile Dalloz 2011; Pour une réforme du régime général des obligations
Dalloz 2013.
(33) Articles 13, 58 and subsequent, Pour une réforme du droit des contrats, above.
(34) See Rapport d’information n° 558, Sénat 15 juill. 2009, A. Anziani et L. Béteille,
http://www.senat.fr/rap/r08-558/r08-5581.pdf; Proposition de loi n° 657 portant réforme de
la responsabilité civile, Sénat 9 juill. 2010, prés. L. Béteille,
http://www.senat.fr/leg/ppl09-657.pdf; C. Juillet « La reconnaissance maladroite de la
responsabilité contractuelle par la proposition de loi portant réforme de la responsabilité
civile » Dalloz 2011 p. 259.
(35) On this point, see e. g. P. Deumier “Le code civil, la loi et l’ordonnance”, RTD civ. 2014 p. 597
and the references cited.
(36) Projet de loi n° 175 relatif à la modernisation et à la simplification du droit dans le domaine de
la justice et des affaires intérieures (Bill n°175 on the modernisation and simplification of the
law and procedures in the fields of justice and internal affairs), Senate 27 Nov. 2013, section
3, http://www.senat.fr/leg/pjl13-175.pdf. Pour le dossier législatif, v.
(37) See note 29.
(38) Rapport no 288 fait au nom de la Commission des lois par T. Mohamed Soihili (Report nº288
on behalf of the Law Commission, by T. Mohamed Soihili), 15 Jan. 2014,
(39) Projet de loi no 289 relatif à la modernisation et à la simplification du droit dans le domaine
de la justice et des affaires intérieures (Bill n°289 on the modernisation and simplification of
the law and procedures in the fields of justice and internal affairs), Texte de la Commission
des lois, 15 Jan. 2014, http://www.senat.fr/leg/pjl13-289.pdf
(40) See http://www.senat.fr/cra/s20140121/s20140121_som.html
(41) See http://www.senat.fr/cra/s20140123/s20140123_4.html#par_548
(42) See P. Remy « Le processus de dé-codification », eod. loc. p. 200 n. 7.
(43) J. Carbonnier « Le Code civil », Les lieux de mémoire dir. P. Nora, III, La Nation 2. Le territoire,
l’Etat, le patrimoine Gallimard Paris 1986 p. 293 s.
(44) Translator’s note: in French law, the concept of "bon père de famille" – literally "good father" –
which succeeded the Roman law concept of Bonus pater familias, is the equivalent of the
common law concept of the reasonable person.
(45) Article 26 of the Law of 4 August 2014 on real equality between men and women), JORF 5
August 2014 p. 12949.
(46) For this comparison, see specifically: J. Flour, J.-L. Aubert et É. Savaux Les obligations t. 1
L'acte juridique Dalloz/Sirey 2012 par É. Savaux ; t. 2 Le fait juridique éd. Dalloz/Sirey 2011
by É. Savaux; t. 3 Le rapport d'obligation Dalloz/Sirey 2013 par É. Savaux.
(47) Projet de loi n° 1729 relatif à la modernisation et à la simplification du droit dans le domaine
de la justice et des affaires intérieures (Bill n°1729 on the modernisation and simplification of
the law and procedures in the fields of justice and internal affairs), Assemblée nationale, 24
Jan. 2014, http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/pdf/projets/pl1729.pdf
(48) Compte-rendu no 43 de la séance de la Commission des lois du 19 févr. 2014, p. 19,
http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/pdf/cr-cloi/13-14/c1314043.pdf (detail omitted by
Rapport no 1808 de la Commission des lois par Mme C. Capdevielle, Assemblée nationale 19
Feb. 2014, p. 13 s., http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/pdf/rapports/r1808.pdf).
(49) Annexe 0 du Rapport, http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/pdf/ta-commission/r1808a0.pdf
(50) Compte-rendu intégral, JORF no 35 A.N. (C.R.) 17 Apr. 2014, p. 2626 s.,
(51) Texte adopté no 324, « Petite loi », Projet de loi modifié par l’Assemblée nationale en première
lecture (Adopted text nº324, « Petite loi », Bill amended by the National Assembly at first
reading), 16 Apr. 2014, http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/pdf/ta/ta0324.pdf; Projet de
loi no 478 modifié par l'Assemblée nationale, relatif à la modernisation et à la simplification
du droit et des procédures dans les domaines de la justice et des affaires intérieures (Bill
n°478 on the modernisation and simplification of the law and procedures in the fields of
justice and internal affairs), tabled 17 April 2014 and referred to the Senate Law Commission.
(52) See Compte-rendu de la séance,
http://www.senat.fr/compte-renducommissions/20140512/cmp.html#toc3; Rapport no
1933 et no 529 fait au nom de la Commission des lois par Mme C. Capdevielle et M. T.
Mohamed Soilihi, (Report nº1933 and nº529 on behalf of the Law Commission, by Mrs. C.
Capdevielle and T. Mohamed Soihili) 13 May 2014,
(53) See Projet de loi no 1952 modifié, par l'Assemblée nationale, relatif à la modernisation et à la
simplification du droit et des procédures dans les domaines de la justice et des affaires
intérieures (Bill n°1952 on the modernisation and simplification of the law and procedures in
the fields of justice and internal affairs), tabled 14 May 2014 and referred to the Law
Commission, http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/pdf/projets/pl1952.pdf p. 9 s.
(54) A reversal made all the more improbable as on 17 September 2014, the Law Commission
reiterated its support: see Rapport no 2200 fait au nom de la Commission des lois par Mme C.
Capdevielle, 17 septembre 2014, et Annexe 0,
http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/ta-commission/r2200-a0.asp then the authorization
was granted in plenary session on October 30th, 2014, again in spite of the criticisms of the
parliamentary opposition, see Compte-rendu de la séance,
http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/cri/2014-2015/20150043.asp Le Projet de loi relatif
à la modernisation et à la simplification du droit et des procédures dans les domaines de la
justice et des affaires intérieures, adopté en nouvelle lecture par l'Assemblée nationale le 30
octobre 2014, TA n° 416, http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/ta/ta0416.asp, was tabled
at the Senate on October 31th, 2014 (draft bill no 76, http://www.senat.fr/leg/pjl14-076.html)
and referred to the Senate Law Commission before being submitted for debate in plenary
session on 22 January 2015.
(55) See R. Zimmermann op. cit. p. 30 and subsequent.
(56) See e. g. P.-A. Crépeau La réforme du droit civil canadien, Une certaine conception de la
recodification (1965-1977) Centre de recherche en droit privé et comparé du Québec,
éditions Thémis Montréal 2003, specifically p. 33 and subsequent.; M.-J. Longtin « La réforme
du Code civil : la gestion d’un projet », in Du Code civil du Québec (Contribution à l’histoire
immédiate d’une recodification réussie) éditions Thémis, Montréal, 2005 p. 163 and
subsequent; adde J.-F. Niort « Le nouveau Code civil du Québec et la théorie de la
codification: une perspective française », Droits 1996 vol. 24 La codification p. 135 and
(57) See A. S. Hartkamp « La révision du Code civil aux Pays-Bas, 1947-1992 », in Nieuw
Nederlands Burgerlijk Wetboek, Het Vermogensrecht (Zakenrecht, verbintenissenrecht en
bijzondere overeenkomsten), Nouveau Code civil néerlandais, Le droit patrimonial (Les biens,
les obligations et les contrats particuliers), translated to French by P. P. C. Haanappel and E.
Mackaay, under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice of the Netherlands and the Centre de
recherche en droit privé et comparé of Québec, Kluwer Law and Taxation Publishers,
Deventer/Boston, 1990 p. XVIII s., no 5 and subsequent.
(58) See C. M. Predoiu « Préface : Genèse du nouveau Code civil roumain », Nouveau Code civil
roumain (French translation and commentary) Juriscope / Dalloz 2013 p. 14.
(59) See S. Alexeev « Préface », Code civil de la Fédération de Russie (French translation and
commentary), Juriscope 2005 p. 9 s., 10 ; N. Y. Rasskazova « Russian Law of Obligations :
Structure, Positioning and Connection with Supranational Law », in R. Schulze and F. Zoll (ed.)
The Law of Obligations in Europe, A New Wave of Codifications Sellier 2013 p. 139 and
Issue No.1 January 2015
Employment law:
The ban on the wearing of the Islamic veil in crèches
Marie Peyronnet and Professor Christophe Radé University of Bordeaux
“Dieu et mon droit” (1), ‫( اللهأكبر‬2), Deo Juvante (3), “Dios, Patria, Libertad” (4), “Für Gott, Fürst und
Vaterland” (5) or “In God We Trust” (6) : close to thirty States have a reference to religion in their
motto. Be it a relic of the past or the symbol of close ties between government and religion, such a
reference would be inconceivable in France, an “indivisible, secular, democratic and social"
Republic (Article 1 of the 1958 Constitution).
After a century of tensions and several fruitless attempts, the Law of 9 December 1905 marked the
break between political and religious powers by instituting a strict separation between Church and
State. However, such a divorce is difficult to effect, as religion has been and continues to be
inextricably woven into the fabric of European societies: public holidays are Christian; religious
ceremonies (baptisms, marriages, funerals) continue to punctuate the lives of French citizens; time
is measured by the Gregorian calendar; workers rest on the seventh day; schoolchildren enjoy
holidays for Christmas, Easter and All Saints’ Day. Since the Revolution, the State has sought to
"secularize" not only events (civil marriages; civil baptisms; the PACS or civil partnerships;
extending marriage to same-sex couples), public holidays (May Day, remembrance days), but also
administrations. Whilst clearly acknowledging "freedom of conscience", the 1905 Law provides that
“the Republic neither recognises, pays salaries to nor subsidises any faith” (7).
The constitutional principle of secularism is doubtless the most emblematic manifestation of the
1905 Law. This principle is expressed in the denominational neutrality of the Republic, its
administration and its officials. The idea is that the State can only respect the beliefs of its citizens
and remain independent of the religious authorities by maintaining constant and complete
denominational neutrality. The latter is expressed, in particular, by the ban on the wearing of
religious symbols by public service employees (8). The principle of secularism, and the neutrality
that results therefrom, are deeply rooted in French culture – indeed, to such an extent that it is no
longer possible to tell whether the principle of secularism remains solely a principle of the “legal
and political organisation of the Republic” or whether it has also become a “specific philosophical
or political trend” (9). This confusion has thus been maintained since the Law of 15 March 2004,
which banned users (10) of the public services of primary and secondary education (no longer
simply public service employees) from wearing any symbols or clothing conspicuously displaying
religious affiliation (11).
Can an undertaking (12), like the State, wish to give the appearance of religious neutrality to its
Salaried employees are not officers of the State; private-sector employers cannot, therefore,
require their staff to comply with such a duty of neutrality (13) on the basis of the constitutional
principle of secularism. Workers lease their labour to the employer in exchange for payment but
they do not, for all that, thereby give up their individual freedoms. Religious freedom is an
individual freedom which must therefore be protected within a business. The latter consequently
runs the risk of becoming a place of tension on the issue of religion, as the employer must ensure
that business activities are conducted peacefully whilst respecting the freedoms of salaried
employees. It is in this difficult context that the recently concluded Baby Loup case arose.
The Baby Loup case
"Baby Loup" is a group of community crèches, in a popular and multicultural neighbourhood,
admitting children aged between two months and nine years; their aim is " to develop activities
directed at young children from underprivileged backgrounds and, at the same time, work for the
social and professional insertion of women living in the neighbourhood".
The crèche’s internal regulations (14) provided that "the principle of freedom of conscience and
religion of all members of staff shall not prevent the observance of the principles of secularism
and neutrality that apply in the performance of any and all activities developed by Baby Loup, both
on the premises of the crèche or annexes and outside when accompanying children entrusted to
the crèche”.
A salaried employee of the group, returning from parental leave, arrived at work wearing an
Islamic veil. As her clothing contravened the provisions of the internal regulations, the employee
was suspended (15); following her persistent refusal to respect the suspension, she was dismissed
for gross negligence. She challenged her dismissal on grounds of discrimination and freedom of
The case concluded, at least before the French courts, with a decision of the Court of Cassation
sitting exceptionally in plenary session (16) on 25 June 2014 (17). It is, however, the case as a
whole – not merely the final decision – which allows the veil to be lifted on the state of French law
concerning the expression of religious beliefs in the workplace.
The relegation of the secularism principle to companies running public services
The Conseil de prud’hommes (18) or industrial tribunal, ruling on the case at first instance, held
that the Baby Loup crèche could assume the neutrality attributes of a public service because it
provided a service of general interest. While the Court of Appeal at Versailles overturned the
decision to qualify the crèche as a public service (19), the argument as to the applicability of the
principle of secularism was raised once again before the Social Chamber of the Court of Cassation
(20). The latter firmly recalled that "the principle of secularism established by Article 1 of the
Constitution not being applicable to the salaries employees of private-sector employers who do
not run a public service… it may consequently not be relied upon in order to deprive them of the
protection that is guaranteed to them under the provisions of the Code du travail”. As a
consequence, an employer must observe the prescriptions under Articles L. 1121-1, L. 1132-1, L.
1133-1 and L. 1321-3 of the Code du travail (Labour Code), which impose a requirement “that any
restrictions on religious freedom [be] justified by the nature of the task to be performed, [meet] an
essential and determining professional requirement and [be] proportional to the ends to be
In this case, the crèche did offer a service of general interest but this did not, for all that, amount
to the delegation of a public service (21). The employer could therefore not require its employees
to behave as though they were State employees, regardless of the nature of the activities of the
community group in question. In this case, it was the activity that proved the most problematic.
Places in public crèches are scarce; criticising a private institution for wishing to replicate the
terms and conditions for admissions applied by public institutions in order to compensate for their
scarcity is therefore a delicate matter.
Conversely, where a salaried employee works in a private institution to which a public service has
been delegated, then the regulations that apply to public services also apply to the employees
therein, regardless of the nature of the activity. This split view of the world of work was illustrated
by a second decision of the Social Chamber of the Court of Cassation, handed down on the same
day as the judgment in Baby Loup (22). A salaried employee, who had no contact with the users of
the public service in question (a caisse primaire d’assurance maladie, or local sickness insurance
fund), had been dismissed for wearing a knotted headscarf in the workplace. The Court of
Cassation held that “the principles of neutrality and secularism within public services are
applicable to all public services, including those instances where such services are provided by
bodies governed by private law; and, while the provisions of the Code du travail are intended to
apply to employees [of private institutions], the latter are nevertheless subject to specific
constraints resulting from the fact that they perform public service functions, which forbid them in
particular from displaying their religious beliefs through external symbols, and particularly their
The principle of secularism and the duty of religious neutrality resulting therefrom could not
therefore extend beyond the public sector. However, some private companies could put forward an
argument as to the protection of specific convictions in order to require compliance with the same
on the part of their employees.
The rejection of the "entreprise de conviction" qualification
The entreprise de tendance has been defined under French legal doctrine as an undertaking or
business in which “an ideology, morality, philosophy or policy is expressly advocated” (23).
The legal recognition of such a business has serious consequences (24) as it allows employers to
introduce significant restrictions "to the rights and freedoms of employees in the name of the
values protected" by the company: "a solution permitted by European Community law (25) under
which "owing to the nature of a professional activity or the conditions for its performance, the
(religious) characteristic constitutes an essential and determining professional requirement,
provided that the aim is legitimate and the requirement is established" (26). This conception of the
entreprise de tendance was argued by counsel for the crèche at the first appeal hearing on points
of law (27) and went unmentioned by the Court of Cassation, likely owing to paragraph 2 of the
Directive of 27 November 2000. The latter requires "national legislation in force at the date of
adoption of this Directive" (i.e. a standstill clause) for the application of the exception for
entreprises de tendance - legislation that France has never had (28).
The Court of Appeal to which the case was referred by the Court of Cassation (29) circumvented
the standstill clause by skilfully taking pains to state that it was referring to the idea of entreprise
de conviction “within the meaning of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights” (30).
While the ECHR acknowledges that "under the Convention, an employer whose ethos is based on
religion or a philosophical belief may impose specific duties of loyalty on its employees" (31), the
Court endeavours closely to monitor the proportionality of any breaches of individual freedoms,
and above all to strike a balance between the justifications put forward and the opposing
However, the Court of Cassation sitting in plenary session did not enter into this debate and
refused to grant the label of entreprise de conviction (laïque) (32) (literally, an “undertaking of
(secular) belief”) to the crèche, on the grounds that the group’s "purpose was not to promote and
defend religious, political or philosophical convictions but, under the terms of its articles of
association (33), "to develop activities directed at young children from disadvantaged backgrounds
and to work for the social and professional reinsertion of women […] whatever their political or
religious affiliations"”. The neutrality imposed on employees was therefore not connected to the
promotion of a “secular philosophy” but was instead "an organisational method for a group
intended to allow the coexistence of competing ideologies. It is therefore the opposite of an
entreprise militante [literally, an “activist undertaking”]” (34). The Court thus approved the French
doctrinal conception, according to which the entreprise de tendance or de conviction is one whose
essential purpose is the defence or promotion of a doctrine or ethos.
This doctrinal stance is a marked deviation from the provisions of Article 4 (2) of the Directive of
the European Council of 27 November 2000, which do not require the aim "of occupational
activities within churches and other public or private organisations the ethos of which is based on
religion or belief” to be the defence or promotion of a religion or specific beliefs.
As Gwénaële Calvès argues, such a restrictive definition of secularism results in “depriving the
notion of any useful scope” insofar as “no major school of thought limits its activities to promoting
doctrinal or spiritual beliefs”. Consequently, such logic may only be explained by a reluctance on
the part of the courts to rule on the issue of the entreprise de conviction laïque (35).
Recognising the possibility of a company or undertaking claiming to be “ de conviction laïque”
(secular in its beliefs) in order to restrict the freedom to display one’s religion within the company
strikes many as being fatal to freedom and contrary to the principle of secularism. Indeed,
"whatever the reasons for a company wishing to exclude religion from its premises (social power,
brand image, etc.), the mere intention not to offend non-believers may not be reason enough.
This would amount […] to giving carte blanche to employers in order to deprive their employees of
their right to express their religious beliefs” (36). For others, it is little more than an
acknowledgement of the ambivalence arising from the notion of entreprise de tendance itself. If a
given religion can be promoted by means of an entreprise de tendance, then secularism – defined
as the belief that religious neutrality is the best way of living together – ought also to be promoted
There is an ongoing debate as to the issue of whether secularism can, in France, be a belief like
any other or whether, on the other hand, it must be confined to a role as an organising principle
for the State vis-à-vis religion (38). For the European Court of Human Rights, the matter appears
to be settled, at least as regards the principle, as it takes the view that "supporters of secularism
are able to lay claim to views that attain the “level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and
importance” required for them to be considered “convictions” within the meaning of Articles 9 of
the Convention and 2 of Protocol No. 1” (39).
The recognition of an entreprise de tendance ou de conviction laïque (undertaking of secular belief
or convictions) would necessarily bring about a marked decline in religion within companies, as all
denominational businesses could potentially arm themselves with a neutrality clause in their
internal regulations (whether it be in order to remain neutral in the eyes of their clientele or to
ease relations within the company, for example). The restrictive definition adopted by the Court of
Cassation sitting in plenary session ought, therefore, to allow trial judges to sort the convinced
secularists from the opportunists – on condition, however, that those judges recognise the
legitimacy of promoting secular convictions.
How then should one interpret the “promotion and defence of religious convictions" requirement
in the recognition of an entreprise de tendance? As Gwénaële Calvès puts it, should the promotion
and defence of such convictions be “the direct, essential or exclusive purpose” of the
establishment in question? The uncertainty surrounding this definition will most certainly worry
the multitude of denominational businesses whose primary purpose is not the promotion or
defence of their religion. Be it a halal butcher’s shop, a kosher restaurant, a Catholic school - all
exist to meet demand from a particular community in keeping with the convictions or beliefs of
that community. The promotion and defence of religious dogmas may ultimately only be
consequences of that type of activity.
In the absence of any recognition of the existence of an entreprise de conviction laïque, an
employer may not rely on the duty of loyalty in order to require its employees to respect company
doctrine. The Court in Baby Loup therefore decided to check the crèche’s internal regulations in
light of ordinary law.
The assessment of the proportionality of the internal regulations in light of the aims pursued
It is on the point concerning the validity of the clause in the internal regulations imposing
neutrality on employees that the Plenary Session repudiated the decision of the Social Chamber of
the Court of Cassation.
Article L. 1121-1 of the Labour Code provides that "no-one shall impose restrictions on rights of
individuals, together with individual and collective freedoms, that are not be justified by the nature
of the task to be performed or proportionate to the aims pursued". This rule is reiterated
specifically at Article L. 1321-3 of the Labour Code in order to establish a framework for the
provisions of internal regulations.
The proportionality of the clause
In the first decision on the Baby Loup case, handed down in 2013, the Social Chamber of the Court
of Cassation held that “the clause in the internal regulations, instituting a general and vague
restriction, did not meet the requirements under provided Article L. 1321-3 of the Labour Code”.
The Court therefore concluded that "the dismissal, decided on discriminatory grounds, was null
and void”. Indeed, where the internal regulations were illegal, the refusal to obey the same on the
part of the employee was legitimate and her dismissal unjustified. Consequently, the dismissal is
deemed “contaminated”. The latter being based on an illegal clause in the internal regulations, and
that clause violating a fundamental freedom protected from all forms of discrimination, the
dismissal in turn becomes discriminatory. Regardless of whether the dismissal is based on
additional grounds other than the refusal to obey the specific clause, the dismissal has been
contaminated by the existence of a discriminatory element and can no longer be justified.
The Court of Cassation sitting in plenary session took a different approach to the internal
regulations. Rather than assessing its wording in an abstract way, it opted for an examination in
concreto; i.e. regardless of the fact that the wording of the clause in question was formulated in
general terms where the rule was intended to apply de facto to all members of staff by virtue of
their position and to the premises where they performed their task. The Court ruled that, in light
of the wording of the Baby Loup group’s internal regulations and above all the context in which
the regulations were intended to apply ("a small-scale group, employing only eighteen members of
staff, who were or could be in direct contact with the children and their parents”), the Court of
Appeal could have deduced therefrom that it was sufficiently “justified by the nature of the tasks
performed by the group’s employees and proportional to the aims pursued” . Had the internal
regulations been intended to apply to a large company in which the employees perform highly
diverse and clearly distinguished tasks, with some in contact with customers and others not, then
the clause would have been too general and vague as it would have been disproportional for some
members of staff. However, as in the present case all employees could find themselves in contact
with the children and their parents, it was irrelevant that the clause did not stipulate exactly which
positions were concerned by the duty of loyalty (40) as it was justified for all employees. The Court
sitting in plenary session therefore contented itself with providing a method for examining the
provisions of internal regulations and left the issue to be decided by the lower court. This
approach is interesting as it will serve in future to take account of the context in which the internal
regulations are worded and, above all, to identify an employer’s intention when drafting those
The justification for the measures in light of the legitimacy of the aims pursued
It is not simply a matter of examining the proportionality of the measure in question; the objective
pursued must also be legitimate and justified. The grounds of the Court’s decision are terse on
those particular points. In putting the examination of the internal regulations in the hands of the
lower court, it refused to give any guidelines, not to mention any explanation, on what would
justify a violation on the freedom to express one’s religion in the workplace. And yet it is on
precisely that justification that public debate is based.
The justification is not to be found in the existence of a mission of general interest justifying the
application of the secularism principle. The Court sitting in plenary session did not overturn the
decision of the Social Chamber on this point: the principle of secularism, as provided under Article
1 of the Constitution, has no place in business.
The only indication offering a glimmer of an answer to this question lays in the designation, by the
Court of Cassation, of those employees at whom the measure is directed: those who “ were or
could be in direct contact with the children and their parents”. It therefore comes as no great
surprise that the nature of the activity concerned appears to play a significant part in justifying a
restriction on individual freedoms. But how does the presence of children and parents justify a
crèche employee having to comply with a duty of neutrality? The answer to the latter question is to
be found in the solution proffered by the Paris Court of Appeal, as the Court of Cassation sitting in
plenary session contented itself with a limited review of the lower court’s solution.
When the matter was referred back to the Paris Court of Appeal (41), the Public Prosecutor,
François Falletti, recalled that the European Court of Human Rights considers that in order to
“protect an individual as a free and responsible person”, it is possible to protect from any
“religious influence [those] persons who lack judgement” (42). This decision concerned the
wearing of the Islamic veil (hijab) at a primary school admitting children aged between four and
eight years. The Court held that young children were “a particularly suggestible and sensitive
audience". The Baby-Loup crèche, which is both a crèche and a daycare provider, admits young
children aged between two months and nine years. They therefore are indeed a "particularly
suggestible and sensitive audience”. The fact remains, however, that the European Court of Human
Rights has never had to rule on the issue of religious neutrality outside of school, except in Turkey
where the Court admits the ban on religious symbols in higher education institutions on the
grounds of freedom of thought, conscience and religion (43).
However, the argument whereby the duty of neutrality would be justified by the need to respect
freedom of thought, conscience and religion “to be constructed for every child” (44) seems flimsy.
It can immediately be countered with the argument that exposing children to cultures other than
that of their parents could tend to get them “accustomed […] to social diversity” (45).
The Court did, however, take care to state that it is not only proximity to "children" that justifies
such a duty of neutrality, but also contact with the "parents”. There is consequently a swing
towards a completely opposite line of reasoning, as the aim of such neutrality may be to avoid any
interference in the educational choices made by parents. "The duty of political and religious
neutrality would therefore be justified by the need to care for children in circumstances that do not
clash with… the convictions held by parents” (46).
It is thus by means of an examination of the justification for the internal regulations in light of the
specificity of the business that the Court cursorily recognizes the existence of an entreprise de
tendance laïque. “The Court notes that some parents consider secularism – in the "privatised"
sense of promoting silence on religion in certain spheres of life in society – is a value that fits into
a system of "political or philosophical convictions"” (47).
Insofar as the crèche clearly displayed in its articles of association that its purpose was to admit
children in a neutral environment, it could, where the aims pursued were legitimate and justified,
require its employees to comply with such a duty of neutrality.
Despite the solemnity that accompanies any decision of the Court of Cassation sitting in plenary
session, this judgment does not shed any light on the powers of employers in matters concerning
the management of religion within the company – and that is fortunate. It is not for the courts to
decree such a demarcation where a fundamental freedom is at stake. However, they can provide a
definition for the entreprise de conviction which had been lacking previously, but this also raises
more questions than it answers. With this new definition, what will happen to religious educational
institutions, for instance, or specialist restaurants? There is no guarantee that their purpose will
suffice in justifying an infringement of employee freedoms. Will they also have to draft their own
internal regulations in order to establish clearly those particular duties with which they expect
their employees to comply (including those instances where they are not legally bound to issue
such regulations)? On the other hand, internal regulations may always provide for such
infringements where these are justified and proportional to the aims pursued. In attempting to be
all things to all people, the Court opted for a solution that is more technical than it is political. The
Social Chamber has not been directly contradicted, particularly on the issue of the non-
applicability of the principle of secularism in companies governed by private law that do not
provide a public service, but its method of assessing the internal regulations has been amended,
resulting in a different solution.
The main question that remains is that relating to the decision’s compliance with European law. It
has been announced that the employee will take her case before the European Court of Human
Rights, but it is very difficult indeed to predict the outcome. Will the employee’s freedom of
expression outweigh the crèche’s freedom of association?
(1) Motto of the United Kingdom since the reign of Henry V, in French.
(2) "Allah is Great", motto of Iraq.
(3) "With God’s Help", motto of the Principality of Monaco.
(4) "God, Fatherland, Freedom", motto of the Dominican Republic.
(5) "For God, the Prince and the Fatherland", motto of Liechtenstein.
(6) Motto of the United States since 1956.
(7) Art. 2 of the Act of 9 December 1905 concerning the separation of Church and State.
(8) A public service is defined as an activity intended to meet a need in the general interest which
recognised as such by the public authorities and not in light of the objective nature of that
activity. But the general interest alone does not suffice in characterizing a public service. It is
also necessary that a legal person governed by public law take on the management of that
service. This is the central issue in the Baby Loup decision: some crèches are public services
while others are not, based on the capacity of the person running the crèche. Litigation
concerning public services is not heard by the ordinary courts but is instead brought before
the administrative courts.
(9) G. Calvès, interview by Nicolas Hervieu, “Entretien croisé des Professeurs Gwénaële Calvès et
Emmanuel Dockès sur le retentissant arrêt baby-Loup”, in La revue des droits de l’homme
[online], Actualités Droits-Libertés, posted on 1 July 2014, para. 34 p.7.
(10) The term "public service users" is revealing as to the French conception of a public service.
There are no “customers” insofar as the purpose of a public service is not to turn a profit, or
even to be viable.
(11) Art. L. 141-5-1 of the Code de l’éducation (Education Code): “The wearing of symbols or
clothing whereby students conspicuously display a religious affiliation is forbidden in state
primary, lower secondary and higher secondary schools”.
(12) Conversely, the purpose of a private-sector undertaking is generally to make a profit. Where
this is not the case, particularly in the charities sector, the distinction between a privatesector undertaking and a public service will be made based on the person running the activity
in question.
(13) In theory, at least.
(14) The internal regulations allow an employer to set rules for all staff members relative to
discipline, working hours, health and safety, together with the penalties applicable in the
event of a breach of those rules.
(15) Temporary suspension of the employment contract, decided by the employer, as a penalty.
(16) The Cour de cassation (Court of Cassation) is the highest court in the French legal order. It is
divided into six Chambers. The plenary session is an exceptional formation for the Court of
Cassation and is composed of 19 members: the First Presiding Judge and three members from
each Chamber.
(17) Court of Cassation (plenary session)
Cass., ass. plén., 25 June 2014, F-P+B+R+I, n° 13-28.369, Dalloz, 2014, p. 1386 (see
translation); AJDA, “Point final à la saga de la crèche Baby-Loup?”, 2014, p. 1293, note. J.-M.
Pastor; Nicolas Hervieu, “Entretien croisé des Professeurs Gwénaële Calvès et Emmanuel
Dockès sur le retentissant arrêt baby-Loup”, above; C. Willmann, “Affaire Baby-Loup : entre
souplesse et fermeté”, Lexbase Hebdo édition sociale, La lettre juridique n°577 of 3 July 2014;
F. Champeaux, “Il fallait sauver le soldat Baby-Loup”, Sem. Soc. Lamy, 30 June 2014, n°1637 ;
“Entretien avec C. Radé : l’après Baby-Loup”,Dalloz 2014, n°26.
(18) Decision of Industrial Tribual at Mantes la Jolie:
CPH, Mantes la Jolie, 13 décembre 2010, n°10/00587,
(19) Court of Appeal at Versailles: CA Versailles, 27 octobre 2011, n°10/05642, J-E Ray, “À propos
d'une rébellion”, Dr. Soc. 2014. 4 ; F. Laronze, “Affaire Baby Loup : l'épuisement du droit dans
sa recherche d'une vision apolitisée de la religion”, Dr. Soc. 2014. 100; J. Mouly, “L'affaire
Baby Loup devant la cour de renvoi : la revanche de la laïcité?”, Dalloz. 2014. 65 ; J.-F.
Akandji-Kombe, “La valse « Baby-Loup », troisième temps :la laïcité dans l’entreprise privée à
droit forcé”, Cahiers sociaux, 1 February 2014 n° 260, P. 90 ; P.-H. Antonmattéi, “Le port de
signes religieux dans l'entreprise : au-delà de Baby Loup”, Semaine sociale Lamy, suppl., 23
Dec. 2011, n° 1611, p. 9.
(20) Cass. Soc. 19 mars 2013, Fatima X c/ Association Baby-Loup, FS-P+B+R+I, n° 11-28.845 :
Bull. civ. V, n° 76; Dalloz 2013. Actu. 777; Dalloz 2013. Pan. 1026, obs. Porta; RJS 5/13, no
346; Dr. soc. 2013. 388, obs. Dockès ; JS Lamy 2013, no 342-2, obs. Lhernould ; JCP S 2013
no 1146 (2e esp.) note B. Bossu ; F. Rome, Baby Loup dans la bergerie : D. 2013, p. 761 ;
Dalloz actualité, 27 March 2013, obs. M.
Peyronnet; G. Calvès, “La chambre sociale de la Cour de Cassation face à l’affaire Baby Loup :
Trois leçons de droit, et un silence assourdissant”, Respublica, 21 mars 2013; E. Dockès,
“Liberté, laïcité, Baby Loup : de la très modeste et très contestée résistance de la Cour de
cassation face à la xénophobie montante”, Dr. soc. 2013. 388 ; R. Schwartz, “La laïcité
paradoxalement consacrée”, Semaine sociale Lamy 2013, n° 1577, p. 8, I. Desbarats, “Affaire
Baby Loup : laïcité fragilisée ou liberté religieuse renforcée?”, JCP S n° 29, 16 July 2013, 1297.
(21) The delegation of a public service is a contract under the terms of which a legal person
governed by public law entrusts the running of a public service for which it is responsible to a
public or private person, called the concession holder, whose remuneration is substantially
linked to operational results (Article L 1411-1 of the Code général des collectivités
territoriales (General Local Authorities Code)).
(22) Social Chamber, Court of Cassation:
Cass. Soc. 19 mars 2013, Mme X c/ CPAM de Seine-Saint-Denis, FS-P+B+R+I, n° 12-11.690;
F. Dieu, “Le principe de laïcité s'impose à tous les employés des services publics”, JCP S 2013,
1298 ; J.-P. Lhernould, “Signes religieux au travail: arrêts Baby-Loup et CPAM 93”,
Jurisprudence Sociale Lamy, 2013, p. 342.
(23) P. Waquet, Loyauté du salarié dans les entreprises de tendance, Gaz. Pal. 1996. 1427.
(24) See the recent decision of the ECHR, Fernández Martínez v Spain, application n° 56030/07, 12
June 2014.
(25) Art. 4 (1) of EC Directive n° 2000/78, 27 Nov. 2000, establishing a general framework for
equal treatment in employment and occupation.
(26) Isabelle Desbarats, Affaire Baby Loup : laïcité fragilisée ou liberté religieuse renforcée ?, JCP S
2013. 1297, § 7.
(27) Social Chamber of the Court of Cassation:
at no point does the judgment address the issue raised by the respondent association.
(28) Unless case law can be considered as "national legislation", in which case there is a legal
scheme governing such an entreprise de tendance in the absence of a legal definition of the
same: Cass. soc., 17 Apr. 1991, n°90-42.636, Painsecq c/ Assoc. Fraternité Saint Pie X, Dr.
soc., 1991, p. 485, note J. Savatier, JCP G, 1991, II, 21724, obs. A. Sériaux ; Cass., ass. plén.,
19 May 1978, Dame Roy c/ Assoc. Sainte Marthe, D. 1978, p. 541, concl. Schmelck R., note P.
Ardant ; JCP G 1978, II, 19009, note R. Lindon; P. Waquet, above; Soc. 20 Nov. 1986, Fischer,
JCP 1987. II. 20198, note Revet.
(29) This designates the court of appeal ruling on referral from the Court of Cassation. As the
latter only rules on points of law, it makes referrals back to the courts of appeal for the
purposes of applying the rule that it has just identified. It is when the court of appeal refuses
to comply with the decision of the Court of Cassation that the matter may be brought before
the Court sitting in plenary session.
(30) CA Paris, 27 Nov. 2013, n° 13/02981, J. Mouly, “ L'affaire Baby Loup devant la cour de renvoi :
larevanche de la laïcité ?”, Dalloz., 2014, p. 65.
(31) ECHR, Schüth v Germany, application n° 1620/03, 23 Sept. 2010; reported in France in Dalloz
2011. 1637, chron. J.-P. Marguénaud et J. Mouly ; ibid. 2012. 901, obs. P. Lokiec et J. Porta ;
RDT 2011. 45, obs. J. Couard. In a case concerning the dismissal of a salaried employee
working for a Mormon church, on grounds of extra-marital sexual relations, see ECHR, 3 Feb.
2011: Dalloz 2011, p.1637, note J. Mouly.
(32) On the concept of entreprise de tendance laïque, see: F. Gaudu, “La religion dans l'entreprise”,
Dr. soc. 2010. 65, and “L'entreprise de tendance laïque”, Dr. soc. 2011. 1186.
(33) All constitutive provisions on legal personality.
(34) J. Mouly, "L'affaire Baby Loup devant la cour de renvoi : la revanche de la laïcité?" note ss CA
Paris, 27 Nov. 2001 : Dalloz 2014, p. 65; in the same vein, see E. Dockès, interview by Nicolas
Hervieu, "Entretien croisé des Professeurs Gwénaële Calvès et Emmanuel Dockès sur le
retentissant arrêt baby-Loup", ibid., §37 p.7: "neutrality of the antithesis of conviction, of
belief. A crèche claiming to be secular or neutral does not defend a belief: it accepts them all";
or E. Dockès, "Liberté, laïcité, Baby Loup : de la très modeste et très contestée résistance de la
Cour de cassation face à la xénophobie montante": Dr. soc. 2013, p. 388.
(35) G. Calvès, ibid. §33 p.7.
(36) B. Bossu, “Affaire Baby Loup : la décision en demi-teinte de l'assemblée plénière”, JCL S, n° 27,
8 July 2014, p. 1287: in this respect, he relies on a report from the Commission nationale
consultative des droits de l'homme (French National Consultative Committee on Human
Rights): Avis sur la laïcité, 26 sept. 2013.
(37) In the same vein, see G. Calvès, “La chambre sociale de la Cour de Cassation face à l’affaire
Baby Loup : Trois leçons de droit, et un silence assourdissant”, Respublica, 21 March 2013,
[online]: “the idea of an association "de tendance laïque" is not surprising, unless secularism is
reduced to its legal and political dimension. Secularism (be it liberal, open, strict, pluralist,
based on recognition, etc.: there is no shortage of interpretations) may also be understood as
a social project, worthy of being set up as the “proper purpose” of an entreprise de tendance”.
(38) P. Adam, “La crèche et l'au-delà”: Semaine sociale Lamy, 2011, n° 1515, p. 10.
(39) ECHR, Campbell & Cosans v United Kingdom , 25 Feb 1982, series A n/48, § 36, cited in the
decision of the Grand Chamber in Lautsi and others y Italy, Application No °30814/06, 20 March
(40) The duty of loyalty is a corollary to the employment contract, resulting from the duty of good
faith inherent to any contract under French law.
(41) See Rapport du procureur général (Report from the Public Prosecutor) p. 11 in CA Paris, 27
Nov. 2013, n° 13/02981.
(42) ECHR, Dahlab v Switzerland, Application N° 42393/98, 15 February 2001; French references:
AJDA, 2001, p.480, note J.-F. Flauss ; RFDA, 2003, p.536, note N. Chauvin.
(43) ECHR, Sahin v Turquie, Application N° 44774/98, 10 November 2005; French references:
AJDA, 2004, p.1809, chron. J.-F. Flauss ; D., 2005, P.204, note G. Yildirim.
(44) Art. 14 of the New York Convention on the Rights of the Child, 20 November 1989.
(45) E. Dockès, ibid. §17 p.4
(46) G. Calvès, ibid. §47 p.9
(47) Idem.
Issue No.1 January 2015
French Law in a Globalizing World
Business law:
A step towards the harmonisation of EU law in matters of insolvency
Professor Jean-Luc Vallens
The Recommendation of the European Commission and France’s Ordinance of 12 March 2014
It is quite natural to be surprised at the differences between national legislations when the
respective economies of each European Member State are increasingly integrated and
interdependent. The rules relating to the reorganisation and winding-up of credit institutions were
the subject of a "forced-march" harmonisation as a result of the banking and financial crisis of
recent years. Those relative to compulsory administration and liquidation of commercial and
industrial enterprises remain, in contrast, singularly marked by the civil laws of each State. The
European Union has doubtless already concerned itself with facilitating the effectiveness of judicial
decisions in this field: such was the purpose of Council Regulation (EC) 1346/2000 of 29 May
2000 on insolvency proceedings, which is currently being reviewed (1). However, the
approximation of such laws was not the purpose of the Regulation, which pushed first the
European Parliament (2), then the European Commission (3), to embark on this work.
On the same day when French law was renewed with Ordinance n° 20014-326 of 12 March 2014,
the European Commission adopted a Recommendation intended to give national legislatures
guidelines for the adaptation and approximation of laws on insolvency.
A comment may be made here: in Europe, harmonisation is not, as one American scholar has
observed, "a euphemism for forcing commercially less important countries to adopt the remedies
and priorities of the commercially more important countries" (4). The perspectives evoked by the
European Commission are not those of a uniform law of insolvency based on the American federal
model, but a harmonisation, allowing the legal insecurity of economic and banking players to be
reduced and facilitating foreign investment. This is the goal expressed at the beginning of
Recommendation: "[i]t is necessary to encourage greater coherence between the national
the insolvency frameworks” (5). By “coherence”, we must understand “convergence” or
“harmonisation”, and not standardisation. The tools available for Community regulation allow such
a nuanced, gradual approach. A Recommendation is first of all the result of a choice made by the
Commission’s departments, which may be followed by a subsequent Directive, destined to see
those principles adopted therein transposed into national legislations, whilst being adapted to the
local rules under domestic law. There is an indication in that sense in the final points of the
Recommendation: the Member States are invited to implement the principles set out within 12
months and the Commission will assess national legislations within 18 months (6).
This “open method of co-ordination" is an expression of the concern for convergence, on the one
hand, between national legislative systems and, on the other, between those systems and
Community policy. We must recall, at this point, the objective pursued by the European Union, as
expressed in the Recommendation: "to ensure that viable enterprises in financial difficulties,
wherever they are located in the Union, have access to national insolvency frameworks which
enable them to restructure at an early stage with a view to preventing their insolvency, and
therefore maximise the total value to creditors, employees, owners and the economy as a whole"
(7): this is one way of expressing the general interest, even public economic policy, as highlighted
by Professor Lucas (8).
This objective cannot be ignored when it is a matter of bringing successive amendments and
adaptations to national law, as the French legislature does periodically.
The title of the Recommendation expresses the ambition pursued: it aims to provide "a new
approach to business failure and insolvency". The stakes are considerable, given that national
legislations are marked by the civil traditions of each legal system and find themselves at the
confluence of multiple legal rules: securities law, property law, contract law, credit law and
procedural rules.
The Commission has nonetheless adopted a particularly prudent approach, recommending a
convergence of laws in fields where that convergence already exists: the early restructuring of
companies in financial difficulty, which is intended to prevent insolvency and which is based on an
analysis according to which insolvency is harmful both to the company and to its creditors, and a
writing-off of an honest bankrupt entrepreneur’s debts, which is considered as an independent
method of recovery, to guarantee them a “fresh start”.
The Commission thus avoids touching on the more sensitive subjects, i.e. more delicate issues:
the adoption of standard criteria for opening insolvency proceedings, the establishment of
common rules for verifying liabilities, the handling of debts subsequent to opening insolvency
proceedings, the redefinition of those privileges and securities as may affect or be binding on the
proceedings, or the establishment of standard rules for the voidability of legal acts detrimental to
creditors. Some of these issues have already drawn the attention of the European Parliament,
particularly the conditions for opening proceedings, the lodgement of claims, nullity actions, the
treatment of corporate groups in insolvency and the powers held by receivers (9): the
harmonisation of these rules would contribute even more fundamentally to legal certainty and
investment. In opting for the two areas that it did select, the Commission has taken a partial
approach which may be viewed as pragmatic. It is true that the Commission has undertaken to
modernise (in the context of reviewing Regulation n° EC 1346/2000 of 29 May 2000) important
topics such as the lodgement of claims, judicial co-operation and the treatment of groups in
difficulty. However, these are essentially issues of judicial co-operation and the recognition of
decisions more than substantive law.
The Commission’s sector-based approach does, however, involve real co-ordination between the
Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States in order to guarantee the coherence
of the chosen approach. The expansion of the Parliament’s prerogatives may even favour
coherence in this instance.
The method employed also has the merit of giving the lie to a pessimistic interpretation, according
to which harmonisation would always result in a “race to the bottom”, where the convergence point
between laws would be the least relevant and the least protective scheme for the interests
Conversely, while the Commission has limited its Recommendations to those areas where
harmonisation appears, at the very least, to be useful and practicable, it does not confine itself to
those general principles, but deliberately goes into the detail of the provisions that strike it as
desirable. It is an interesting exercise to compare this with the guidelines chosen by the French
legislature on the same day.
The simultaneity of these two legal documents allows, quite beyond differing objectives, a useful
comparison to be made between the respective choices made by the Community legislature and
the French legislature. We will use the Recommendation’s titles to examine the relevance of French
law in light of European law.
1. Preventive restructuring framework
The Commission provides a detailed “road map” for Member States:
debtors should be able to restructure at an early stage, as soon as it is apparent that there
is a likelihood of insolvency;
debtors should keep control over the day-to-day operation of its business;
debtors should be able to request a temporary stay of individual enforcement actions;
a restructuring plan adopted by the majority prescribed by national law should be binding
on all creditors provided that the plan is confirmed by a court;,
new financing which is necessary for the implementation of a restructuring plan should not
be declared void, voidable or unenforceable as an act detrimental to the general body of
creditors (10).
A few comments on these various points:
Negotiating an agreement:
French law, as reformed by Ordinance on 12 March 2014, broadly answers the concerns raised by
the European Commission: the mediation procedure, like the accelerated safeguard procedure and
the safeguard procedure (we will leave aside the accelerated financial safeguard, insofar as it does
not constitute a true collective procedure) allow the debtor to keep control of the operation of its
business, either in its entirety (under the mediation procedure and the accelerated safeguard
procedure) or under the supervision of a professional (under the safeguard procedure). Under no
circumstances is the debtor stripped of its powers but rather remains "in possession", as per the
term used under Chapter XI of the American Bankruptcy Code.
Opening proceedings at an early stage:
The opening of these proceedings is also made possible as soon as difficulties emerge (mediation
procedure) or in the event of insurmountable difficulties (safeguard procedure), whereas the
accelerated safeguard procedure is available to a debtor previously subject to a mediation
procedure and presenting the same risk of financial failure, with no consideration other than the
existence of a plan likely to receive “sufficiently broad support from creditors" (11). A debtor
involved in a mediation procedure may ask to be granted time limits, in the event of individual
lawsuits (12); and, if it is successful in securing the opening of an accelerated safeguard
procedure, individual lawsuits are stayed automatically for the duration of the same, which is the
equivalent of the “moratorium” recommended by the Commission in its Recommendation. Nothing
is said, however, on the recognition and enforcement of decisions given in proceedings, or on
their public or confidential nature. The Commission and the European Parliament have taken this
difficulty into account in the context of reviewing Regulation n° EC 1346/2000 of 29 May 2000 on
insolvency proceedings.
Confirmation by a court:
A draft amicable agreement which has not been approved by all creditors may also be approved by
a majority of them, followed by confirmation by a court, this making the agreement binding on all
parties. Furthermore, where a debtor has obtained an amicable agreement that is confirmed by the
court, the agreement will in future obstruct any potential deferral of the date for the suspension of
payments, thus protecting the financing granted from any subsequent cancellation on the basis of
acts during the suspect period.
Finally, it should be noted that the European Commission recommends limiting the timeframes for
the various procedures, by setting the moratorium and negotiation period at four months, which is
close to the duration of a mediation or an accelerated safeguard procedure (13).
Adoption of a restructuring plan:
The second aspect of the framework prescribed for the restructuring of companies in difficulty
concerns the adoption of a plan, be it a restructuring or a recovery plan.
The Commission recommends a number of measures in that sense:
a classification of creditors,
a majority vote in the amount of creditors' claims in each class,
equality between creditors irrespective of where they are located,
confirmation of the plan by a court protecting the legitimate interests of,
the guarantee of treatment that is at least equivalent to what they would reasonably have
received in the event of a compulsory liquidation, thus making the plan legally binding on
all parties,
safeguards, such as the rejection of an unrealistic plan, the protection of those creditors
providing financing against the cancellation of measures and against any liability, and a
general exception in the event of fraud on the part of the debtor (14).
In terms of French national law, both the legislation in place prior to the Ordinance of 12 March
2014 and that resulting from the reforms broadly meet the Recommendation’s requirements, and
France will have no difficulty in presenting an outline of her law at the assessment stage
announced by the Commission.
The debtor presents a draft plan to its creditors, either individually or in the context of the creditor
committees set up for the largest companies. An agreement voted by a majority of creditors on
such committees results in the court approving the plan on condition that it respects the interests
of all creditors. The approved plan then becomes legally binding on all parties. No distinction is
made between creditors on the basis of their location, or indeed of their nationality: equal
treatment is enshrined here, bearing in mind that this equality concerns unsecured or nonpreferred creditors only, preferred creditors being guaranteed priority treatment provided by law.
Conversely, some of the European Commission’s recommendations are hardly reflected in French
law and present a challenge for France’s national legislature.
The Recommendation of 12 March 2014 invites Member States to curb their legal formalities,
particularly by avoiding the appointment of a mediator or a supervisor in order to "avoid
unnecessary costs" (15). The Commission shows more naive optimism than pragmatism here,
insofar as the intervention of an insolvency professional, whilst generating some costs, serves first
of all to build up creditor confidence and ensure the equal treatment called for by the
Commission. It is true that it concedes that the court may consider such an appointment necessary
(16), which restricts the interest of this particular recommendation to a general call for cost
containment. This approach could be more of a transfer to institutional creditors of the freedom to
impose their own advisors on a debtor, with a view to developing the basis of a favourable
agreement, thus confusing the specific interests of those creditors with the collective interests of
all parties concerned, thereby also setting aside the expectations of heads of business. In the
United States, for instance, where an insolvency professional is not appointed by the court, the
head of the company will, at the request of the bank creditors, have an ad hoc administrator
appointed, the Chief Restructuration Officer, who will negotiate the company’s debts. On this
point, it is not certain that the Commission’s Recommendation truly meets the objective that it has
set for itself. The French approach seems preferable here: this consists in establishing a
framework for the remuneration of appointed professionals, which is the subject of many of the
provisions contained in the Ordinance of 12 March 2014 (17).
The Commission also recommends the application of preventive procedures to all financial entities
and providing for a creditor vote in all scenarios (18). The French legislature is more realistic in
this respect; while the mediation procedure is open to all companies regardless of size, this is not
the case for the other two aspects: the accelerated safeguard procedure and the creation of
creditor committees.
Only the largest companies are eligible for the accelerated safeguard procedure created by the
Ordinance of 12 March 2014 (19) and given creditor committees (20), in such a way that a vote by
creditors on those committees concerns only credit institutions and the main suppliers to the
debtor company. The following are excluding from these mechanisms: as regards debtors,
companies that do not reach the requisite threshold (unless the bankruptcy judge rules otherwise);
and, as regards creditors, those that are neither credit institutions nor the main suppliers to the
debtor company.
For those creditors not called upon to vote, current French law restricts their involvement to an
individual consultation, with no binding effect on the courts. From this perspective, national law is
less favourable to creditor voting than is recommended by the Commission. French law differs on
this point from several other national legislations, under which creditors gather in assemblies or
committees and vote in the majority of procedures on the solutions presented by the head of the
company. Whether the French legislature will resist taking the same course is not certain, despite
the inconvenience presented by the creditors’ meeting in terms of cost and time. French law’s
experiment with bankruptcy meetings in 1967 does not serve as an argument in favour of
restoring these mechanisms.
The European Commission does appear to have guessed that there are difficulties, as it suggests
that creditors be able to vote "by distance means of communication such as registered letter or
secure electronic technologies" (21).
One final noteworthy difference between the respective directions of Community law and French
law concerns the treatment of creditors in the context of a plan, for which the Commission
recommends a specific safeguard: the rule on the best interests of creditors, i.e. a comparison
between the treatment applied by the draft plan to a creditor and the creditor’s fate in the event of
compulsory liquidation (22). This mechanism draws inspiration from the "best interest test", itself
inspired by American law, and incorporated in particular into the German insolvency code (23).
Again, this rule should in no way trouble the French legislature, which already recommends that
courts confirm amicable agreements once they have ensured that those agreements safeguard the
interests of those creditors who are not party to the agreement (24), and restricts voting to those
creditors for whom the plan would change the payment methods (25).
2. Second chance for entrepreneurs
The European Commission deals with this issue in a more cursory manner. Under this heading, the
Commission recommends the creation of a legal scheme for discharging entrepreneurs from their
debts, prescribing a maximum period of 3 years as of the opening of bankruptcy proceedings or
the confirmation of a recovery plan (26).
The rule recommended by the European Commission is also inspired from the common-law device
known as discharge, and already featured as a major objective with the adoption of the Small
Business Act in June 2008, redrafted in 2011. It can be found under a variety of names (e.g.
esdebitazzione, excusabilité or Restschuldsbefreiung) in the national legislations of many
European States, all reformed in this sense over the last twenty years: Belgium, Germany, Italy and
Spain have thus opened the possibility of a complete discharge of their debts to those debtors in
difficulty subject to bankruptcy proceedings, in order to allow them to resume an economic or
commercial activity.
The concept of a compulsory remission of residual debts, which have not been paid in the context
of compulsory liquidation proceedings, has – despite the initial criticisms from many civil law
experts – found its place in the general economy of insolvency procedures in France and
neighbouring countries.
It is expressed in national law by a prohibition on renewing individual lawsuits against a debtor at
the end of compulsory liquidation proceedings closed on grounds of inadequacy of assets. The
Commission’s intention is to limit this possibility to honest debtors acting in good faith, which
corresponds to the conditions set under French law, owing to the exceptions featured in Book IV of
the Code de commerce (Commercial Code). Enshrined by the French legislature in 1985 (27), the
right to a second chance for debtors has been extended to consumers who are heavily in debt by
the Code de la consommation (Consumer Code) (28), for reasons more closely related in this
instance to the need to maintain social harmony than the intention to encourage new individual
businesses. The Ordinance of 12 March 2014 extends this option still further in favour of
entrepreneurs with few assets by means of a new mechanism: the professional recovery procedure
(29). The procedure is brief (lasting 4 months, in theory), stripped of any measures relating to
liquidation and the audit of liabilities, and results in the writing-off of existing debts (30). On this
point, the French legislature wished to facilitate the recovery of insolvent debtors with a goodfaith condition whilst providing the possibility of ending it at any time, even cancelling the writeoff of debts thereafter (31). The aim is to avoid onerous legal proceedings that generate additional
costs and delays. The conditions recommended by the Commission, which mentions exceptions
and restrictions, are linked to dishonest or good-faith behaviour on the part of the debtor. Other
mechanisms are also connected to this aim, such as the simplified compulsory liquidation
proceedings which end, in theory, within a year and now within six months following the reforms
brought about by the Ordinance of 12 March 2014 (32), or the possibility of ending compulsory
liquidation proceedings where the realisation of assets seems disproportionate with the interests
of the proceedings (33), which covers the concept of a cost/benefit analysis: while they do not
fully coincide with domestic law, these rules do express the common idea of a concession
intended for debtors having been subject to insolvency procedures with no actions in bad faith or
fraud on their part.
As mentioned above, the European Commission recommends a period of three years as of the
opening of bankruptcy proceedings, to encourage Member States to set a reasonable timeframe
for the duration of liquidation proceedings. Conventional law, which guarantees proceedings of a
Recommendation. However, the Commission appears to deviate from this clear objective as it
considers another option: it also recommends, as an alternative, a period of three years as of the
implementation of a repayment plan. Does this mean that the duration of such a plan ought not to
be longer? If so, the chances of success would be smaller, unless there were a significant drop in
the number of creditors to repay. If not, it is scarcely conceivable that the Recommendation should
appear to seek to discharge the debtor after three yearly instalments, in defiance of its own
Finally, the Commission recommends that debtors be allowed "means of survival", particularly
through the possibility of "allowing the entrepreneur to keep certain assets" (34): again, the
Ordinance of 12 March 2014 is consistent with the Recommendation, insofar as it allows the
liquidator to release less valuable assets to the debtor’s relatives, to allow timeframes to be set for
a bankrupt debtor to vacate premises, and to exclude any property acquired by the debtor through
inheritance from the scope of insolvency proceedings.
If, at the end of the assessment period scheduled by the Commission, French law has again to be
changed, practitioners and courts will not be disorientated by the direction taken by the
Community legislature.
(1) On 3 June 2014, the Commission and the European Parliament produced a joint version of
a proposal for a revised Regulation, n° 10/284
(2) European Parliament, Resolution of 15 November 2011, P7 TA (2011) 0484.
(3) European Commission, Communication of 12 December 2012
(4) L. LoPucki, Global and out of control?, Amer. Bankr. Law Journal 2005, p 79
(5) European Commission, Recomm, guidance notes n° 11
(6) European Commission, Recomm, pt. 34 and s.
(7) European Commission., Recomm, guidance notes n° 1
(8) L'essentiel Dr. Entr. en diff., May 2014, n° 8, p 1
(9) EP, Resolution 2011(2006) of 15 November 2011
(10) European Commission. Recomm, pt. 6
(11) Code de commerce, Article L 628-1, para. 2
(12) Code de commerce, Article L 611-17 para. 5
(13) European Commission. Recomm, pt n° 13
(14) European Commission. Recomm, pt n° 15 and subs.
(15) European Commission. Recomm, guidance notes n° 17 and pts n°8 and 9
(16) European Commission. Recomm, pt. n°9
(17) Code de commerce, Article L 611-14, para 1, and L 611-16, para 2
(18) European Commission. Recomm., pt. n°16 and s.
(19) Being 20 employees, €3 million turnover and total assets of €1.5m (Code de commerce,
Article D 628-3)
(20) Being 150 employees or €20m turnover (Code de commerce, Article R 626-52)
(21) European Commission. Recomm., pt. n°19
(22) European Commission. Recomm., pt. n°22, c)
(23) InsO, § 245 and 251
(24) Code de commerce, Article L 611-8 II, 3°
(25) Code de commerce, Article L 626-30-2, final para.
(26) European Commission. Recomm., pt. 30
(27) Now: Code de commerce, Article L 643-11
(28) Code de la consommation, Article L 332-6 para. 2 and L 332-9 para. 2
(29) Code de commerce, Article L 645-1 & subs., threshold set at €5000 (C com sec. R 645-1)
(30) Code de commerce, Article L 645-11
(31) Code de commerce, Articles L 645-9 and L 645-12
(32) Code de commerce, Article L 644-5
(33) Code de commerce, Article L 643-9
(34) European Commission. Recomm., pt n° 32 c)
Issue No.1 January 2015
Criminal law:
The influence and false influence of European Union law on French criminal
Amane Gogorza, Associate Professor, ISCJ, University of Bordeaux
The Law of 27 May 2014 transposing Directive 2012/13/EU of the European Parliament and of the
Council of 22 May 2012 on the right to information in criminal proceedings
The Law of 27 May 2014 (1), transposing Directive 2012/13/EU on the right to information in
criminal proceedings, which came into force for the most part on 2 June 2014 (2), was eagerly
awaited. Not that the level of the European Union’s requirements in this area was especially high,
or that French criminal procedure would undergo any major upheavals as a result of the
transposition; it was rather that, as part of a movement in French case law and legislation to
enhance the rights of the defence, this Law – which had been debated since the beginning of 2014
(3) – presented an opportunity to refine and clarify the position of individuals implicated in police
investigations. The Law was expected, in particular, to provide a framework for the so-called
“audition libre" (4) – voluntary questioning or hearing without any placement in police custody – of
the suspect and to reconsider the issue of access to case materials during periods of police
custody. In many respects, the opportunity went begging.
The right to information in criminal proceedings – the very purpose of the Law of 27 May 2014 –
responds to a more ambitious objective of guaranteeing the rights of persons implicated in police
investigations, as proclaimed by the European Union. Directive 2012/13/EU – also known as
Directive B, transposed by the Law discussed here – is, in effect, the second of a series of texts
adopted or projected by the Union (5) implementing a road map issued by the European Council
aiming to enhance the procedural rights of suspects and defendants in the context of criminal
proceedings (6). It follows Directive “A” (7) on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal
proceedings, which was incorporated into the body of French legislation by a Law of 5 August
2013 (8); and precedes a Directive “C” of 22 October 2013 (9), on the right of access to a lawyer,
which will have to be transposed by Member States before 27 November 2016. Some of the points
contained in the latter Directive, particularly those concerning the lawyer of a person interviewed
"freely", have nevertheless been incorporated ahead of time into the Law of 27 May 2014 (10).
Logically enough, the right to information runs through the entire criminal process, from the
police investigation stage to trial. Doubtless because the police investigation stage currently finds
itself in the spotlight, the French legislature has dedicated two chapters of the Law to the issue of
informing suspects, which essentially refers to the police investigation stage, and only a third
chapter to defendants appearing before investigative and trial bodies.
While this formal
presentation says little a priori as to the content of the Law, the Directive’s two cardinal points
have naturally served as a guiding principle for the French legislature. Thus the right of a
defendant to be informed of their rights and access to information useful and necessary to their
defence inspire and cement the new provisions as a whole (11).
As far as it responds to the European Union’s requirements in relation to the minimum set of
procedural rights to be acknowledged to persons involved in criminal proceedings, the Law of 27
May 2014 indisputably contributes to an area of freedom, security and justice. Admittedly, the
construction of such an area can proceed without any major problems: aside from the fact that the
European Union is in no position to impose a rigid procedural blueprint on Member States (12), the
rights of defendants have continued to be enhanced, especially under the influence of
conventional law, to such an extent that the impact study relative to the Law of 27 May 2014
concluded that many EU Member States already have legislation that complies overall with the
Directive’s requirements (13). This observation naturally applies to France, where the defendant’s
right to information has continued to be consolidated under the influence of extra-Community
sources. In this respect, and on a number of aspects, the new Law is part of what is after all a
quite natural continuum of previous reforms or advances in case law, thus making the Union’s
involvement almost non-existent (I below). Nevertheless, the Directive is not without significance.
By placing people rather than procedural actions (the names and arrangements of which vary from
one country to the next) at the heart of its measures, it allows French law to rethink the police
investigation stage by giving substance to a legal status that is widely ignored: that of suspects (II
below) (14). And this, it would seem, is the essential contribution made by the Directive and the
new Law.
It would undoubtedly be excessive to conclude that the transposition of the Directive has, from a
technical point of view, brought nothing to French criminal procedure. First of all, the rights of
persons in police custody have been supplemented. To the notification and the right to have a
relative and the place of work informed of the detention order, to be examined by a doctor, to
have a lawyer present, to make statements or to remain silent under the Law of 14 April 2011 (15),
the following must be added, where applicable: the notification and the right to have an
interpreter present, together with the right to see certain documents relating to the proceedings,
whereas up until then only the lawyer had the right to do so (16). It should also be noted that
there is a new right to submit observations to the magistrate responsible for deciding on the
extension of police custody (17), which may be interpreted as a further step towards the
adversarial process and the “jurisdictionalization” of the police investigation stage. Information on
the reasons for the deprivation of liberty is also given, as the notification of the nature and the
presumed date of the offence justifying the placement in police custody is replaced with the more
complete information as to the classification and the presumed date and time of the offence,
together with the purpose of the detention (18). Above all, the new Law provides that the rights in
question shall be made known to the interested party according to specific arrangements, in a
document separate from the statement, which must be given to the person, to which the Directive
refers as the "Letter of Rights" (19).
As regards the pre-trial phase, the parties to the proceedings will, just like the person in police
custody, have direct access to the materials of the case which are therefore no longer reserved for
lawyers. More specifically, the parties will have the possibility, with exceptions (20), of being given
copies of all or part of the evidence and statements on the case file (21), the Law wishing to
guarantee an equal right to information between those being assisted by a lawyer and those
preferring to prepare their own defence. Finally, as regards the trial phase, access to the materials
of the case in criminal proceedings has also been opened up: while the person brought before the
Public Prosecutor may now see said case file, be it directly or through the intermediary of their
lawyer (22), this access is guaranteed to the lawyer where the referral to the criminal court is made
by summons or by notice to appear (23); the parties may also obtain copies of the same.
In spite of these new developments, one cannot help but think that European Union influence on
French criminal procedure is marginal. Indeed, that influence does not take the form of an impetus
for far-reaching reforms but rather that of adjustments, which serve to put the finishing touches
to an earlier movement that is in some way inevitable. Worse still, in relation to the most
controversial – and, in reality, the most highly anticipated – points, the Directive’s technical impact
remains symbolic, even non-existent, as the European legislation is neither sufficiently clear nor
sufficiently precise to establish indisputable solutions.
First of all, let us consider the direct access now acknowledged at every stage of the proceedings,
although subject to different arrangements. On closer examination, the acknowledgement of this
direct access was not really implied by the Directive which considers, on the contrary, that the
right of access to the materials of the case ought to be guaranteed alternatively either to the
person arrested or detained or to their lawyer (24), without however deciding on the scenario in
which the defendant chooses to defend himself. Admittedly, it may be argued, as some legal
scholars have, that the effectiveness of the right to information assumes, implicitly but necessarily,
that the person not assisted by a lawyer may have sight of the case file themselves (25). By linking
the exercise of the right to information with the assistance of a lawyer, the legislature would
effectively have limited the scope thereof, contrary to European recommendations.
It nevertheless strikes us that while that interpretation of the Directive is desirable and the most
rational, it is not the only possibility. Such direct access could just as easily be refused to the
suspect by making the assistance of a lawyer compulsory or, if opting for a minimal interpretation
of the Directive, deciding that from the moment when the lawyer may have access to the materials
of the case, the alternative has been fulfilled, at least where the State provides a satisfactory legal
aid system. In such cases, the defendant would simply have to ask for free legal assistance for the
right to information to be guaranteed (26). Spain’s draft organic law transposing the Directive
does not provide for direct access to the materials of the case for defendants or persons deprived
of liberty (27).
The acknowledgement of the right of direct access to the materials of the case is instead the result
of Constitutional Council case law. The latter has declared on a number of occasions that the
provisions of the Code de procédure pénale (Criminal Procedure Code), under which disclosure of
the evidence in the case was reserved for the lawyer acting for the parties – the defendant and the
civil party – were incompatible with Articles 6 and 16 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and
of the Citizen, considering that such a filter was an infringement, on the one hand, of the right to
a fair trial and of the right to a defence of persons not assisted or represented by a lawyer; and
that, on the other hand, it contravened the principle of equality between persons wanting legal
assistance from counsel and those wishing to defend themselves (28). Insofar as representation by
a lawyer is not compulsory, except in exceptional cases, it is easy to understand that such
discrimination may seem unjustified. The influence of the European Directive has yet to be proved
on the issue of direct access to the materials of the case.
Secondly, the same applies to the right of a person in police custody to access the basic materials
of the case, which right has not been acknowledged by the Law of 27 May 2014.
In 2011, the French legislature authorised lawyers acting for persons in police custody to consult
certain materials or documents on the case file: the statement on the placement in police custody
and the notification of rights, the medical certificate and the transcripts of interviews with the
person they are assisting. This restricted access to the case file was and remains highly
controversial: firstly, because the materials envisaged by the legislature do not give a complete
picture of the case and the prosecution evidence (29); secondly, and as a corollary, because this
limited knowledge of the materials of the case deviates from the requirements laid down in
respect of fair trials by the European Court of Human Rights. Given that the ECHR considers that
legal assistance must encompass "the whole range of services specifically associated with legal
assistance" and especially “discussion of the case, organisation of the defence, collection of
evidence favourable to the accused, preparation for questioning, support of an accused in distress
and checking of the conditions of detention” (30), it is difficult to see how this mission can be
accomplished if the lawyer for the person in police custody cannot consult the basic materials of
the case, and particularly those relating to the prosecution evidence.
The Law of 27 May 2014 naturally afforded the opportunity to reconsider the issue. This was
particularly the case as Directive 2012/13/EU had given a certain amount of hope, some legal
scholars considering that EU law imposed a requirement of fuller access to the materials of the
case as soon as a person is placed in police custody. However, things remain unchanged, the
French legislature having in some ways made the most of the ambiguities contained in the
European text. In spite of appearances, the Directive remains unclear on the content of the right of
access to the materials of the case. Article 7 identifies a number of scenarios. Paragraph 1 gives a
person deprived of liberty the right to access any document allowing him to challenge the legality
of their arrest. The following paragraph relates to suspects and defendants, independent of the
deprivation of liberty; it guarantees access to all material evidence, whether for or against suspects
or defendants, in order to safeguard the fairness of the trial and to prepare their defence. Finally, a
third paragraph provides that “{w}ithout prejudice to paragraph 1, access to the materials referred
to in paragraph 2 shall be granted in due time to allow the effective exercise of the rights of the
defence and at the latest upon submission of the merits of the accusation to the judgment of a
court”. The precise meaning of the latter paragraph raises a number of difficulties.
The reference to due time to allow the effective exercise of the rights of the defence leaves a wide
margin of appreciation to Member States and allows the moment when the interested party will
have access to all evidence in the case to be deferred, while the possibility of defending oneself
has not been initiated. However, because paragraph 3, which states the time limits for access to
the full case file, is not applicable where a person is deprived of liberty (31), it must doubtless be
considered that a person who is arrested or detained, a person in police custody being at the
forefront, must be able to access essential documents allowing them immediately to challenge the
legality of their arrest or detention – in other words, during the deprivation of liberty (32).
The reality strikes us as being far more complex. While it is right that a person under arrest ought
to be made aware of certain documents, it would appear that the purpose of this is to allow them
to challenge the legality of the measure involving deprivation of liberty. The problem lays in the
fact that, in French law, the legality of police custody may only be challenge at the pre-trial stage,
before the investigation chamber or the criminal court, in limine litis. It is therefore at those
stages, a priori, that access to documents allowing the deprivation of liberty to be challenged must
be guaranteed to the defendant – as French law already does – and not while the person is in
police custody, unless the new right introduced provisions in favour of persons in police custody,
namely that the right to submit observations to the magistrate responsible for deciding on the
extension of police custody be considered as a means of challenging the legality of the arrest. This
remains to be seen. It should be noted, moreover, that in its decision of 18 November 2011, the
Constitutional Council justified the limited access to evidence during police custody, in particular
because at that stage, there was no question of challenging the legality of the measure involving
deprivation of liberty.
Bearing in mind the ambiguities of the Directive transposed by the Law of 27 May 2014, the
contribution made by EU law to the developments in French criminal procedure does not appear to
have examined legal technique: the rights contained in the Directive already existed overall in the
French legal system (not to mention many others) (33), even though the exercise of those rights or
some aspects thereof may have been clarified by the Directive. Paradoxically, the latter’s main
impact on French criminal procedure remains theoretical. The Union’s perception of criminal
procedure - doubtless because it is built on the basis of different legal systems - brought to light
the need to give greater visibility to the concept of suspect (in other words, to the person), rather
than allegations, namely evidence or proof against an individual, which the French Code de
procédure pénale already exploits to permit such and such a procedural act infringing individual
freedoms (34). The thinking behind the right to a defence, particularly at the police investigation
phase, was thus renewed. Indeed, up until now in France, people detained during the police
investigation had not been recognised as having any particular legal status, unlike during the pretrial phase. This deficiency could be explained by the fact that, the prosecution not having been
instigated, the police investigation phase was generally viewed as being a unilateral investigation
phase in which individuals – and particularly the suspect – were virtually non-existent. In this
respect, procedural rights have traditionally been connected to pleadings, not to the status of
suspect as such. Traditionally, therefore, hearings were a function of pleadings chosen by the
investigating officer – police custody or not – not of the existence of allegations against a person.
This situation was in contrast with that encountered at the pre-trial phase, in which defendants
find themselves granted rights owing to a status related to their involvement in the facts (35),
while investigative acts depend on the status of the interested parties.
Admittedly, the notion that suspects had to be recognised as having a specific legal status has
caught on in recent years. Two decisions of the Constitutional Court subjugated the legality of the
so-called "free" or voluntary questioning of a suspect (i.e. questioning without any placement in
police custody) to the notification of certain rights: that of being informed of the allegations
against them and that of leaving the offices of the judicial police at their convenience. It was in
order to give substance to the status of suspect put forward by European Union law that the legal
regime applicable to police questioning was supplemented by the Law of 27 May 2014 (36).
Indeed, legal scholars expressed serious reservations as to the Constitutional Council’s
recognition of voluntary questioning, thus calling for legislation. The beginnings of a framework
for a well-known police practice were praiseworthy, but the incomplete legal regime was heavily
criticised. It was especially regrettable that such questioning, which no-one viewed as an act of
co-operation with police, could be conducted without a lawyer present, and there were ancillary
fears that it could be open to abuse, allowing police to take statements from a suspect without the
latter having received assistance from counsel. It was easy to imagine, for example, that a suspect
wishing to avoid police custody would agree to voluntary questioning and that the investigating
officer would place them in custody when, feeling that their statements have begun to incriminate
them, the same suspect decided to leave the offices of the judicial police. There was also
something slightly embarrassing about the questioning – or perhaps even interrogation - of a
suspect without the completely voluntary waiver (37) of the assistance of a lawyer, because the
guarantees attached to the defence must logically be attributed in relation to the necessities of
that defence and, therefore, to the existence of allegations, not exclusively to the coercion of the
suspect (38). An overhaul of voluntary questioning was therefore essential, either to prohibit it by
making the placement of the suspect in police custody compulsory; or by proposing a better
framework for it.
This has now happened, as a suspect questioned "voluntarily" has, as a result of the new Law,
identical rights to those of persons placed in police custody, though the arrangements for the
notification of those rights differ, in that a Letter of Rights is not required (39). Thus a suspect
must be informed of the classification and the presumed date and time of the offence of which
they are suspected of committing or attempting to commit; the right to leave the police offices at
any time; where applicable, the right to have an interpreter present; the right to make statements,
answer questions or remain silent; whether the offence for which they are being questioned is a
crime or a misdemeanour punishable by a term of imprisonment; the right to be assisted, during
questioning or a confrontation, by a lawyer of their choice or, at their request, designated by the
President of the Bar Association; and finally, the possibility of receiving legal advice, free of charge
where applicable, from a legal advisory service (40).
The right of access to a lawyer will come into force on 1 January 2015, unlike the other rights
which have been effective since 2 June 2014. This delay can be explained by the fact that the
measures relative to assistance from counsel anticipate the transposition of Directive C (41), the
transposition of which by Member States can wait until 27 November 2016. This time management
has, however, had consequences for the notification of the right, which has also been deferred in
the interests of consistency (42). Once again, the French adaptation of the Directive raises the
question of an incorrect transposition. The duty to notify suspects of their rights being imposed
by Directive B, and therefore having to be effective before 2 June 2014, has France not failed
to fulfil its legal obligation to transpose the Directive within the relevant timeframe?
Without prejudice to what the European Court of Justice’s opinion may be in the event that an
action is brought for failure to fulfil an obligation, such a conclusion strikes us as dubious. Indeed,
while a suspect has not been arrested, Directive B does not stipulate the moment that they must
be notified of their rights, simply stating that it must be done “promptly” (43) “in order to allow for
those rights to be exercised effectively”, “as they apply under national law”. In reality, the moment
when a suspect should be notified of their procedural rights is only made clear in a combined
reading of Directives B and C. If a free suspect under interrogation must be able to have a lawyer
present (Directive C) then the notification of that right must necessarily be given before the
interrogation, when the possibility of voluntary questioning is offering to the suspect, without
which the latter is ineffective (Directive B). All in all, the notification given to a free suspect of their
right to have a lawyer present could be based on the timescales provided in Directive C. However,
this is EU law at its own particular pace. As previously mentioned, it would appear that, according
to the European Court of Human Rights, it is not possible for a suspect to be questioned,
even before 2016, without their being notified of their right to have a lawyer present (44).
So we return to our initial considerations. European Union law often settles for setting down a
general framework for recognising rights with a view,, in its own words, to creating a secure
Europe serving its citizens; the proposed technical provisions are deliberately vague so as to leave
a wide margin of appreciation for Member States which, in reality, find themselves bound by other
sources of law well before the Union intervenes.
(1) Law n° 2014-535, JORF 28 May 2014, p. 8864.
(2) This was the timeframe set for the transposition of the Directive. Some provisions will only
enter into force on 1 January 2015. This is the case, in particular, for the right of a suspect
questioned voluntarily (i.e. without being placed in police custody) to have a lawyer present,
or the right of a victim confronting a person questioned voluntarily to be assisted by counsel.
See Article 15, Law of 27 May 2014, cited above. The recognition of rights relating to legal
assistance was not implied by Directive 2013/13/EU of 22 May 2012, but by the later one of
22 October 2013 (Directive 2013/48/EU); French law therefore did not fail to comply with its
transposition obligations within the time allowed.
(3) The draft law on the right to information in criminal proceedings was tabled by the
Government before the Senate on 22 January 2014, following the accelerated procedure. For a
full commentary of the draft, see A. Botton, Droit à l'information dans le cadre des procédures
pénales : un projet de loi contrasté, Dalloz. 2014, p. 431.
(4) In French law, the audition libre, the hearing or voluntary questioning of a free suspect,
conducted without coercion by an officer of the judicial police, also known as l'audition du
suspect sans placement en garde à vue (the voluntary questioning of a suspect without
placement in police custody). This has always existed, as the judicial police being under no
duty to place suspects in custody. However, following two decisions of the Constitutional
Council requiring that a person being voluntarily questioned be informed of the allegations
against them as well as their right to leave the offices of the judicial police (Cons. Const. 18
Nov. 2011, n° 2011-191/194/195/196/197 QPC, Garde à vue, JO 19 Nov. 2011; Cons. Const.
18 June 2012, n° 2012/257 QPC , JO 19 June 2011), debate has raged on the conditions for
the legality of such questioning. Observers have wondered whether the right to have a lawyer
present should not also be recognised.
(5) On 27 November 2013, the Commission published a number of draft Directives and
Recommendations of the procedural rights of vulnerable persons (COM(2013) 822 final 2013/0408 (COD)), the presumption of innocence (COM (2013) 821 final - 2013/0407 (COD)
and legal aid (COM(2013) 824 final - 2013/0409 (COD)
(6) The roadmap was adopted by a Resolution of the European Council on 30 November 2009
and was incorporated on 11 December 2009 into the Stockholm Program - An open and
secure Europe serving and protecting citizens; See Directive 2012/13/EU of 22 May 2012,
OJEU, 01/06/2012, L 142/2, § 11-14. The roadmap provides for a number of measures
intended to achieve this result: the right to translation and interpretation (measure A), the
right to be informed of their rights and the charges against them (measure B), the right to
legal aid (measure C), the right to communicate with relatives, employers and consular
authorities (measure D) and the guarantees for vulnerable suspects and defendants (measure
E). There was also a Green Paper on provisional detention (measure F).
(7) Directive 2010/64/EU, OJEU 26/10/2010, L280/1.
(8) Law n° 2013-711, JORF 6 August 2013, p. 13338.
(9) Directive 2013/48/EU, OJEU 6/11/2013, L. 294/1.
(10) Article 61-1 (5) of the Code de procédure pénale now provides that a person questioned
voluntarily must be able to have a lawyer present. Nevertheless, this provision will only come
into force on 1 January 2015 (Article 15 of the Law of 27 May 2014, cited above).
(11) On these two essential points, G. Taupiac-Nouvel et A. Botton, La réforme du droit à
l’information en procédure pénale, JCP, G, 2014, n° 27, doct. 802.
(12) Under Article 82 TFEU, the European Union’s competence is limited in matters of criminal
procedure. The European Parliament and the Council can adopt minimum rules to facilitate
the mutual recognition of judgments and judicial decisions, as well as police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters having a cross-border dimension
(13) See impact study of the Law of 27 May 2014, p. 17 and subsequent.
(14) On this point, R. Ollard, Quel statut juridique pour le suspect, JCP, G, 2014, n° 36, p. 1547.
(15) Law. n° 2011-392 on police custody, JORF 15 April 2011, p. 6610.
(16) CPP, Article 63-1 as amended.
(17) CPP, Article. 63-1, (3).
(18) CPP, Article 63-1, (3).
(19) Art. 4.
(20) This will be the case in the event of "risks of pressure on victims, persons charged, their
lawyers, witnesses, investigators, expert witnesses or any other person involved in the
proceedings" - Article 114 (8) CPP.
(21) CPP, Article 114 (4).
(22) CPP, Article 393
(23) CPP, Article 388-4.
(24) Article 7 of the Directive indeed envisages "suspects, defendants or their lawyers".
(25) In this sense, see, A. Botton and G. Taupiac-Nouvel, cited above.
(26) The ECHR does not consider that the fact of subjugating access to the materials of the case to
legal assistance is incompatible with Article 6 of the Convention and the right to a fair trial:
ECHR, Kermzow v Austria Application n°12350/86, 21 September 1993. It is true, however,
that the issue was examined from the perspective of procedural fairness, not that of equality
or non-discrimination between persons assisted by a lawyer and those wishing to defend
(27) Proyecto de ley organica del 1 de agosto 2014 por la que se modifica la ley de enjuiciamiento
criminal para transponer la directive 2010/64UE, de 20 de octubre 2010, relativa al derecho a
interpretacion y a traduccion en los procesos penales y la Directiva 2012/13/UE de 22 de
mayo 2012 relativa al derecho a informacion en los procesos penales, p. 11, available at
(28) See Cons. Const. 9 Sept. 2011, n° 2011-160 QPC considering that, on conclusion of a
preliminary inquiry, the notification of the initiation of a prosecution to the lawyers acting for
the parties only is contrary to the Constitution; Cons. Const. 23 Nov. 2012, n° 2012-284 QPC
on Article 161-1 CPP. The Council censured the provision as it provided that a copy of the
decision ordering that an expert report be obtained should be sent to the Public Prosecutor
and the lawyers acting for the parties.
(29) Article 63-4-1 of the Code de procédure pénale, resulting from the Law of 14 April 2011
(cited above) provided that the lawyer may consult the statement on the placement in custody
notification of rights, medical certificate and the statements made under questioning by the
person they are assisting. The new law has not amended the list of documents that may be
consulted. It simply added that such consultation could be direct, the person in police
custody being able to access said documents themselves.
(30) ECHR, Dayanan v Turkey, Application n°, §32, 13 October 2009.
(31) It is stated that the time limits are established without prejudice to the provisions under
Paragraph 1.
(32) Under Article 7 (1) of the Directive, “[w]here a person is arrested and detained at any stage of
the criminal proceedings, Member States shall ensure that documents related to the specific
case in the possession of the competent authorities which are essential to challenging
effectively, in accordance with national law, the lawfulness of the arrest or detention, are
made available to arrested persons or to their lawyers”.
(33) See Impact Study, cited above, p. 17 and subsequent.
(34) This remains true even if, as such, this situation is obviously not envisaged by the Directive,
and even if the term "suspect" is not reiterated by the Code de procédure pénale, which
continues to mention the person against whom there exists "one of more plausible reasons to
suspect that they have committed or attempted to commit a crime or misdemeanour”. The
relevant Impact Study (cited above), page 5, is clear on this point: relative to the three
Directives adopted to date, "a true status of suspect has thus been created, generating an
entitlement to standard rights within the EU".
(35) The framework thus varies depending on whether the person is placed under judicial
examination, i.e. whether there is strong or corroborative evidence of their involvement in the
facts (Article 80-1 CPP); whether they are an assisted witness, i.e. they have been found
guilty without the requisite amount of serious corroborative evidence (Article 113-1 &
subsequent, CPP); or the person is a witness and not suspected (Article 101 & subsequent,
(36) Article 61-1 CPP.
(37) Are we truly free when it is a question of choosing between voluntary questioning without a
lawyer present, or police custody with a lawyer present?
(38) ECHR, Simons v Belgium, Application no. 71407/10, 28 October 2012, Paras. 26-33, linking
the right to a lawyer to the existence of an accusation in criminal matters and therefore to
procedural fairness (Article 6 ECHR), not the deprivation of liberty (Article 5 ECHR).
(39) Article 803-6 CPP does not provide for such a document to be given to a suspect or
defendant in custody.
(40) For more information, see v. Article 61-1 CPP.
(41) Article 3 (2) (a) of Directive 2013/48/EU of 22 October 2013 on the right of access to a
lawyer in criminal proceedings and in European arrest warrant proceedings recognises the
right of access to a lawyer of suspects and defendants before they have been questioned by
the police or a judicial or law enforcement.
(42) It was a matter of avoiding the notification of a virtual right; see. J.-B. Perrier, La
transposition tardive de la notification du droit du suspect libre à l’assistance d’un avocat,
Dalloz 2014 p. 1160
(43) Art. 3(1) of the Directive of 22 May 2012.
(44) ECHR, Simons v Belgium, cited above.
Issue No.1 January 2015
European law (ECHR):
Surrogacy agreements: at last, the primacy of the child’s interests
Professor Adeline Gouttenoire, Director of the Institut des Mineurs de Bordeaux, University of
ECHR, Mennesson v France, Application no. 65192/11, 26 June 2014
ECHR, Labassee v France, Application no. 65941/11, 26 June 2014
With its decisions of 26 June 2014 in Mennesson v France and Labassee v France, the European
Court of Human Rights finally gave a glimmer of hope for the "ghost children" whose parentage is
not recognised in France. The European Court clearly condemned France for her refusal, and
indeed that of the Court of Cassation in its decisions of 6 March 2011 (1), to recognise the filiation
of children born to surrogate mothers overseas with their “intended” French parents.
The decisions concerned the Mennesson case, widely reported in France, and another similar case
in which a French couple used an American surrogate. In both scenarios, the applicants – the
parents and children – claimed that there had been an infringement of their right to respect for
private and family life owing to the impossibility for them to secure recognition in France of the
parentage legally established overseas.
In both decisions, the European Court proceeded with a detailed and subtle analysis of the
situation brought about individuals entering overseas into an agreement that is prohibited in the
national territory, by seeking to strike a balance between France’s refusal to permit surrogacy
agreements and the interests of the children concerned. The solution is ultimately quite measured
in that it does not allow the enshrinement of a right to parenthood but protects the child’s right to
his or her identity.
Positioning itself on what it termed "negative obligations", the Court proceeded with a
proportionality test, in terms of both the right to the respect of family life and the right to the
respect of private life. In light of Articles 16-7 and 16-9 of the French Civil Code, which expressly
provide for the nullity, on grounds of public policy, of agreements pertaining to the "procreation
or gestation on account of a third party", and the decisions in which the Court of Cassation had
held that such agreements contravened the principles of the inalienability of the human body and
of civil status, the Court considered that the interference was provided by law. The ECHR also
admitted that the refusal to recognise the parentage between children born overseas to a
surrogate and the intended parents was founded on an intention on the part of the French State to
deter her citizens from resorting overseas to a method of procreation that is prohibited on
national territory.
The European Court did not call into question the objection on grounds of international public
policy employed by the Court of Cassation, but it held that it was necessary of verify " whether in
applying that mechanism to the present case the domestic courts duly took account of the need to
strike a fair balance between the interest of the community in ensuring that its members conform
to the choice made democratically within that community and the interest of the applicants – the
children’s best interests being paramount – in fully enjoying their rights to respect for their private
and family life" (para. 84). One might think that the European Court would follow the same line of
reasoning with regard to the Court of Cassation’s 2013 and 2014 decisions (2), which were not
based on public policy but rather on fraud.
The Court observed that there was no consensus in Europe either on the legality of surrogacy or
on the parentage between intended parents and children thus legally conceived overseas, and that
"[t]his lack of consensus reflects the fact that recourse to a surrogacy arrangement raises sensitive
ethical questions" (para. 79). While the European Court admitted that States must, in principle, be
afforded a wide margin of appreciation when it comes to authorising surrogacy agreements and
recognising the parentage of children legally conceived as a result of a surrogacy agreement
overseas, it considered that this margin of appreciation ought to be reduced where parentage, an
essential aspect of the identity of individuals, is at stake. Thus, the Court considered that it was
incumbent to it to establish whether a fair balance had been struck between the interests of the
State and those of the individuals directly affected by this solution, in light of the basic principle
under which, each time a child’s situation is at issue, the latter’s interests must take precedence.
The Court proceeded with this test, firstly on the basis of the right to family life of all applicants,
then on that of the right to private life of the children alone.
I – No infringement of the right to respect of family life
Existence of family life
Referring to its decisions of 22 April 1997 and 28 June 2007 (3), the Court noted first of all that
there was indeed a family life between the children born as a result of the surrogacy agreement
and their parents, who had raised them since birth (the children being aged 13 and 14), stating
that "what matters in this type of situation is the concrete reality of the relationship between the
interested parties. It is clear in this case that the first applicants have taken care as parents of the
third and fourth applicants since birth, and that all four live together in a way that is in no way
different to family life as it is usually accepted” (para. 45).
Infringement of the right to respect of family life
According to the Court, the absence of recognition of parentage under French law necessarily
affected the family life of the applicants. More specifically, the Court referred to the impossibility
encountered by the children concerned to obtain French nationality (at this point, the Taubira
circular of 25 January 2013 (4) had not been implemented in such cases) and the concerns relative
to maintaining that family life between the intended mother and the children in the event of the
death of the intended father or the separation of the intended parents.
No infringement of the right to respect of family life
However, the Court noted that the applicants were able to live together in France " in conditions
broadly comparable to those of other families and that there is nothing to suggest that they are at
risk of being separated by the authorities on account of their situation under French law" (para.
92). It therefore deduced that "the situation brought about by the Court of Cassation’s conclusion
in the present case strikes a fair balance between the interests of the applicants and those of the
State in so far as their right to respect for family life is concerned" (para. 94). In doing so, the
European Court of Human Rights refused to impose a duty on the State to recognise family life
which exists de facto, as it had already done in its decision in Harroudj v France of 4 October 2012
(5) or Gas & Dubois v France of 15 March 2012 (6).
II – Infringement of the right to respect of private life
The parentage aspect of private life
The European Court stated that the respect of private life required that each person be able to
establish the details of his identity as a human being, of which parentage is an essential aspect,
and asserted that there was “a direct relationship between the private life of the children born as a
result of a surrogacy arrangement and the legal determination of their parentage” (para. 46).
Infringement of the right to private life
Firstly, the European Court generally characterised an infringement of the children’s right to
private life without distinguishing between maternal or paternal filiation. It noted that the children
found themselves in a position of legal uncertainty as to their parentage owing to the refusal on
the part of the French authorities to grant any effect to the American ruling, as the French
authorities, fully aware that they had been identified elsewhere as the children of their intended
parents, nevertheless denied them that status in the French legal system. The Court considered
that the same contradiction constituted an infringement of their identity in French society and the
effects of the failure to recognise their parentage in France had consequences not only for the
parents "who have chosen a particular method of assisted reproduction prohibited by the French
authorities" (para. 99), but also for the children. This therefore raises the issue of the compatibility
of that situation with the children’s best interests, respect for which must guide any decision
concerning them.
Nationality and inheritance
More specifically, the Court noted that the children were faced with a " worrying uncertainty" (para.
97) as to the possibility of obtaining recognition of French nationality, which could negatively
affect the definition of their own identity. Furthermore, the failure to recognise their parentage
entailed a lack of legal rights to inherit from their parents which could not be compensated by
their appointment as universal legatees, which would place them in a clearly unfavourable position
as third parties.
Paternal filiation
Secondly, the Court focused more specifically on its analysis of paternal filiation. It highlighted the
importance of biological filiation as an aspect of each person’s identity and asserted that "it cannot
be said to be in the interests of the child to deprive him or her of a legal relationship of this nature
where the biological reality of that relationship has been established and the child and parent
concerned demand full recognition thereof" (para. 100). The Court of Cassation’s refusal to allow
the recognition of the children’s paternal filiation, be it by the transcription of the foreign birth
certificate, paternal recognition, or even adoption or de facto enjoyment of civil status, was viewed
by the ECHR as a serious restriction on identity which went beyond that which was permitted by
the State’s margin of appreciation, "[h]aving regard also to the importance to be given to the
child’s interests when weighing up the competing interests at stake" (para. 101). The Court
therefore concluded that there had been an infringement of the children’s right to respect for their
private life.
Maternal filiation
However, in limiting part of its reasoning to paternal filiation, the Court appears to be restricting
its condemnation to the non-recognition thereof. This would mean that the non-recognition of
maternal filiation had not been condemned by the European Court. Such a solution would be in
line with established ECHR case law, which tends to refuse to impose a duty on States to recognise
or establish filiation which does not correspond to a biological link (7), aside from the context of
adoption. Such an interpretation of the Mennesson and Labassee decisions is confirmed by the
press release issued by the Registry, which announced a condemnation for a failure to recognise
paternal filiation where it corresponds to biological reality.
Limited effect of the condemnation
Ultimately, the sole effect of the Court’s condemnation of France in these two cases may be to
impose a duty on the State to recognise the paternal filiation of the children concerned. In order to
meet the Court’s requirements, the French authorities do not need to amend existing legislation as
this does not preclude the recognition of paternal filiation based on biological reality. It would
simply be a matter of the Court of Cassation amending its case law either so as to admit the
transcription of the foreign birth certificate as regards paternal filiation, or so as not to annul any
recognition as may be granted in France.
We can only hope that the Court of Cassation will not have to rule again in such cases and that
prosecutors will now draw the appropriate conclusions from the ECHR’s judgment by no longer
challenging paternal filiations established with regard to children born as a result of surrogacy
agreements made overseas; this would effectively give precedence to the child’s best interests,
assessed in practical terms, as required under Article 3 (1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of
the Child. A circular issued by France’s Ministry of Justice on this topic would be more than
The French version of this article was originally published by Lexbase (Lexbase Hebdo édition
privée n°577) on 3 July 2014. Translated to and published in English by kind permission.
(1) Cass. civ. 1, 6 April 2011, three judgments, n° 09-66.486, n° 10-19.053 et n° 09-17.130, FPP+B+R+I; nos obs., Convention de gestation pour autrui à l'étranger : l'intérêt de l'enfant
sacrifié sur l'autel de l'ordre public, Lexbase Hebdo n° 436 du 14 avril 2011, D., 2012, p. 22,
obs. F. Granet-Lambrechts ; Dr. fam., 2012, n°5, p.19, obs. C. Neirinck.
(2) Cass. civ. 1, 13 September 2013, 2 judgments, n° 12-18.315, et n° 12-30.138, FP-P+B+I+R ;
obs. A. Gouttenoire, La fraude plus forte que l'intérêt supérieur de l'enfant !, Lexbase Hebdo n°
542 du 3 octobre 2013 - édition privée ; RJPF, 2013, n° 11, p. 6, obs. M.-C. Le Boursicot, D.,
2014, p. 1171, obs. F. Granet-Lambrechts ; Cass. civ. 1, 19 March 2014, n° 13-50.005, FSP+B+I, RJPF, 2014, n° 5, obs. I. Corpart ; D., 2014, p. 905, obs. H. Fulchiron et C. BidaudGaron.
(3) ECHR, X, Y & Z v UK, 22 April 1997, Application no. 75/1995/581/667; ECHR, Wagner & JMWL v
Luxembourg, 28 June 2007, Application no. 76240/01, RTDCiv., 2007, 738, obs. J.-P.
(4) Circulaire du 25 janvier 2013, JUSC1301528C, relative à la délivrance des certificats de
nationalité française - convention de mère porteuse - Etat civil étranger, Dr. fam., 2013,
comm. 42, obs. C. Neirinck. [Circular of 25 January 2013, JUSC1301528C, concerning the
issuing of certificates of French nationality – surrogacy agreements – Overseas civil status]
(5) ECHR, Harroudj v France, 4 October 2012, Application no. 43631/09.
(6) ECHR, Gas & Dubois v France, 15 March 2012, Application no. 25951/07.
(7) F. Sudre (ed.), Les grands arrêts de la Cour européenne des droits de l'Homme, PUF, 2014,
forthcoming, comm. n° 51.
Issue No.1 January 2015
European Law (EU):
The difficulties faced by public establishments in light of competition law:
a discussion of the "La Poste" case
Sébastien Martin, Lecturer in Public Law, CRDEI, University of Bordeaux
In France, "not only do public authorities run the economy, but they also participate therein
through public operators" (1). Influenced by European Union law, it appears that the State’s direct
participation in the market, particularly through public bodies, has become a sensitive subject.
Thus, the European Court of Justice’s decision on the status of the French incumbent postal
operator, La Poste, handed down on 3 April 2014, is a striking illustration of the developments
currently faced by the French model of state interventionism.
"As an organisational technique, public entities have always had a flexible, appropriate legal form,
with a view to meeting various objectives of good administrative governance. […] In the context of
market economics, it serves first of all in guaranteeing the competitiveness of some services of
general economic interest, by offering them the financial independence that is conferred by legal
personality” (2). The legal status of the établissement public industriel et commercial, public
industrial and commercial establishment or EPIC, is founded on a number of specificities that
make it a very different instrument to private companies which, like the EPIC, exercise an
economic activity in a given market. The EPIC is an entity governed by public law which can only be
created by a public body and has legal personality, which affords it a degree of autonomy in
relation to the body that had created it and which, on that basis, is subject to the supervision of
the public authority to which it is attached (3). The public establishment does not, however, have
any share capital and has, like all "public bodies, the attributes of legal personality, its privileges
and its constraints" (4).
Such a mechanism has not passed unnoticed by the authorities of the once European
Communities, now the European Union. Indeed, through competition law, and in particular the
rules on State aid, EU institutions have examined public operators and by extension public entities
in order to ensure that these do not enjoy any unjustified economic advantage as compared to
their competitors. La Poste, after EDF (5), suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of European
law as its legal status as a public establishment afforded it an unjustified economic advantage
according to the European Commission.
In applying the objective of free and undistorted competition laid down by the Treaty to the French
incumbent postal operator, the European authorities mean to guarantee the proper operation of
the internal market. The fact remains that the consequences of litigation for the public
establishment are significant, even when La Poste had changed status before the ECJ had given
judgment (6).
In order to understand all the issues raised by the La Poste litigation, we must first go over the
elements that formed the basis of the European Commission’s findings as to the incompatibility of
La Poste’s public establishment status in light of the rules on state aid (I) before presenting the
arguments that led the General Court, then the Court of Justice, to dismiss the appeal brought by
the French authorities against the European Authority’s decision (II).
I. The challenge to the status of public establishment under the law on State aid
Before detailing the reasoning that led the Commission to conclude that public establishment
status was incompatible, we must first explain the specificities of that public law status.
A law passed in 1990 (7) transformed the former Directorate-General for Communications into
two separate public-law entities: La Poste on the one hand, France Telecom on the other. In doing
so, and while the law qualified them as public operators, the newly created bodies became public
On this basis, as for all other public-law entities in France but unlike private companies, both La
Poste and France Telecom do not have any share capital and are not subject to the ordinary law on
receivership and judicial winding-up of firms in difficulty. As is emphasised in French legal
doctrine, "the particularities of the legal regime for some state-owned companies remain linked to
the fact that, behind a uniform title drawn from business law, there indeed remains the specific
strength of the public-law nature of those companies that take the form of public entities” (8).
In the Commission’s opinion (9), such a situation constituted an advantage for La Poste that could
be described as State aid (10). Indeed, according to the European Competition Authorities, status
as a public establishment afforded La Poste a guarantee financed by State resources which,
compared to its competitors, allowed it to draw an advantage in capital markets by obtaining, in
particular, financing conditions deemed more favourable.
The crux of the European Authority’s reasoning therefore rests on the State guarantee from which
La Poste allegedly benefited. In the Commission’s view, the status as a public establishment
affords an implied and unlimited guarantee to operators who have that status. Indeed, in addition
to allowing them to avoid insolvency and bankruptcy procedures under ordinary law, their status
as legal entities governed by public law renders them subject to Law n° 80-539 of 16 July 1980
(11), whereby it falls to the State representative or the supervisory authority, where a local
authority or public establishment is ordered to pay a sum of money, to issue formal notice to
generate the necessary resources to the legal entity governed by public law. In addition to this,
there is the implementing decree (12) which provides that "the supervisory authority shall, as
appropriate, release the necessary resources […] either by reducing the credits that are assigned
to other expenditure and still available for use or by increasing resources”. What is more, it notes
that where a public establishment which has a public accountant is dissolved, there is always a
transfer of its obligations either to the new public establishment that will take its place or by
appointing an assignee for the balance of the liquidation – generally the State (13). All in all, in the
Commission’s view, “the procedures described above imply that the State has a role as guarantor
of last resort. It may therefore be legitimately concluded that La Poste benefits from an unlimited
guarantee owing to its status as a public establishment” (14). It added that “La Poste pays no
premium for that guarantee and the State therefore waives the remuneration that normally
accompanies such guarantees. Furthermore, the guarantee creates the risk of a potential and
future commitment of resources held by the State, which may find itself bound to settle debts
incurred by La Poste” and therefore concluded that "the State’s unlimited guarantee for La Poste
leads to a transfer of State resources" (15).
In the second part of its reasoning, the Commission examines whether the State aid, the guarantee
in this case, confers an advantage as compared with the competitors of the entity benefiting from
the guarantee. Here, insofar as “the credit terms and conditions are set in particular on the basis
of financial ratings […] a company that has a low risk of insolvency will be able to borrow in very
favourable terms” (16). Indeed, according to the Commission, the ratings agencies would bade
their decisions on the State guarantee in order to confer a rating to La Poste which would allow it
to secure loans from credit companies at more advantageous rates or, at the very least, " more
favourable than those it would have obtained had it been judged solely on its own merits” (17).
In the third and final part of its reasoning, the Commission examines whether the measure was
likely to distort competition and affect trade. In this respect, since the advantage that benefits La
Poste alone in the postal market allows it to reduce its operating costs, this favours the public
establishment and thus distort competition. Furthermore, as the postal market is partially
competitive and broadly open to intracommunity trade, the Commission concludes that "the
existence of an unlimited State guarantee for La Poste is likely to distort competition and affect
trade within the meaning of Article 107 (1) TFUE” (18).
In its decision of 26 January 2010, the Commission imposes a duty on the French authorities to
withdraw the aid that constitutes the unlimited guarantee by 31 March 2010 at the latest.
Although France had already begun the process of transforming La Poste as a public establishment
into a limited company (19), she nevertheless brought an appeal against the decision before the
General Court in the first instance, then the European Court of Justice.
II. The dismissal of the appeals brought by the French authorities against the Commission’s
The French authorities put forward a number of arguments to secure the annulment of the
Commission’s decision but the European Union’s courts, first through a decision of the General
Court (20) then a judgment of the Court of Justice (21), considered that the European Competition
Authorities had established, to the requisite legal standard, the existence of an advantage
resulting from the alleged State guarantee, which sufficed to take the view that the latter
amounted to State aid. We will go over the various exchanges of arguments before presenting the
lessons to be learned from the La Poste litigation.
The main arguments put forward by France relate to the issue whether there was, in this particular
case, State aid for a public establishment. Firstly, one argument concerns the existence of the
guarantee itself. More specifically, for the requesting State, "the Commission made errors of fact
and law in its examination of the question whether there was an unlimited, implied State
guarantee in favour of La Poste” (22). However, the General Court took the view that “ the
Commission made no error in finding that, contrary to the French authorities’ assertions, French
law did not preclude the possibility for the State to grant an implied guarantee to EPICs” (23).
Indeed, "contrary to what the French Republic’s line of argument might seem to indicate, the
Commission did not find that there was a principle of an implied State guarantee under French law
[…]. It is very clear from the contested decision that […] the Commission inter alia examined the
issue whether such a guarantee was precluded under French law. It found that the texts and the
case-law did not lead to a definitive conclusion that French law precluded the State from acting as
a guarantor for EPICs in respect of commitments they had undertaken with third parties” (24). This
approach was upheld by the Court of Justice, which stated that “ in order to prove the existence of
such a guarantee, which does not result expressly from any legislative or contractual document, it
is permissible for the Commission to rely on the method of a firm, precise and consistent body of
evidence to determine whether there is, in domestic law, a real obligation on the State to use its
own resources for the purposes of covering losses of an EPIC in default and therefore, in
accordance with settled case-law, a sufficiently concrete economic risk of burdens on the State
budget” (25).
Next, a second line of argument relates to the existence of an advantage. According to the French
authorities, it was impossible that the ratings agencies should have used the unlimited State
guarantee for public entities as the basis of their decision to award the good rating that was
allegedly the underlying cause of the economic advantage, insofar as that guarantee, being
implied, had not been identified prior to the Commission’s intervention. For the General Court,
this argument had to be dismissed as “the French Republic has not succeeded in proving that the
finding, made on the basis of methodological documents drawn up by the ratings agencies,
according to which the ratings agencies were, in general, aware of the legal status of the entities
rated, in this case the fact that they enjoyed the status of EPIC, was incorrect” (26). Equally, despite
the uncertainty surrounding the relationship between the existence of the guarantee and that of
the advantage, the Court of Justice took the view that “ the General Court correctly found that the
Commission had observed the burden and the level of proof on it in order to establish whether an
implied and unlimited State guarantee constitutes an advantage, specifying that such a guarantee
enables the borrower ‘to enjoy a lower interest rate or provide a lower level of security’” (27).
The dismissals of the French appeals by the European courts do not answer the various criticisms
made of the line of reasoning followed by the Commission (28). In our view, some aspects
developed over the course of the proceedings – which were not able to flourish as they were not
taken up by the European institutions – deserve to be highlighted as they suggest that the case
could be reopened.
On the one hand, the French authorities pointed out (29) that the Campoloro (30) case law, on
which the Commission relied in recognising the State guarantee, had been developed in a civil
liability case concerning a local authority. Consequently, it seems that the European Authorities’
analyses were based on a confusion, in that they did not make the distinction between public
entities and local authorities on the grounds that they have in common a legal personality
governed by public law that is separate from that of the State. It may be considered that placing
local and regional authorities in the same category as public entities is, at the very least,
debatable, and that there is a very real difference between the two legal personalities. This
difference, clumsily justified by the French authorities on the basis of the constitutional status of
local and regional authorities, deserved to be adopted and better supported particularly in light of
the principle of a State’s strict liability.
Recognising an implied and unlimited State guarantee for local authorities is justified. Indeed, in
the context of a unitary State, it is fairly logical that the central authority should alleviate the
failure of a public authority. Consequently, the impossibility on the part of a local authority to
honour its debts easily constitutes unusual and special damage that can then engage the State’s
strict liability. This does not seem to be the case in the scenario where a public establishment
defaults. On the one hand, this situation does not constitute unusual and special damage insofar
as, in the business world, operators are sometimes forced out of existence. On the other hand, a
public establishment, although it may be responsible for the performance of public service tasks,
does not take on the same powers and does not have the same authority as a public authority.
On the other hand, as was brought out by the Advocate General in his conclusions (31), “the
implied nature of a measure precludes any certainty that it exists. An implied guarantee inferred
from a body of evidence must therefore be deemed to exist unless and until it is proved not to”.
According to the Advocate General, “[i]n the present case it would be relatively easy to adduce
such proof by pointing to specific cases where the debts of an EPIC or of a French territorial, local
or regional authority persistently remained unpaid, despite there being no formal bankruptcy or
insolvency procedure. In fact, such a defence of a Member State enables the view to be taken that
the Commission decision is based on premises which are in fact erroneous” (32).
Finally, and this is an element that suggests that the phrase "public establishment" may continue
to be used in future by public authorities (33), the organic law of 1 August 2001 on finance laws
(34) imposes a requirement that each State guarantee be written beforehand into a budgetary bill
(35), thus rendering any implied guarantee illegal since it came into force on 1 January 2005.
France lost the La Poste case, but the ongoing litigation between the French authorities and
European institutions may not be over, for all that. As has already be stated, the fate of La Poste
had already been decided before the EU courts gave judgment. The appeals brought by the French
authorities are inextricably linked to their wish to see the SNCF, the incumbent rail operator, retain
its status as a public establishment, which may incite the Commission to launch a new
(1) S. Nicinski, Droit public des affaires, Montchrestien – Lextenso éditions, 2009, 619 p., p. 19.
(2) B. Plessix « Fasc. 135 : Etablissements publics - Notion Création Contrôle », JurisClasseur
Administratif, Mars 2014.
(3) According to the Conseil d'État, "any public establishment must be technically attached to a
legal person" (CE, avis, 16 juin 1992 : EDCE 1992, p. 419) and as highlighted by B. Plessix (cf.
« fasc. 135 : Etablissements publics - Notion Création Contrôle », cited above), "the
attachment above all involves an intervention on the part of the relevant authority in the
organisation and operation of the public establishment".
(4) Cf. B. Plessix « fasc. 135 : Etablissements publics - Notion Création Contrôle », cited above:
"Under a classic presentation, these attributes are both prerogatives and constraints,
assets and handicaps […]:
the possibility of resorting to expropriation procedures in the public interest (See. JCl.
Administratif, Fasc. 136);
the possibility of owning State property (See. JCl. Administratif, Fasc. 136);
the ability, for those public establishments with a public accountant (the vast majority), to
recover their credits by means of enforceable receipts and allowing automatic recovery (See.
JCl. Administratif, Fasc. 136);
the benefit of a four-year limitation period for the repayment of debts (See. JCl. Administratif,
Fasc. 136) ; the unattachable nature of assets implying the impossibility of exercising privatelaw enforcement procedures against a public establishment (See JCl. Administratif, Fasc. 136) ;
the impossibility for private debtors to bind public establishments to the off-setting of
credits held with them; the inapplicability of the Law of 25 January 1985 on receivership and
the compulsory liquidation of undertakings (See JCl. Administratif, Fasc. 136) ;
exemption from payment of premiums for wage-guarantee insurance (Cass. soc., 29 févr.
2000 : Dr. soc. 2001, p. 149, note B. Hatoux) ».
(5) Cf. invitations to submit comments in application of Article 88 (2) of the EC Treaty,
concerning the aid measures in favour of Electricité de France (EDF) in the form of the State’s
unlimited guarantee linked to the status of industrial and commercial public establishment
(OJEC n° C 280 of 16/11/2002, p. 8 – 18 and OJEC n° C 164 of 15/07/2003, p. 7 – 13). The
Commission had already taken the view that "the granting by French authorities of EPIC status
to EDF carries with it the granting of a guarantee covering all of that enterprise’s
commitments. In granting that status, the State renders inapplicable to EDF all normal
provisions governing insolvency and bankruptcy under ordinary French commercial law and
consequently cancels out the risk of it failing to meet its commitments, including its
borrowing. In the absence of the guarantee that EPIC status carries with it, EDF’s rating would
fall steeply and the costs of its borrowings would rise as a reflection of the company’s real
and intrinsic financial stability”.
(6) Cf. Loi n° 2010-123, 9 févr. 2010, relative à l'entreprise publique La Poste et aux activités
postales, JORF du 10 Février 2010
(7) Cf. Loi n°90-568 du 2 juillet 1990 relative à l'organisation du service public de la poste et des
télécommunications, JORF n°157 du 8 juillet 1990 page 8069
(8) M. Lombard, « Les conséquences juridiques du passage de l’Etat propriétaire à l’Etat
actionnaire : les contraintes du droit de la concurrence », Revue française d’administration
publique 2007/4, n° 124, p. 573-584.
(9) Cf. Decision C(2007)5778 final of the Commission of 29 November 2007 proceeding with the
opening of the review procedure provided under Article 108 (2) TFUE (Unlimited State
guarantee in favour of La Poste)
(10) Cf. Communication of the Commission on the application of Articles 107 and 108 TFEU (ex 87
and 88 of the EC Treaty) to State aid in the form of a guarantee OJEC C 71, 11.03.2000, pages
(11) Loi n° 80-539 du 16 juillet 1980 relative aux astreintes prononcées en matière administrative
et à l'exécution des jugements par les personnes morales de droit public
(12) Décret N°81-501 du 12 mai 1981 pris pour l'application de la loi du 16 juillet 1980 relative
aux astreintes prononcées en matière administrative et à l'exécution des jugements par les
personnes morales de droit public.
(13) L'instruction codificatrice N° 02-060-M95 du 18 juillet 2002 sur la réglementation financière
et comptable des établissements publics nationaux à caractère industriel et commercial,
published in the Bulletin Officiel de la Comptabilité publique
(14) Decision C(2010)133 final of the European Commission of 26 January 2010, pt 253.
(15) Ibid., pt 254.
(16) Ibid., pt 257.
(17) Ibid.
(18) Ibid., pt 301
(19) In Decision C(2010)133 final, cited above, the Commission published a letter dated 31 July
2009 from the French authorities in why they communicated the proposed law on La Poste
and postal services, adopted by the Council of Ministers on 29 July 2009, setting a date 1
January 2010 for the transformation of La Poste in to a limited company. Furthermore, under
Article 2 of the Decision, the Commission asserts that "the effective transformation of La
into a limited company would thus remove the unlimited guarantee that it currently enjoys.
The effective removal of this unlimited guarantee by 31 March 2010 at the latest constitutes a
measure, in accordance with the law of the Union, the State aid found in Article 1”.
(20) Case T 154/10, French Republic v European Commission [2012]
(21) Case C-559/12 P, French Republic v European Commission [2014].
(22) Case T 154/10, pt 61. In the view of the French authorities, the European institution was
mistaken on the determination of the consequences to be drawn from the inapplicability to
public establishments of receivership and compulsory liquidation under ordinary law ; on the
existence in French law of a principle of an implicit State guarantee resulting from public
establishment status; on the conditions under which the State’s liability is incurred in a
mechanism for the automatic and unlimited guarantee of La Poste’s liabilities and on the
consequences of any potential transfer of the public service liabilities of a public
establishment that has been wound up.
(23) Case T 154/10, pt 78.
(24) Ibid., pt 66.
(25) Case C-559/12 P, pt 65.
(26) Case T 154/10, pt 116.
(27) Case C-559/12 P, pt 104.
(28) Cf. in particular C. Barthélemy, « La garantie impliede, gratuite et illimitée de l’Etat aux
établissements publics : mythe ou réalité ? », R.J.E.P./C.J.E.G., 2004, p. 423 and subsequent;
or S. Nicinski, « La transformation des établissements publics industriels et commerciaux en
sociétés », R.F.D.A., 2008, p. 35 and subsequent.
(29) Cf. Decision C(2010)133 final, pt 212.
(30) Conseil d'Etat, 10 novembre 1999, société de gestion du port de Campoloro, recueil du
Conseil d'Etat p.348; Conseil d'Etat, 18 novembre 2005, société de gestion du port de
Campoloro, recueil du Conseil d'Etat p 515.
(31) Conclusions of Advocate General Niilo Jääskinen presented on 21 November 2013 on Case C
559/12 P, French Republic v European Commission
(32) Ibid.
(33) This aspect, developed in Decision C(2010)133 final, cited above, (cf. pt 43), surprisingly
disappears completely from the remainder of its reasoning to such an extent that by the end
of the Decision, the Commission considers that only the effective transformation of La Poste
into a limited company can remove the unlimited guarantee enjoyed by a public establishment
(cf. Article 2).
(34) Cf. Loi organique du 1er août 2001 relative aux lois de finances, JORF n°177 du 2 août 2001,
p. 12480.
(35) Cf. article 34 § II. - Dans la seconde partie, la loi de finances de l'année […] 5o Autorise
l'octroi des garanties de l'Etat et fixe leur régime.
(36) Cf. The Law adopted definitively by the French Parliament at the end of July 2014, which
contains the new Article L. 2101-1 of the Code des transports (Transport Code): "The SNCF,
SNCF Réseau and SNCF Mobilités constitute the public railway group within the national
railway system. These three entities are indissoluble. The group fulfils a mission, jointly
undertaken by each of the public establishments within the scope of the powers granted to
them by law, intended to operate the national railway network and provide the public with
railway transport services. It performs tasks relating to the provision of regular ground
transportation services for persons, the transportation of merchandise and the management
of railway infrastructure, in the interests of sustainable development and economic and social
efficiency". “Chapter II of Title II of Book II of the first part is applicable to all three
establishments within the public railway group. For its application to the SNCF and SNCF
Réseau, the organising authority within the meaning of the same Chapter II is to be
understood as being the State”.
Issue No.1 January 2015
European law (EU):
The notion of "public authority" in the recent case law of the European
Court of Justice and its impact on French administrative law
Professor Sébastien Platon, Professor of Public Law, University of Bordeaux
The distinction between public and private entities, which is an important distinction in French
public law, has been affected by the recent case law of the European Court of Justice, and in
particular by the decisions in Portgás of 12 December 2013 (1) and Fish Legal e.a. of 19 December
2013 (2).
The notion of “public entity” in French public law
In French public law, the notion of "public entity" is of central importance. Public entities can be
defined as being legal persons governed by public law. There are usually three categories of public
entity: the State, local authorities, and public establishments.
The State is, in a sense, the "leading" public entity from which all others are derived. Local
authorities are off-shoots of the State: it is through the State that those authorities exist; it is the
State that decides on their organization and has sovereignly transferred part of its powers and
areas of responsibility. As can been seen, this is a very French approach to decentralization, which
is diametrically opposed to the American-style federalism which considers that federal
government draws its powers from the federated States. At most, it may be observed that some
scholars in the 19th and early 20th centuries defended the idea that the communes are the
“original” subjects of public law. Thus Pierre-Joseph Proudhon asserted that “the Commune is, by
its essence, like man, like the family, like any individuality and any intelligent, moral and free
community, a sovereign being” (3). The same idea can be found in the writings of Raymond Carré
de Malberg, who takes the view that the commune has “its own tasks, functions and rights, being
rights that are not delegated to it by the State, but which answer to the administration of its own
interests and affairs” (4).
As for public establishments, these are entities governed by public law, specially created with a
view to managing a specific public service. They are created either by the State (we then speak of
the établissement public national or national public establishment) or by local authorities
(établissement public local or local public establishments). Although legally distinct from their
"creator", public establishments remain within the latter’s fairly tight administrative purview. This
administrative purview is currently known in France as tutelle.
The exhaustive nature of this tripartite classification is unclear. Some public entities do not seem
to fit into any one of the three categories, such as the Banque de France (the independence of
which contradicts the notion of tutelle or administrative purview) or even those known
as groupements d’intérêt public or public interest groups. More recently, new specialist public
establishments have emerged which do not seem to fit into any of the categories either: autorités
establishments responsible for the protection of certain rights or freedoms or for the regulation of
some sectors of the economy (5).
Public entities are not alone in their involvement in public action. In some instances, private
entities may be awarded a public service contract. This award can take the form of a contract with
a public entity (public service delegation agreement, even a public procurement contract in some
cases). It may also be a “unilateral" delegation. This generally occurs in a scenario whereby a
public entity creates a body to run a public service and chooses to incorporate it under private law.
This is the case, for example, of caisses primaires d’assurance maladie (local sickness insurance
funds), which are responsible for community relations with sickness insurance users.
While a public service may be operated as much by a public entity as by a private one, the
distinction between the two remains nonetheless significant. The public or private nature of a
given entity will, for instance, have an impact on its internal organisation, the law applicable to the
contracts it may enter into, the accounting rules that apply, etc. This distinction between public
and private entities must, in a sense, compete with the definition of "public authorities"
established in ECJ case law, and in particular the abovementioned Portgás and Fish Legal
The European Court of Justice’s decision in Portgás
In Portgás, the issue brought before the European Court of Justice was whether a Member State
which has not transposed a Direction could invoke said Directive against a public service
concession-holder before a national court. Under ECJ case law, a Directive cannot impose a duty
on a private individual. It therefore cannot being invoked in legal proceedings against a private
individual before a national court (6), particularly where the State has omitted to transpose the
However, by virtue of the Foster judgment of 12 July 1990 (7), a network concession holder may in
some cases can be considered as a "public authority” rather than a private entity. In that decision,
the Court took the view that “a body, whatever its legal form, which has been made responsible,
pursuant to a measure adopted by the State, for providing a public service under the control of the
State and has for that purpose special powers beyond those which result from the normal rules
applicable in relations between individuals is included in any event among the bodies against
which the provisions of a directive capable of having direct effect may be relied upon” (point 20).
In the Portgás decision, the Court adopted the same criteria. However, owing to a lack of
information in the file, the Court did not rule on the question as to whether Portgás could, in this
case, be considered as a "public authority" within the meaning of the case law in Foster; instead, it
left that assessment to the national court.
There remained the matter of determining whether the potential qualification of Portgás as a
"public authority" could allow the State a Directive against it before the national courts, when the
State had omitted to transpose it. On this point, the Court based its reasoning on the duty to take
all necessary general and particular measures in order to achieve the result prescribed by a
Directive. This duty is incumbent not only on the State but also on all its authorities (8). However,
only central government is liable in fine, before European Union institutions, for the fulfilment of
that duty. It would consequently be paradoxical if European Union law were to deprive the State of
those means allowing it guarantee the fulfilment, on the part of its authorities, of a duty for which
it alone would be liable, where applicable, before the Court of Justice. This is precisely the
consequence that would result were it impossible for the State to invoke a Directive against its
own authorities before the national courts.
The European Court of Justice’s decision in Fish Legal
In the Fish Legal judgment, the Court of Justice again used the definition of "public authority"
established in Foster, only this time in an altogether different context. It was a matter in the
second case of interpreting Directive 2003/4 of 28 January 2003 (9) on public access to
environmental information which implemented the Aarhus Convention in European Union law.
Pursuant to Article 3 (1) of said Directive, “Member States shall ensure that public authorities are
required, in accordance with the provisions of this Directive, to make available environmental
information held by or for them to any applicant at his request and without his having to state an
interest”. Article 2 (2) of the same Directive defines the notion of "public authority” as follows:
"[...] a) government or other public administration, including public advisory bodies, at national,
regional or local level;
(b) any natural or legal person performing public administrative functions under national law,
including specific duties, activities or services in relation to the environment; and
(c) any natural or legal person having public responsibilities or functions, or providing public
services, relating to the environment under the control of a body or person falling within (a) or (b).
Member States may provide that this definition shall not include bodies or institutions when acting
in a judicial or legislative capacity. If their constitutional provisions at the date of adoption of this
Directive make no provision for a review procedure within the meaning of Article 6, Member States
may exclude those bodies or institutions from that definition.
In this context, the Court of Justice was asked to rule on the question of whether commercial
companies responsible in the United Kingdom for water supply and sanitation services, in the
framework for the privatisation of the sector in 1989, were likely to constitute public authorities
within the meaning of the Directive and, if so, on the scope of their duty to issue the
environmental information in their possession.
Proceeding with a systematic reading of the Directive, the Court took the view that a distinction
ought to be made between, on the one hand, public authorities in the organic sense i.e. those
enumerated under subparagraph a), namely “government or other public administration, including
public advisory bodies, at national, regional or local level”; and, on the other hand, public
authorities in the operational sense, i.e. any public or private entity performing a public
administrative function. It was at this stage that the Court broke new ground in terms of
definitions, by taking the view that this means "entities, be they legal persons governed by public
law or by private law, which are entrusted, under the legal regime which is applicable to them, with
the performance of services of public interest, inter alia in the environmental field, and which are,
for this purpose, vested with special powers beyond those which result from the normal rules
applicable in relations between persons governed by private law” (para. 52).
This definition is reminiscent of that given in the Foster decision. The Court did not, however,
mention it at this point in its reasoning to justify its definition of “public authority”. Conversely,
Advocate General Cruz Villalon explicitly used Foster in his conclusions in order to formulate the
same definition as the Court. It will be noted, however, that the "control by a public authority"
condition, which can be found in Foster, was not taken up in the definition of “public authorities”
put forward by the Court. This is another consequence of the systematic approach, as that
condition features at point c) of Art. 2 (2), i.e. the third category of public authorities within the
meaning of the Directive.
Point c) was also the subject of other preliminary questions that the Court handled together,
precisely with a view to determining which criteria would serve to establish whether an entity finds
itself "under the control" of a public authority within the meaning of either point a) or point b). It
was only at this stage of its reasoning that the Court finally explicitly mentioned the judgment in
Foster, and this because the national court wished to know whether the notion of "supervision”
within the meaning of the Directive was to be interpreted in the same way as in the Foster case
law. However, having drawn inspiration from that decision in order to identify the criteria for
“service of public interest” and "special powers", the Court then moved away from it. Admittedly,
according to the Court, “[w]here a situation of control is found when applying the criteria adopted
in Foster and Others, paragraph 20, that may be considered to constitute an indication that the
control condition in Article 2(2)(c) of Directive 2003/4 is satisfied, since in both of those contexts
the concept of control is designed to cover manifestations of the concept of ‘State’ in the broad
sense best suited to achieving the objectives of the legislation concerned” (para. 64). Nevertheless,
it specified immediately afterwards that “[t]he precise meaning of the concept of control in Article
2(2)(c) of Directive 2003/4 must, however, be sought by taking account also of that directive’s
own objectives”.
The Court then proceeded with an interpretation of "public authority" based on the notion of
public powers: “in defining three categories of public authorities, Article 2(2) of Directive 2003/4
is intended to cover a set of entities, whatever their legal form, that must be regarded as
constituting public authority, be it the State itself, an entity empowered by the State to act on its
behalf or an entity controlled by the State” (para. 67). It went on: “Those factors lead to the
adoption of an interpretation of ‘control’, within the meaning of Article 2(2)(c) of Directive 2003/4,
under which this third, residual, category of public authorities covers any entity which does not
determine in a genuinely autonomous manner the way in which it performs the functions in the
environmental field which are vested in it, since a public authority covered by Article 2(2)(a) or (b)
of the directive is in a position to exert decisive influence on the entity’s action in that field” (para.
Finally, there remained one last important question as to the scope of the right of access to
information held, in the scenario where an entity cannot only qualified as a public authority for
part of its activities. In such cases, does the public have a right of access to all information held by
that entity, or only that information held in the context of the supply of public services? On this
point, the Court made a distinction between public authorities within the meaning of, on the one
hand, Art. 2 (2) b) and, on the other, Art. 2 (2) c). According to the Court, "Article 2(2)(b) of
Directive 2003/4 must be interpreted as meaning that a person falling within that provision
constitutes a public authority in respect of all the environmental information which it holds.
Commercial companies, such as the water companies concerned, which are capable of being a
public authority by virtue of Article 2(2)(c) of the directive only in so far as, when they provide
public services in the environmental field, they are under the control of a body or person falling
within Article 2(2)(a) or (b) of the directive are not required to provide environmental information if
it is not disputed that the information does not relate to the provision of such services” (para. 83
and operative part).
Interference with French public law
The "public authority" qualification within the meaning of the decision in Foster therefore has
several significant and onerous consequences. It must be noted that the notion of “public
authority”, within the meaning of European Union law, does not correspond with the notion of
“public entity” within the meaning of French law.
Indeed, a private entity entrusted with a public service task, within the meaning of French law, may
meet all the criteria for public authorities established in Foster. The definition of private entities
entrusted with public service tasks is currently set by the Conseil d’Etat’s decision in A.P.R.E.I.
(10). The following are now considered to be private entities entrusted with public service tasks:
- any private entity entrusted with tasks of general interest, monitored by the Administration AND
having prérogatives de puissance publiques (the equivalent under French law of “special powers”)
- OR, in the absence of such powers, any private entity “where, in light of the general interest of
its activity, the circumstances of its creation, its organisation or its operation, the duties imposed
on it as well as the measures adopted in order to verify whether the aims assigned to it have been
achieved, it appears that the Administration intended to entrust such tasks to it”.
Entities that match the criteria in the first scenario may be qualified as being public authorities
under European Union law, while they remain private entities within the meaning of French law.
The result is that it is possible for any entity, including the State, to invoke a Directive against
them before the national courts. They therefore do not benefit from the ECJ’s case law, which
forbids the use of a Directive against a private entity before the national courts. Moreover, they are
bound by a duty to disclose the environmental information in their possession to anyone
requesting the same. Still further, insofar as they are the holders of prérogatives de puissance
publique (public-authority powers), they may be considered as public authorities within the
meaning of Article 2 (2) b) of Directive 2003/4. Therefore, pursuant to the decision in Fish Legal,
they constitute public authorities "as regards all environmental information [that they hold]" and
must therefore disclose all environmental information in their possession, even " where there is no
doubt that these do not relate to the provision [of public services related to the environment]” .
These decisions of the European Court of Justice (and there are many others) further illustrate that
European Union public law develops independently of the national public law of Member States,
which can be disruptive for the latter, and particularly in a body of law as developed as French
public law.
(1) ECJ, Case C-425/12, Portgás - Sociedade de Produção e Distribuição de Gás SA v Ministério da
Agricultura, do Mar, do Ambiente e do Ordenamento do Território [2013] ECR xxxx.
(2) ECJ, Case C-279/12, Fish Legal, Emily Shirley v Information Commissioner, United Utilities
Water plc, Yorkshire Water Services Ltd, Southern Water Services Ltd [2013] ECR xxxx.
(3) Proudhon P. J., De la capacité politique des classes ouvrières, in Œuvres complètes, Paris,
éditions Rivière, 1924, IV, p. 285.
(4) Carré de Malberg R., Contribution à la théorie générale de l’Etat, 1922, réimp. Dalloz 2003, pp.
65 s.
(5) On all of these "new" public entities, see Rapport d’étude du Conseil d’Etat sur les
établissements publics (Conseil d’Etat Report on public establishments), adopted on 15
October 2009.
(6) ECJ, Case 80/86 Kolpinghuis Nijmegen [1987] ECR 03969, point 9; ECJ, Case C-91/92 Faccini
Dori v Recreb Srl [1994] ECR I-03325, point 20.
(7) ECJ, Case C-188/89, Foster and others v British Gas plc [1990] ECR I-03313.
(8) ECJ, Case C-129/96, Inter-Environnement Wallonie v Région wallonne [1997] ECR I-07411,
point 40.
(9) Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2003 on
public access to environmental information and repealing Directive 90/313/EEC of the Council,
OJEU n° L 41, 14 February 2003, p. 26.
(10) Conseil d’Etat (CE), Sect., 22 January 2007, Association du Personnel Relevant des
Etablissements pour Inadaptés (A.P.R.E.I.), application n° 264541.
Issue No.1 January 2015
European law (ECHR):
The European Court of Human Rights and the offence of insulting the
President: an ambiguous condemnation for a planned repeal
Professor David Szymczak, Sciences Po Bordeaux
ECHR, Fifth Section, Eon v France, Application Nº26118/10, 14 March 2013
Despite having long since renounced her monarchy, France did not hesitate in the last century to
institute a veritable "republican monarchy" in the person of the President of the Fifth Republic.
With extensive powers since the entry into force of the 1958 Constitution and, furthermore,
enjoying a high degree of legitimacy owing to his election by direct universal suffrage (1), the
President of the French Republic has been at the very heart – indeed, is the keystone - of French
institutional and political life for over fifty years. Furthermore, he has traditionally benefited from
an especially protected status, on the basis of which it is fitting to mention the offence of insulting
the President, formerly provided under Article 26 of the Law of 29 July 1881 on the freedom of the
press (2). Deemed by its detractors as the last vestige of the crime of lèse majesté (3) - which,
moreover, only exists in a scant number of States (4) - the offence of insulting the President
remained relatively unknown to the general public in France.
It must be said that while Charles de Gaulle, first President of the Fifth Republic (1959 - 1969),
made ample use of the proceedings – he did so on more than 500 occasions (5) - the relevant
provisions had only seldom been used before him (6) and subsequently appeared to have fallen
into disuse: no other President of the Fifth Republic had used them since the end of Pompidou’s
presidential term of office (1969 - 1974) (7). It was not until Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency and the
Eon case that the "offence of insulting the President" suddenly found itself centre stage – and not
only the French but also the European stage as, on 14 March 2013, the European Court of Human
Rights was called upon to give a ruling on the conformity of the offence with the European
Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
The apparently anodyne facts of the Eon case can be summarised as follows. On 28 August 2008,
the then President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, was on an official visit to Laval (Mayenne). When the
arrival of the presidential motorcade was imminent, a protestor, Hervé Eon, silently brandished a
placard bearing the words “Casse-toi pov’con” (loosely, “piss off, you sad bastard”). The slogan
referred to a sentence uttered by the President himself some months previously at an agricultural
show where a visitor there had refused to shake his hand. This reiteration of words uttered by the
President, for which the latter was heavily criticised in the media, resulted in Hervé Eon being
prosecuted for the offence of insulting the President. On 6 November 2008, he was found guilty by
the tribunal de grande instance (regional court) at Laval and received a suspended fine of thirty
Euros. The conviction was upheld on appeal on 24 March 2009; the Criminal Chamber of the Court
of Cassation dismissed Mr Eon’s appeal because no arguable grounds of appeal could be made
out. Having exhausted all options on a national level, the appellant brought a case before the
European Court of Human Rights, alleging that his conviction and sentence constituted a breach of
his right to freedom of expression, protected under Article 10 of the ECHR.
All in all, the judgment in Eon v France given on 14 March 2013 led to a somewhat ambiguous
solution. On the one hand, the ECHR in Strasbourg recognised, in concreto, a breach of Article 10
of the Convention, reminding the French authorities in passing that freedom of political
expression ought to enjoy extensive protection as a matter of principle (see section I, below). On
the other hand, however, the Eon decision also sparked criticism, as the Court refused to rule, in
abstracto, on the issue of the conventionality of the offence. As such, it appeared to grant a
“reprieve” to the offence – a reprieve that was cut short by a swift response on the part of the
French authorities, who ultimately chose to repeal the offence of insulting the President of the
Republic (see section II, below).
[I] A breach of Article 10 ECHR recognised in concreto: a reminder of the extensive protection
granted to freedom of political expression
(A) The admissibility of the application
Even before ruling on the potential breach of the Convention, the Court had to decide on the
admissibility of the application. As such, the French Government raised two main objections to
admissibility. Firstly, it expressed doubts as to whether the facts of the case truly fell within the
ECHR’s remit; if they did not, this would mean that the Court had no jurisdiction to hear the case.
This line of argument was hardly likely to succeed as it amounted to arguing that the contentious
remarks did not come within the province of freedom of expression as they “did not contain any
expression of opinion and had been displayed by a private individual, outside the context of any
debate on a matter of public concern” (para. 40). In this case, the Court did not even trouble itself
to respond explicitly to the French Government’s "doubts", contenting itself with laconically
asserting that the applicant’s conviction amounted to ““interference by public authority” with his
right to freedom of expression” (para. 47). This finding was inevitable in light of previous ECHR
case law, particularly the decision in Faber which had accepted a little earlier that the mere fact of
silently unfurling and displaying a banner with fascist connotations fell within the remit of freedom
of expression (8).
More convincing, however, was the French Government’s second objection, based on the new
admissibility conditions introduced by Protocol n°14: the significant disadvantage criterion (9). As
of 1 June 2010, the latter allows the Court to refuse any application in which the applicant has not
suffered a significant disadvantage, unless the human rights interest is such as to require an
examination of the case on its merits and on condition that said case has been “duly considered”
by a national court. A priori, this second point appeared to be the stronger argument, the Court
even conceding that “the case concerns a modest sum of money and that its financial implications
are therefore minimal” (para. 34) (10). It did, however, recall that a significant disadvantage may
be identified independently of any pecuniary interest. Indeed, “the seriousness of a violation
should also be assessed by taking into account both the applicant’s subjective perceptions and
what is objectively at stake in a particular case” (para. 34). As regards "the subjective importance
of the issue", the Court deemed this to be obvious, particularly because the applicant “pursued the
proceedings to their conclusion, even after being refused legal aid because no arguable grounds
of appeal could be made out” (para. 34) (11). As to "what was objectively at stake", the case had
"received widespread media coverage and concerns the question whether insulting the head of
State should remain a criminal offence, a matter that is regularly raised in Parliament” (para. 34).
Lastly, for the sake of completeness (12), the Court considered that there was in any event a
human rights interest in the Court examining the case on its merits as “the application raises an
issue that is not insignificant, either at national level or in Convention terms” (para. 35) (13).
From that point of view, the ECHR’s recognition of the significant disadvantage suffered amounts
to a very real repudiation of France’s Court of Cassation. Previously, the latter had not only refused
to admit the application submitted by Hervé Eon, but had also refused him legal aid because no
arguable grounds of appeal could be made out. However, by stressing the "objective importance of
the issue of maintaining the offence of insulting the President", the Court set a trap for itself that it
later sprang, by refusing to rule on the conventionality per se of the offence of insulting the
President (14). The main objective had nevertheless been achieved: having ruled on the
admissibility of the application, the Court could then go on to examine the merits of the case.
(B) The examination of the alleged breach
Having ruled on the admissibility of the application – and, incidentally, on the question of
interference – the Court then had to establish whether the restriction imposed on freedom of
expression by the French authorities met the three criteria required under Article 10 (2) ECHR. In
order to be compatible with the Convention, state interference must be prescribed by law, pursue
a legitimate aim and be necessary in a democratic society, i.e. proportionate to the legitimate aims
pursued. It is on the third condition that the Court focused its attention, the first two (having been
confirmed) being subject to only the briefest of examinations. Admittedly this is a typical stance,
the Court only rarely sanctioning a State for a lack of lawful basis and/or legitimate aim, to such
an extent that this double test sometimes seems formal, even artificial. Nevertheless, in this
particular case, an examination of the first two criteria would have benefited from being a more
in-depth one.
Firstly concerning whether the interference was "provided by law", the Court agreed that it was in
the course of one sentence (para. 48), when the issue could have been discussed at greater length.
Admittedly, the offence of insulting the President is “formally provided” by law (i.e. the Law of 29
July 1881, s. 26) but the notion of “insult” likely to constitute the offence (i.e. the material element
of the offence) is not defined by that law. Now, while the ECHR sometimes settles for a definition
drawn from case law (15), the French legal decisions that sought to define the notion of “insult”
are some forty years old and precision is not necessarily their strong point (16). Suffice it to say
that there is some doubt as to whether the foreseeability, accessibility and clarity requirement,
usually an underlying element of the first condition for accepting an interference, was observed
(17). Such uncertainty surrounding the constituent element of the offence of insulting the
President does not, however, appear to trouble the Court at Strasbourg though, in our opinion, it
is the main flaw in the judgment. Be that as it may, if the Court had sanctioned France at this stage
for "lack of legal basis", it would in fact have ruled on the conventionality per se of the offence of
insulting the President… which it evidently wished to avoid.
Next, the issue of “legitimate aim”. The Court was scarcely more forthcoming when it was making
a substitution in relation to the aim argued by the Government: according to the latter, the aim of
the offence was “the prevention of disorder, given the need to protect the institutional
representative embodying one of the highest State authorities from verbal and physical attacks
liable to undermine the State institutions themselves” (para. 41). This assertion contains the basic
rationale behind the offence – or at least that which prevailed when the offence was created under
the Third Republic and which serves in distinguishing it from the crime of lèse-majesté (18).
However, the Court considered “the purpose of the interference was “protection of the reputation
... of others” (para. 49). Admittedly, the purpose retained is that which it "mobilises" most often in
cases involving the privacy of public figures. However, such an automatic reclassification amounts
to a denial of the specific dimension of the offence (19). This not only allows the Court, once
again, to avoid the issue of the conventionality of the offence of insulting the President but also to
tie the Eon case to its classic case law on the protection of freedom of political expression.
Moreover, this is revealed by the examination of the final criterion: that of the necessity of the
interference in a democratic society. As such, the ECHR began by recalling that, even though its
task was not to substitute itself for the national court, but rather “to look at the interference
complained of in the light of the case as a whole, including the content of the comments held
against the applicants and the context in which they made them” (para. 51). Equally, it stated that
while the expression used by Mr Eon was "in literal terms, insulting", such a phrase had also to "be
examined in the light of the case as a whole, particularly with regard to the status of the person at
whom it was directed, the applicant’s own position, its form and the context of repetition of a
previous statement” (para. 53). Consequently, the Court undertook a detailed examination of the
case, which ultimately led it to conclude that the contentious statement did not constitute "a
gratuitous personal attack against [the President]" (para. 57), but that they could be perceived as
"criticism of a political nature” (para. 58), and were an expression moreover of “the medium of
irreverent satire” (para. 59). So, in ruling as it did, the ECHR strengthened the guarantee of the
applicant’s freedom of expression twice over.
Firstly, the Court chose to compare the contentious statement to "political speech", which is
usually afforded a great deal of protection in ECHR case law. In this respect, it recalled that “there
is little scope under Article 10 § 2 for restrictions on freedom of expression in the area of political
speech or debate – where freedom of expression is of the utmost importance” (20). It also recalled
that “[t]he limits of acceptable criticism are wider as regards a politician as such than as regards a
private individual. Unlike the latter, the former inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to close
scrutiny of his every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large, and he must
consequently display a greater degree of tolerance” (21). Such protective principles must apply in
this case as, according to the Court, it is the case and the protagonists, taken as a whole, that are
imbued with political connotations. In particular, it considered that "the applicant’s intention was
to level public criticism of a political nature" and that a link could be established “between his
political involvement and the very nature of the phrase he had used”. This view is further bolstered
by Mr Eon’s “profile” which, as noted by the Court, was that of “ an activist and former elected
representative who had fought a long-running campaign actively supporting a Turkish family
residing unlawfully in France” (para. 58).
It is appropriate at this stage to emphasize the clear-cut difference between the respective
approaches of the French court and the ECHR: from the same starting point, each reached
diametrically opposed conclusions. Indeed, when the case was tried at a national level, the French
courts also acknowledged Mr Eon’s “political motives”. They ruled, however, that the political
nature of the phrase featured on the applicant’s placard proved that the insulting phrase had been
used solely with the intention of insulting the President. Equally, they considered that “in view
specifically to his political activism and the premeditation of his act”, the applicant “could not have
acted in good faith”. As can be seen, where the applicant’s “political motives” had the effect of
"limiting" his freedom of expression before the French courts, those same motives served to
"amplify" it before the European Court of Human Rights.
Secondly, the applicant’s freedom of expression was also bolstered as it resembled "satirical
criticism", as recognized by the Court when it considered that “ by adopting an abrupt phrase that
had been used by the President himself […] the applicant chose to express his criticism through
the medium of irreverent satire” (para. 60). According to ECHR case law, “satire is a form of artistic
expression and social commentary which, by its inherent features of exaggeration and distortion
of reality, naturally aims to provoke and agitate. Accordingly, any interference with the right of an
artist – or anyone else – to use this means of expression should be examined with particular care”
(para. 60) (22). In extending this reminder, the Court reasserted that the penalties for such views,
even where they are minor, are “likely to have a chilling effect on satirical forms of expression
relating to topical issues. Such forms of expression can themselves play a very important role in
open discussion of matters of public concern, an indispensable feature of a democratic society”
(para. 61). Consequently, the fact that the applicant had only been sentenced to a suspended (low)
fine of thirty Euros would not suffice to exonerate the French authorities from their responsibility.
Ultimately, the guarantee of “free political speech”, combined with that of “free satire”, serves to
grant maximum protection to the applicant’s freedom of expression. The interference being
disproportionate, the Court concluded that there had indeed been a violation of Article 10 of the
Convention (23). From that point of view, the decision in Eon is part of a resolutely liberal
approach to freedom of expression, allowing the European Court to renew (24) the wording
adopted in the Handyside judgment, according to which "[freedom of expression] is applicable not
only to "information" or "ideas" that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a
matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the
population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without
which there is no "democratic society" (25). Nevertheless, the Court did not necessarily follow its
line of thought through as it chose to avoid the issue of the conventionality of the offence of
insulting the President.
[II] The refusal to rule in abstracto on the offence of insulting the President: a provisional
suspension but a swift response on the part of the French authorities
(A) The refusal expressly to condemn the offence of insulting the President
While concluding that there had indeed been a violation of Article 10, the Court considered that “it
is not necessary in the present case to determine whether the criminal classification of the
applicant’s acts was compatible with the Convention – even if it is recognised that this was a
special measure”. It took the view that the classification “ did not have any particular effects or
confer any privilege on the head of State concerned vis-à-vis the right to convey information and
opinions concerning him” (para. 55). The Court therefore relied on the essentially specific nature
of its examination to justify its refusal to examine Article 26 of the 1881 Law. Prior to this, it took
pains to make the distinction between Eon and its decision in Colombani (26). In the latter case,
the Court had clearly condemned France for its offence of insulting foreign heads of State, the
purpose of which "is to confer a special legal status on heads of State, shielding them from
criticism solely on account of their function or status, irrespective of whether the criticism is
warranted”. In the Court’s view, “that… amounts to conferring on foreign heads of State a special
privilege that cannot be reconciled with modern practice and political conceptions" (para. 68) and
had to be considered as contrary to Article 10 ECHR.
It was therefore possible to think that the Court would be just as strict with regard to the "twin”
offence of insulting the French President. Instead, it chose to undertake a subtle distinction
between the two cases (27), recalling first of all that in Colombani, the prosecutions had been
brought on the basis of a newspaper article, so that the litigation fell within the scope of press
freedoms. Next, in Colombani, the offence of insulting a foreign head of State had been
condemned "in itself" as “unlike the position under the ordinary law of defamation, the applicants
had been unable to rely on a defence of justification – that is to say, proving the truth of the
allegation – to escape criminal liability on the charge of insulting a foreign head of State” (para.
55). Admittedly, in Eon, the mechanism under Article 26 did not provide for a defence of
justification either, but this had not had any specific consequences. Indeed, "the phrase [Mr Eon]
used was an insult rather than an allegation”, and he would have been prevented from proving the
truth of the same (para. 55). Finally, the Court noted that the applicant “did not claim that the
head of State had acted or spoken offensively towards him” . Consequently, the fact that the
offence of insulting the President did not allow the “defence of provocation” to be invoked was of
no consequence in the present case (28).
Aside from the fact that the distinction between the two cases seems fairly artificial, the timidity
shown by the Court in Eon also stands in stark contrast with other recent decisions, particularly in
Otegi Mondragon (29) where Spain was condemned for a criminal penalty imposed on a Basque
militant for “serious insult to the King”. In this instance, the Court criticised Spanish legislation,
which afforded a higher level of protection to the Head of State than to other persons or
institutions. It also recalled that "providing increased protection by means of a special law on
insults will not, as a rule, be in keeping with the spirit of the Convention" and [t]hat interest, in the
Court’s view, could not serve as justification for affording the Head of State privileged status or
special protection vis-à-vis the right to convey information and opinions concerning him” (para.
55). The lessons drawn from the decision in Otegi Mondragon was ignored in Eon (30), when the
same line of reasoning could well have been reiterated, even applied a fortiori. In the Spanish case,
the special scheme criticised by the Court related to a monarch who, by its own admission,
occupied “a unique institutional position”. The President of the Fifth Republic, as is known,
performs a much more active political role than that of the Spanish sovereign (31)…
Consequently, while the offence of insulting the King per se raised the issue of conventionality in
Otegi Mondragon, it is difficult to see why the Court decided otherwise in Eon (32). The fact
remains that while the Court unquestionably demonstrated judicial self-restraint in the latter case
by not expressly requiring that France repeal the offence of insulting the President, one might also
think that the repeal was implicitly expected of the French authorities, which likely explains the
swift response on their part.
(B) The swift repeal of the offence of insulting the President by the French authorities
The refusal to rule in abstracto on the offence of insulting the President does not mean that it was
judged to be in conformity with the Convention’s requirements, or that it had received absolution
for the future. Evidently, it was simply a detailed refusal tied to the facts of the case, the Court
having probably considered that this "case would not have been the right time to get to the
legislative basis for the interference, through the review in concreto” (33). The Court having taken
great pains to emphasise that the offence of insulting the President was a “special measure", one
could therefore think that, in other circumstances and particularly in a case concerning press
freedoms, it would probably have been led directly to sanction this legal mechanism in that it
confers special protection and procedural privilege to the President, particularly in cases of insults
deemed defamatory. On that basis, and although the Court was careful to make the distinction
between the two cases, the decision in Colombani proves instructive once again. In that case, the
Court emphasised the incompatibility with Article 10 ECHR of the offence of insulting a foreign
Head of State, formerly provided under Article 36 of the 1881 Law (34).
On this occasion, the Court pointed out that "[u]nlike the position under the ordinary law of
defamation, the applicants were not able to rely on a defence of justification (…) to escape
criminal liability” and that “[t]he inability to plead justification was a measure that went beyond
what was required to protect a person’s reputation and rights, even when that person was a head
of State or government” (para. 66). Furthermore, it stressed the fact that “[i]t is the special
protection afforded foreign heads of State by section 36 that undermines freedom of expression,
not their right to use the standard procedure available to everyone to complain if their honour or
reputation has been attacked or they are subjected to insulting remarks” (para. 69). In Colombani,
the condemnation was therefore based on the fact that in cases of insulting a foreign Head of
State, the law did not grant the accused the same defence as he would have had in cases of
defamation or insult. The offence of insulting the President – which was challenged in Eon - is
exactly identical on this point to that of insulting a foreign Head of State, repealed in 2004. It is
also an exception which places the President in a privileged position – a position which is even less
justified when he actively occupies the centre of the political stage and is therefore necessarily
exposed to criticism. Consequently, repressing those criticisms under cover of the offence of
insulting the President can come across as an abuse of power.
The exceptional nature of the offence of insulting the President, which is potentially fatal to
freedom, explains why, well before the Eon case, a number of bills had already be put before the
French Parliament, with a view to repealing the offence (35) - without success, however. In that
sense, France’s condemnation in Eon, while it did not directly concern the offence of insulting the
President, not only renewed the debate but above all led to the swift removal of the offence from
French law. More specifically, only a few months after the Eon judgment was handed down, Article
21 of the Law of 5th August 2013 (36) removed Article 26 of the 1881 Law. The repeal did not
draw a great deal of media attention but gave rise to lively debate in Parliament. In particular,
there was a set-to between, on the one hand, the National Assembly, which wanted simply to
repeal the offence and, on the other hand, the Senate, which feared that the President of the
Republic would in future be deprived of any effective protection. The two branches of the French
legislature did, however, reach a compromise (37).
Thus, although the offence itself has been repealed, the President remains protected as
prosecutions for criminal defamation or insult are still possible under ordinary law (38).
Furthermore, France’s parliamentarians ensured that the protection afforded to the President is, at
least, equivalent to that conferred to ministers, deputies and senators, as well as French civil
servants in the performance of their duties. On that basis, the Head of State is therefore also
subject to Article 31 of the 1881 Law, which carries a €45,000 fine in cases of defamation of such
persons exercising public authority. Indeed, there still exists a kind of “aggravated repression” in
cases of defamation of the President "on grounds of his function or capacity", the maximum fine
being the same as under the former offence (€45,000). Conversely, the 2013 Law reduced the
penalties incurred where the views expressed against the President amount to insult (39). In such a
scenario, the maximum fine is the same as that incurred in cases of defamation of or insult to a
private individual, i.e. €12,000 (40). In summary, the possibility of an aggravated sentence is now
limited to those cases of defamation of the President on grounds of his functions or his capacity.
Finally, it should be noted that the author of the contentious statement may plead justification,
and therefore establish the truth of the allegedly defamatory statement, in order to escape
criminal liability.
It may also be said that while there remains a “special protection” afforded to the President of
France, this now appears to be broadly in conformity with the requirements of the European
Convention on Human Rights. Although “European influence” has been played down by some
authors (41), the French legislature fortunately chose to go "beyond" a literal, minimalist reading
of the Eon decision, in order to align national law with the Convention in advance – and this
without waiting for a subsequent, explicit condemnation of the offence on the part of the
European Court of Human Rights. Let us hope that such exemplary behaviour will be repeated in
future in other contexts!
(1) Since the constitutional amendment of 6 November 1962.
(2) Article 26 of the Law of 29 July 1881: "defamation of the President of the Republic by one
of the means stipulated under Article 23 is punishable by a fine of 45,000 Euros”. As will be
seen below, that provision was repealed by Law n° 2013-711 of 5 August 2013.
(3) The "crime of lèse-majesté" disappeared as such from French law in 1832, following an
amendment to the Code penal (penal code).Under the Third Republic, however, the Law of 29
July 1881 on freedom of the press created the new offence of insulting the President of the
(4) This type of offence still exists under various guises in Thailand and Morocco, not to mention
the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark.
(5) And this in a troubled context where the President was under threat from far-right opposition
and partisans in French Algeria. See O. BEAUD, « Le délit d’offense au Président de la
République. Un épisode à redécouvrir de la République gaullienne (1959 - 1969) », Annuaire
de l’Institut Michel Villey, vol. 4, 2013.
(6) Six convictions under the Third Republic, and three under the Fourth Republic. The best known
use of these proceedings was that of Mac-Mahon against Gambetta when the latter rudely
remarked: “Lorsque la France aura fait entendre sa voix souveraine, il faudra se soumettre ou
se démettre” (“When France makes her sovereign voice heard, you’ll have to submit or resign”).
The most comical was the prosecution instigated, once again by Mac Mahon, against a
journalist who, remarking on a statue of the Marshal on horseback, allegedly said “Le cheval a
l’air intelligent ma foi” (“Well, the horse looks intelligent”).
(7) It must be added that Georges Pompidou only instigated such proceedings on one occasion.
Thereafter, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac all successively
and expressly refused to resort to it.
(8) ECHR, Faber v Hungary, Application n° 40721/08, 24 July 2012.
(9) On this new criterion, see for example D. SZYMCZAK, « Le préjudice important… un
Critère inquiétant ? Retour sur les premières années d’application de la nouvelle
condition de recevabilité par la Cour de Strasbourg », RTDH 2014, n° 99, p. 555.
(10) As a reminder, the applicant had been sentenced "on principle" to a fine of 30 Euros
(suspended), when he faced a maximum fine of 45,000 Euros under the 1881 Act.
(11) A contrario, the Court had already accepted that the applicant’s passivity during the criminal
trial tended to show that the proceedings had been of little importance to him. See for
example ECHR, Shefer v Russia, Application n° 45175/04, 13 March 2012.
(12) The disadvantage being deemed significant, there was no need to bring the safeguard clause
into play.
(13) See a contrario the dissenting opinion of Judge Pejchal.
(14) See below.
(15) See for example ECHR Soros v France, Application n° 50425/06 6 October 2011.
(16) See for example Cass. Crim., 31 May 1965, Bull. crim., n° 146
(17) We may also wonder whether the offence of insulting the President respects the principle of
the legality of offences and sentences, also protected by the ECHR but not argued by the
applicant in this case.
(18) See. O. BEAUD, « A propos de la suppression du délit d'offense au président de la République.
Explications et réflexions », AJDA 2014, p. 25
(19) Which consists, substantively, in protecting institutions over and above the persons attacked.
(20) See for example ECHR, Dumas v France, Application n° 34875/07, 15 July 2010.
(21) See for example ECHR, Renaud v France, Application n° 13290/07, 25 February 2010. See also
an older decision, ECHR Lingens v Austria, Application n°9815/82, 6 July 1986.
(22) See also ECHR (GC), Palomo Sánchez v. Spain, Application n° 28955/06, 12 September 2011.
(23) The applicant does now, however, receive just satisfaction in this case; or, more precisely, the
Court considers that the finding of a breach per se constitutes just satisfaction.
(24) In some recent cases, the Court had indeed distanced itself from this liberal approach. See for
example ECHR, Willem v France, Application n° 10883/05, 16 July 2009.
(25) ECHR, Handyside v Royaume-Uni, Application no 5493/72, 7 December 1076.
(26) ECHR, Colombani and others v France, Application n° 51279/99, 25 June 2002.
(27) The distinction does not, however, convince the dissenting judges. See, in this sense, the
partly dissenting opinion of Judge Power-Forde, to whose mind “the rationale behind the
criminal offences in issue was the same, namely, to confer upon heads of State a special legal
(28) The latter argument serving to distinguish between the two cases is, however, hardly
conclusive as, in Colombani, the lack of provocation had no effect either.
(29) ECHR, Otegi Mondragon v Spain, Application n° 2034/07, 15 March 2011.
(30) The decision in Otegi Mondragon is only cited once in Eon…
(31) Or than the President of the Third Republic, a body protected originally by the offence of
insulting the President provided under Article 26 of the 1881 Act.
(32) See, in this sense, N. DROIN, « Le délit d’offense au Président de la République: une occasion
manquée », RFDA 2013 p. 594 ; and N. HERVIEU, « L’équivoque sursis européen concédé au
délit d’offense au Président de la République », Lettre Actualités Droits-Libertés du CREDOF,
20 mars 2013.
(33) C. PICHERAL, « L’abrasion conventionnelle du délit d’offense au président de la République »,
JCP G 2013, p. 656.
(34) Following Colombani, the offense of insulting foreign Heads of State was repealed by Article
52 of the loi Perben II (Perben II Law) of 9 March 2004.
(35) See for example the Bill proposed by J-L Melenchon, "aiming to repeal the offence of insulting
the President of the Republic", www.senat.fr, 19 November 2008.
(36) Law n° 2013-711 of 5 August 2013 containing various provisions for adapting French justice
to European Union law and France’s international obligations.
(37) For an overview of the discussions, see in particular O. BEAUD, « A propos de la suppression du
délit d'offense au président de la République. Explications et réflexions », cited above.
(38) Such prosecutions are no longer entrusted to the Public Prosecutor (as they are for offences of
insulting the President) but are now subject to a prior complaint on the part of the Head of
State. This alignment with the ordinary law on defamation and insult thus allows the easier
identification of the person behind the prosecution and, therefore, serves to establish whether
the President shows "tolerance” in the face of criticism.
(39) Or where such views, though defamatory, relate solely to the President’s private life.
(40) When it was a fine of 45,000 Euros for the offence of insulting the President.
(41) See, in particular, O. BEAUD, « A propos de la suppression du délit d'offense au président de
la République. Explications et réflexions », (cited above), which evokes a politically expedient
Issue No.1 January 2015
Public international law:
The Trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, or how the application of the principle of
universal jurisdiction led to the very first conviction of a Rwandan genocide
fugitive in France
Anne-Marie Tournepiche Professor of Public Law, Doctoral student
Justine Castillo Doctoral Student, University of Bordeaux
Paris Assize Court, 2nd Section ruling in first instance, criminal judgment of 14 March 2014, n°
13/0033, in the matter of Pascal SIMBIKANGWA
The decision handed down by the Paris Assize Court on 14 March 2014 is of particular interest on
a number of counts.
On the one hand, it constitutes one of the few instances in which the principle of universal
jurisdiction has been applied in France, whereby a French criminal court can judge the acts
committed outside French territory by foreign nationals. On the other hand, it is the first time that
a French court has been called upon to give a ruling on acts committed during the genocide in
Rwanda. Furthermore, this case is also the first instance of a French court using the concept of the
crime of genocide since this was included in the French Code penal (Penal Code) in 1994, as well
as being the first time that the concept of crimes against humanity has been employed since the
Papon trial in 1997 (1). Finally, from a symbolic point of view, it should be noted that this decision,
which clearly demonstrates France’s willingness to fight against impunity, was handed down on
the eve of the commemorations marking the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.
The trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, accused of complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity,
opened before the Paris Assize Court on 4 February 2014. In order to understand how the court
came to have jurisdiction to hear the case, we must first recall a number of factual and procedural
aspects. Simbikangwa held the rank of captain in Rwanda’s regular army; he was also close to the
President of Rwanda, Juvénal Habyarimana. On his arrival in Mayotte (an overseas French territory
in the Comoros Islands) in February 2005, he applied to the Office français de protection des
réfugiés et des apatrides (OFPRA - French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless
Persons) for asylum. He was arrested after presenting false identity papers and faced an
extradition request made by the Rwandan authorities on grounds of genocide and complicity in
crimes against humanity for acts committed in Rwanda in 1994. The Investigatory Chamber at
Mamoudzou (the capital of Mayotte) refused this request. Further to a complaint lodged by the
collective of civil parties for Rwanda, the Chief Prosecutor in Mayotte opened a judicial
investigation of Simbikangwa. The Cour de cassation then decided to group together all the cases
against persons suspected of involvement in the Rwandan genocide under the auspices of the
Tribunal de grande instance (TGI – regional court) at Paris, thus taking the matter out of the hands
of the examining magistrate at Mamoudzou. The examining magistrate at the Paris TGI then
ordered Simbikangwa’s indictment before the Paris Assize Court.
A verdict was reached following a six-week hearing. The members of the court (nine judges and
six jurors), following their conscience and their innermost conviction (2), found the accused guilty
of genocide and complicity in crimes against humanity, and sentenced him, by an absolute
majority, to 25 years in prison.
The trial was made possible by the application of the concept of universal jurisdiction (see part I
below), which allowed the French justice system to recognise the guilt of the accused and his
involvement in the genocide in Rwanda, and thereby reach a verdict that clearly contributes to the
fight against the impunity of those perpetrators of international crimes who seek refuge overseas
(see part II below).
I: The unprecedented acknowledgement of the principle of universal jurisdiction in France for
international crimes committed in Rwanda
In theory, national courts do not have jurisdiction to try a foreign national for a crime committed
overseas, as in the case in point, unless they apply the principle of universal jurisdiction.
The classic conditions for the jurisdiction of French courts
According to the principle of territorial jurisdiction, French criminal courts have jurisdiction to
judge those persons who have committed a crime on national territory. Alongside this territorial
jurisdiction, the French courts may also exercise jurisdiction where the perpetrator (compétence
personnelle active - active personality principle) or the victim (compétence personnelle passive –
passive personality principle) of a given crime is a French national. Finally, it must be mentioned
that there exists the compétence réelle (protective principle) for those crimes that “adversely affect
the fundamental interests of the Nation”.
In the present case, on the one hand, genocide had been committed on Rwandan territory and, on
the other hand, both Simbikangwa and the victims of the genocide were Rwandan nationals. Thus,
the jurisdiction of the Paris Assize Court could be founded neither on the territory criterion nor on
the personality principle, but rather on a specific criterion: universal jurisdiction (3). This
acknowledges the jurisdiction exercised by national criminal courts in the location where the
alleged offender is, wherever the offence has been committed and whatever the nationality of the
perpetrator or the victim of the offence. (4)
The conditions for implementing universal jurisdiction
French law upholds a specific conception of universal jurisdiction. Indeed, under Article 689-1 of
the Code de procédure pénale (Criminal Procedure Code) introduced by statute on 16 December
1992, “[i]n accordance with the international Conventions quoted in the following articles, a
person guilty of committing any of the offences listed by these provisions outside the territory of
the Republic and who happens to be in France may be prosecuted and tried by French courts. The
provisions of the present article apply to attempts to commit these offences, in every case where
attempt is punishable”.
The conditions for exercising universal jurisdiction are restricted twofold: on the one hand, the
accused must be on French territory at the time when the prosecution is undertaken. On the other
hand, the exercise of universal jurisdiction is restricted by the need to incorporate into French law
those international agreements that grant jurisdiction to national courts. Thus Articles 689-2 to
689-10 of the Criminal Procedure Code list the international agreements that may give rise to
prosecution before the French courts. To these agreements may be added the two resolutions
passed by the UN Security Council, establishing the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals for the
former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.
French law has thus recognised the ad hoc universal
jurisdiction of French courts to try those crimes specific to the Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda,
pursuant to Law n° 96-432 of 22 May 1996 (5), which adapts French legislation to the provisions
of Resolution 955 of the UN Security Council establishing the Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Thus, in this case, the two conditions for the implementation of universal jurisdiction had been
met: Simbikangwa was on French territory (at Mayotte) and accused of crimes falling under the
jurisdiction of the Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The jurisdiction of the Paris Assize Court was
therefore based on a jurisdiction that may be qualified as "quasi-universal" as enshrined in French
law. These fairly restrictive conditions explain why so few people have been convicted in France on
the basis of this jurisdiction.
II: The encouraging consequences of the recognition of universal jurisdiction in France for
international crimes committed in Rwanda
In ruling that "(…) the above facts deemed established by this Court and jury constitute the crimes
listed and punishable by (…) Articles 2 and 3 of the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal
for Rwanda (…)”, the Paris Assize Court considered that the facts that unfolded in Rwanda between
April and July 1994 constituted genocide and a crime against humanity (6). Simbikangwa was thus
convicted (by a majority of nine votes to six) of genocide and complicity in crimes against
humanity. Pursuant to Law n°2011-939 of 10 August 2011, the court issued a feuille de
motivation – a document containing the grounds for the court’s decision - along with its verdict.
Regarding the crime of genocide
Generally, the Paris Assize Court ruled that the crime of genocide, as defined under Article 211-1
of the French Penal Code (7), had indeed been committed in Rwanda between April and July 1994.
Thus, the fact "of enabling persons to commit acts, at Kigali (in Rwanda), between April and July
1994, in the execution of a concerted plan intended to destroy, in whole or in part, the Tutsi
ethnic group: - killing members of said community, - causing serious bodily or mental harm to
the members of said community” constitute genocide as “(…) the facts (…) constitute the crimes
misted and punishable under Article 211-1 (…) of the Penal Code (…).".
It must be remembered that, under Article 211-1 of the Penal Code, genocide is defined both as
committing and enabling another person to commit an act constituting genocide. The definition
thus encompassed the fact of having supplied arms to persons responsible for checking the
identity of individuals belonging to the Tutsi community and having given the order to execute
them. Simbikangwa was consequently convicted of genocide, not complicity in genocide.
Regarding crimes against humanity
In the same vein, the Assize Court ruled that the events that unfolded in Rwanda between April
and July 1994 ‘characterize crimes against humanity, listed and punishable under Article 212-1 of
the Penal Code (8)’(9) More specifically, the court asserted that the facts ‘of making oneself
complicit, at Kigali (in Rwanda) between April and July 1994, in a massive, systematic practice of
summary executions and inhuman acts, based on political, philosophical, racial or religious
grounds, in the execution of a concerted plan directed at a section of a civil population by
knowingly aiding and abetting the perpetrators of said acts in order to facilitate the preparation or
commission thereof, and by giving orders to commit said acts;” constitute complicity in crimes
against humanity, as the court ruled that “ (…) the facts (…) constitute the crimes listed and
punishable under (…) Articles 212-1 (…) of the Penal Code as was in force on 1 March 1994 (…).".
In addition to Article 212-1 of the Penal Code defining crimes against humanity, reference was
also made to the definition of complicity given under Article 121-7 of the Penal Code, which is the
fact of facilitating “the preparation or commission” of the main offence (10). Thus, as much for
supplying arms to those persons on the road-blocks (complicity by aiding and abetting) as for
issuing orders to execute Tutsis (complicity by instigation), Simbikangwa was found guilty of
complicity in crimes against humanity, not crimes against humanity.
Through his counsel, Patrice Simbikangwa appealed against the verdict (main appeal), as did the
prosecution (cross-appeal), on 18 March (11). Consequently, the Assize Court of Appeal will reexamine the case in fact and in law (12) and may sentence Simbikangwa to a longer term of
imprisonment insofar as the latter is not alone in bringing an appeal (13).
It would therefore appear that the exercise of universal jurisdiction can contribute effectively to
the fight against impunity, by depriving suspects of “any sanctuary” (14). France has given a clear
signal, not only to other states, but also to persons who have committed international crimes and
are tempted to seek refuge on French territory. Beyond that, the verdict demonstrates just how
much of a determining role national courts have to play, alongside international courts, in the
administration of international justice.
A full translation of the Court’s grounds for its verdict follows the notes.
(1) Translator’s note: Following a lengthy investigation, Maurice Papon was tried in 1997 on
charges of crimes against humanity for his involvement in the deportation of 1,690 French
Jews between 1942 and 1944 during the German Occupation. He was found guilty of
complicity in crimes against humanity in 1998.
(2) As per Article 304 of the Code de procédure pénale (French criminal procedure code).
(3) Universal jurisdiction is also presented as the " system of the universal right to punish", cf.
DESPORTES (Frédéric) et LE GUNEHEC (Francis), Droit pénal general (General Criminal Law),
Paris, Economica, 2009, 16ème édition, 1248 p., p. 368.
(4) See the resolution passed by the Institute of International Law, Universal criminal jurisdiction
with regard to the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, 17th
commission, Krakow Session 2005, in which universal jurisdiction is "the competence of a
State to prosecute alleged offenders and to punish them if convicted, irrespective of the place
of commission of the crime and regardless of any link of active or passive nationality, or other
grounds of jurisdiction recognized by international law”.
(5) It may also be mentioned that the Law of 9 August 2010 added a new Article 689-11 to the
Code de procédure pénale, under the terms of which “(a)ny person who is habitually resident
on the territory of the French Republic and who has been found guilty of a crime falling within
the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, in application of the Statute of the
International Criminal Court signed at Rome on 18 July 1998, may be prosecuted and convicted
by the French courts, where the facts in question are punishable under the laws of the State
where said facts unfolded or where said State or the State of which such an individual is a
national is a party to the abovementioned Statute. The prosecution of such crimes may only be
brought at the request of the Public Prosecutor’s Office where no national or international
court has requested the surrender or extradition of said person. To this end, the Public
Prosecutor’s Office shall ensure with the International Criminal Court that it expressly waives
jurisdiction and that no other international court with jurisdiction to try said person has
requested the surrender of said person and that no other State has requested the extradition of
said person.”
(6) Indeed, under the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Article 2 defines
genocide while Article 3 defines crimes against humanity.
(7) Article 211-1 of the Penal Code: “Genocide occurs where, in the enforcement of a concerted
plan aimed at the partial or total destruction of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, or
of a group determined by any other arbitrary criterion, one of the following actions are
committed or caused to be committed against members of that group: - wilful attack on life; serious attack on psychological or physical integrity; - subjection to living conditions likely to
entail the partial or total destruction of that group; - measures aimed at preventing births; enforced child transfers.. (…)"
(8) Article 212-1 of the Penal Code: “Any one of the following acts, committed in the execution
of a concerted plan targeting a section of the civil population within the scope of a generalised
or systematic attack, shall also constitute crimes against humanity and be punishable by life
imprisonment : 1. murder; 2. extermination ; 3. enslavement ; 4. deportation or forcible
transfer of population; 5. imprisonment or any other form of serious deprivation of freedom,
in violation of the fundamental provisions of international law; 6. torture; 7. rape, sexual
slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of
sexual violence of comparable gravity; 8. persecution against any group or population
identifiable on political, racial; national, ethnic, cultural, religious or sexist grounds or based
on any other criteria universally recognised as inadmissible under international law; 9.
enforced disappearance of persons; 10. acts of segregation committed within the scope of an
institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group against
any or all other racial groups and with the intention of maintaining such a regime; 11. other
inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious bodily or
mental injury. (…)”
(9) Feuille de motivation (grounds for verdict), point 1.
(10) Complicity is effectively an "ancillary form for imputing a crime to an individual" cf.
DESPORTES (Frédéric) et LE GUNEHEC (Francis), Droit pénal général, Paris, Economica, 2009,
16ème édition, 1248 p., p. 515.
(11) Since Law n° 2000-516 of 15 June 2000 and pursuant to Article 380-2 of the Criminal
Procedure Code, both the accused and the prosecutor may appeal against conviction and
(12) cf. Article 380-1, Criminal Procedure Code
(13) cf. Article 380-3, Criminal Procedure Code
(14) DESPORTES (Frédéric) et LE GUNEHEC (Francis), Droit pénal général, Paris, Economica, 2009,
16ème édition, 1248 p., p. 346
Paris Assize Court ruling at first instance:
Feuille de motivation (Grounds for the verdict)
In the case of Pascal Senyamuhara SAFARI alias Pascal SIMBIKANGWA
In application of Article 365-1 of the Code de procédure pénale (criminal procedure code)
1: On the existence of crimes against humanity in Rwanda between April and July 1994
The Paris Assize Court considers that the tragic events that unfolded in Rwanda between April and
July 1994 characterize crimes against humanity, as provided and punishable under Article 212-1
of the Penal Code in force at the time of the offence, being in the present case the massive and
systematic practice of summary executions or inhuman acts, inspired by political or racial motives
and organised in execution of a concerted plan directed against a section of the civil population.
Indeed, it is clearly apparent from historical examinations of that period, (developed in particular
by Alison Desforges, André Guichaoua, Jean-Pierre Chrétien, Jacques Semelin or Stéphane
Andouin-Rouzeau) and fully confirmed by journalists on the ground at the time of the offences
(such as Colette Braeckman, Renaud Girard or Jean-Philippe Ceppi), that massive and systematic
executions or inhuman acts, inspired by political or racial motives were committed within the
scope of a concerted plan directed at a section of the civil population.
This finding was further shared as early as 28 June 1994 by the United Nations Human Rights
Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Rwanda, René Degni-Segui.
Equally, since the Karemera decision of 16 June 2006, the Appeals Chamber of the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has considered that there remains no reasonable doubt as to the
existence of the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda between
April and July 1994 against the Tutsi community and the political opponents of the Juvénal
Habyarimana regime.
The speed of execution and the simultaneity of the massacres; their spread throughout the
country; the mobilisation of the State’s civil and military capabilities; the development of
propaganda in the media advocating inter-ethnic hatred and the murder of political opponents;
the distribution of weapons and the military training provided to the Interahamwe; the systematic
identity checks conducted on civilians at roadblocks and the immediate execution of those
suspected of being Tutsi or enemy accomplices; and finally, the sheer number of victims,
estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands over the course of three months; all reveal the
efficiency of a collective organisation necessarily based on a concerted plan.
The Court consequently considers that the case argued by the accused as to a chaotic,
spontaneous, uncontrollable popular movement that was neither concerted nor organised does
not tally in any way with the findings of historians or eyewitnesses – journalists, survivors and
diplomats, all of whom have on the contrary testified to the particularly effective preparation and
organisation of the massacres perpetrated on political or racial grounds.
This argument as to widespread chaos is also incompatible with the scale of the murders
committed and their spread throughout the country.
2: On the existence of the crime of genocide in Rwanda between April and July 1994:
Likewise, the Paris Assize Court is convinced that the crime of genocide as defined under Article
211-1 of the Penal Code, namely the existence of killings or acts causing serious physical or
mental harm, in the execution of a concerted plan intended to destroy, in whole or in part, the
Tutsi ethnic group, was indeed committed in Rwanda between April and July 1994.
Indeed, it is clearly apparent from the relevant debates and eyewitness testimony that the
definition of “enemy of the state” gradually evolved, starting as a restrictive conception of “RPF
accomplice” and then encompassing the entire Tutsi community; the latter eventually became
synonymous with the notion of inyenzi, meaning cockroaches.
In this respect, the accounts regarding the operation of roadblocks speak volumes as the
murderous selection process was based exclusively on the ethnic origin stated on identity cards,
whatever the age, gender, identity or political involvement of the person who had been stopped.
Resorting to physical or morphological characteristics to determine membership of the Tutsi
ethnic group, in the absence of an identity card or in case of the suspected forgery of the latter,
also illustrates an attempt at ethnic cleansing and the extermination of the entire group.
In the same way, the messages broadcast by RTLM calling for Tutsis to be hunted down on the
basis of lists of names demonstrate the assimilation of the “Tutsi” into the definition of the enemy
and prove the desire to eradicate that ethnicity, which allegedly made up the entire membership of
the RPF.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) took judicial notice of the existence of the
Tutsi genocide and, before that Tribunal, the Commission of Experts appointed by the Secretary
General of the United Nations at the end of 1994 reached the same conclusion as René DegniSegui.
The existence of a concerted plan in the race to exterminate the Tutsi community emerges from
the same elements as those applicable to crimes against humanity: the speed of the elimination
operations and their propagation throughout the country; the use of all echelons in the
administrative and military chain; the formation of armed militias; the distribution of weapons to
the Interahamwe and civilians; the preparation of lists of Tutsis to be killed; the searches
conducted in houses occupied by Tutsis; the collection of corpses using lorries belonging to the
administration; burial of the dead in unmarked mass graves; the sheer number of victims in the
space of only three months.
Finally, the Court notes that, after making particularly ambiguous statements as to the realities of
the Tutsi genocide over the course of the judicial investigation, Pascal Simbikangwa ultimately did
not contest the existence of the genocide during the trial, even if he did evoke the reality of the
massacre of Hutus, even a Hutu genocide (for which the RPF was allegedly responsible) where the
events of April-July 1994 were concerned.
3: On the jurisdiction of the Paris Assize Court:
The Court considers, moreover, that the charges brought against Senyamuhara Safari alias Pascal
Simbikangwa do indeed fall within the scope of the definition of genocide and crimes against
humanity as provided under Articles 2 and 3 of the Statute of the ICTR, which did not wish to
assume jurisdiction for this case.
Consequently, Senyamuhara Safari alias Pascal Simbikangwa, having been arrested at Mayotte
where he had settled, the Paris Assize Court has jurisdiction on the basis of universal jurisdiction
to examine the charges brought against the accused, in application of Law n°96-432 of 22 May
1996 bringing French legislation in line with Resolution 955 of the United Nations Security Council
establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
4: The involvement of Senyamuhara Safari alias Pascal Simbikangwa in crimes against humanity
and genocide, committed in Kigali, Rwanda, between April and July 1994:
4.1: The person of Senyamuhara Safari alias Pascal Simbikangwa, his ties with President Juvénal
Habyarimana and his support for the anti-Tutsi discourse:
The Court considers that there evidently existed an especially strong intellectual and emotional
bond between Pascal Senyamuhara Safari alias Pascal Simbikangwa and President Juvénal
Aside from their family connections, their shared place of birth and the fact that the accused had
served in the Presidential Guard before joining the Rwanda’s intelligence service (SCR – Service
Central de Renseignement), which was answerable directly to the President, the views expressed
by Pascal Simbikangwa in his book, “L’homme et sa croix” (“The man and his cross”), about
President Habyarimana reveal the fascination that the Rwandan head of state exerted on the
The psychology experts who have examined him confirm that President Habiyarimana represented
an idealised father-figure for Pascal Simbikangwa.
Further, his social position fully illustrates his membership of a circle of dignitaries who were
especially close to the government of the day prior to 1994.
Thus, his year-long hospitalisation in Belgium from 1986 to 1987 following a traffic accident
proves that he was not a mere captain in the Rwandan Army, but rather a figure requiring
particular care, whatever the cost.
Despite owning two houses, he was provided with government accommodation in the presidential
quarter in Kigali reserved for the regime’s dignitaries, with a vehicle and chauffeur, when he
argued at trial that he had only been a subaltern within the intelligence service.
Nevertheless, during his arrest, he himself claimed to be third in command of the service, with the
title of “director”.
Augustin Iyamuremye, his immediate superior from April 1992 onwards, branded him a fanatical
supporter of President Habyarimana; according to Iyamuremye, Simbikangwa was involved in
parallel intelligence networks on behalf of the presidency once the SCR came under the authority
of the Prime Minister.
Augustin Iyamuremye confirmed that Pascal Simbikangwa went directly to printing works to
perform the task of censoring opposition newspapers.
Finally, he stated that the circumstances of Simbikangwa’s administrative transfer from the Army
to the SCR following the latter’s car accident, had struck him as obscure and suggestive of an
intervention of a political nature.
Venance Munyakazi, a printworks technician, described the close ties between Hassan Ngeze, a
notoriously anti-Tutsi journalist at Kangura, and Pascal Simbikangwa. He recounted the violent
methods employed by the accused with the opposition press, and explained that Umurava, the
newspaper edited by Pascal Simbikangwa, held an anti-Tutsi editorial line which was close to that
of Kangura; this analysis is confirmed in a book written by Jean-Pierre Chrétien, Les medias du
genocide (“The Genocide Media”).
Innocent Bigega, a former member of the SCR, stated that Pascal Simbikangwa - who insisted on
being called by his rank of “Captain”, thus deliberately maintaining the ambiguity as to his exact
status – could become verbally aggressive if President Habyarimana was criticised, and that he
regularly made anti-Tutsi statements.
Even his disabled friend, Joseph Bazira Sibo, confirmed that Pascal Simbikangwa did not tolerate
anyone calling President Habyarimana into question and that he also attempted to recruit
members for the President’s party, the MRND (Mouvement républicain national pour la démocratie
et le développement).
The sworn statements given in 1992 by Sam Gody Nshimiyimana, a journalist who was arrested
and tortured at the SCR for having criticised the regime, confirmed that Pascal Simbikangwa did
not tolerate any challenge to the President.
The Court also notes that Sam Gody Nshimiyimana did not hesitate in denouncing the FPR’s acts of
violence, thus demonstrating complete freedom of speech and an unquestionable independence of
The Court considers that these witness statements as to Pascal Simbikangwa’s character and his
involvement in politics are all the more credible in that they are corroborative and do not
incriminate the accused directly in the genocide.
Moreover, Pascal Simbikangwa’s membership of the anti-Tutsi school of thought (which developed
in Rwanda from 1990 onwards) runs through his book, La guerre d’octobre (“The October War”),
but also in his one-twenty-fifth stake in RTLM, the principal shareholders of which were President
Habiyarimana himself, his family and pro-Hutu hardliners.
Pascal Simbikangwa never distanced himself subsequently from that radio station, which, from the
autumn of 1993, extensively broadcast views calling for inter-ethnic hatred by gradually placing
all Tutsis in the same category as enemies of Rwanda.
Simbikangwa’s statements claiming that he did not listen to that radio station are devoid of any
credibility, not only given the sums that he had invested therein, but also in light of his passion for
politics and the media.
Speaking in Belgium in June 2012 following his release, Georges Riggiu, a journalist with RTLM,
confirmed Pascal Simbikangwa’s extremist views and his closeness to the MRND, whose flags he
had in his home, as well as his links with the Interahamwe.
The fact that Riggiu was not considered a credible witness in 2003 by the ICTR, in the context of
another trial when he was still under arrest in Arusha and evidently under pressure from his codetainees following his decision to plead guilty, is not binding upon the Paris Assize Court;
indeed, for its part, the Court notes that at no time did Georges Riggiu implicate Pascal
Simbikangwa in the genocide, but simply shared details of the accused’s political involvement and
his support for radical pro-Hutu views.
The suspicions shared as early as 1992 by many international human rights groups, whose
independence and neutrality in the conflict have been acknowledged, that Pascal Simbikangwa
played an active part in this anti-Tutsi school of thought, cannot be the result of manipulation on
the part of the RPF, contrary to the argument put forward by the accused.
Indeed, on the one hand the investigation teams set up by these groups were made up of
members offering every guarantee of impartiality, as was recalled during the trial by the Belgian
barrister, Eric Gillet; and, on the other hand, these same groups also denounced the RPF’s acts of
Furthermore, had he indeed been the junior officer that he claimed to be at the time, it is difficult
to comprehend how he could be been a media target for the RPF and, therefore, the victim of a
plot to poison him.
The Belgian ambassador, Mr. Swinnen, also explained the circumstances under which he alerted
the appropriate minister as to the existence of a parallel secret military staff in which, according to
his information, Pascal Simbikangwa was involved. He described personally meeting and talking to
the journalist Boniface Ntawuyrushintege, who appeared to be credible when he told the
ambassador of the torture inflicted by Pascal Simbikangwa for having published an article opposed
to President Habyarimana.
Professor Filip Reyntjens described having personally alerted President Habyarimana as to the
existence of an extremist network in which Pascal Simbikangwa was involved.
Isaïe Harindintware, as well as Albert and Pascal Gahamanyi, confirmed having seen a MRND flag
at Pascal Simbikangwa’s home when they went there to watch television.
Béatrice Nyirasafari, who fled to Pascal Simbikangwa’s home during the genocide, explained that
he regularly expressed anti-Tutsi views.
Now, the lives of all of these witnesses were saved thanks to Pascal Simbikangwa, which makes
their statements particularly reliable.
As early as 1992, he was identified by the RDM as a recruiting agent for the Interahamwe, his
name appearing in this capacity in the archives of the opposition party; this was subsequently
confirmed by Grégoire Nyrimanzi.
The death threats made by Pascal Simbikangwa on 19 March 1994 to the presiding judge of
Rwanda’s Cour de Cassation (Court of Cassation), and denounced by the latter to the President of
the Republic in a letter of 23 March 1994, were confirmed by his wife.
The letter was, moreover, subsequently published in a Rwandan newspaper before the genocide
began, thus confirming the reality of the same.
These threats clearly reveal the impunity of those close to President Habyarimana at that time.
The availability of two soldiers to guarantee his protection from the beginning of April 1994, when
Simbikangwa was no longer at the Ministry of Defence, demonstrates the close ties that he had
maintained with the Army.
The maintenance of this close protection throughout the genocide, even when the country was at
war against the RPF, proves Simbikangwa’s ongoing influence within the Rwandan state apparatus,
in complete contradiction of the subordinate role that he claims to have had.
Finally, the press release published by the White House in Washington on 22 April 1994, exhorting
the highest political and military authorities in Rwanda, including Pascal Simbikangwa, to stop the
massacre, clearly shows that he was considered a dignitary of the regime, having a certain amount
of control over the course of events.
His explanation, claiming that his name had been mentioned in the press release owing to his
alleged intervention in allowing two MINUAR buses through the roadblocks, is not substantiated.
4.2: The role of Pascal Senyamuahara Safari alias Pascal Simbikangwa in genocide and crimes
against humanity between April and July 1994 at Kigali:
The Court notes that, contrary to what Pascal Simbikangwa argued throughout the trial, aside from
Martin Higiro and his family who were brought to him by his brother, those Tutsis who took refuge
in Simbikangwa’s home were all born to mixed couples, i.e. belonging, as he did, to both Hutu and
Tutsi ethnicities.
Mrs Sironi-Guilbaud, the psychologist, explained how this mixed ethnic origin was in no way
incompatible on a psychological level with participation in genocide where such miscegenation
may not have been integrated harmoniously in the construction of a person’s personality – which
was, in her view, the case with Pascal Simbikangwa.
The Court considers that it is at the very least surprising that the other Tutsis, estimated at several
dozen persons by the accused, have not come forward since the genocide to thank or support
The Court further considers that the reasons for which Pascal Simbikangwa protected a number of
Tutsis during the genocide remain particularly obscure in light of his personality and his political
involvement at the time.
In this respect, the testimony of Béatrice Nyirasafari, Michel Gahamanyi and, to an even greater
extent, Pascal Gahamanyi are especially evocative.
Indeed, while all may claim that Pascal Simbikangwa saved their lives, which none of them failed to
do during the trial, not one of them was able to give the deeper reasons for his behaviour, each
having a particularly ambivalent and unsettling recollection of their protector’s behaviour.
Pascal Gahamanyi and Béatrice Nyirasafari even feared on several occasions that their saviour
could, at any time, become a potential killer.
The Court further considers that the saving of several Tutsis – who, incidentally, were for the most
part the progeny of mixed marriages – did not incur any risks for Simbikangwa in reality, taking
into account the authority that he held at the time of the genocide.
Finally, none of the survivors testified as to an emotional relationship which may have explained
his behaviour; indeed, the lack of emotion on the part of Pascal Simbikangwa (with whom they
barely managed to talk) marked them, on the contrary, to such an extent as to cause them
Furthermore, in light of Pascal Simbikangwa’s political convictions and his admiration for President
Habyarimana, who represented the ideal father-figure for him, the Court considers it improbable
that he took no action in relation to those who allegedly carried out the assassination, between
April and July 1994.
This purported inaction is indeed in complete contradiction with the personality of the accused,
who presented himself at trial as a leader of men who essentially enjoys giving orders, which is the
reason for his embarking on a military career. Additionally, while Pascal Simbikangwa had wanted
to take cover as events unfolded – which would have seemed perfectly understandable given his
disability – he would naturally have sought refuge at his family property at Rambura, a much less
dangerous region than the city of Kigali.
Now, the Court notes in this respect that Pascal Simbikangwa, no doubt aware of the incongruity
of his presence in the Rwandan capital at the time of the genocide when he could easily have fled
to Rambura, began by lying about his movements, not only during his arrest but also at his initial
interviews with the examining magistrate in the presence of his legal counsel, claiming to have
spent almost the entirety of the genocide at the prefecture in Gisenyi and not in Kigali.
His confusing explanations to justify such lies do little to disguise his intention to hide the true
nature of his activities in Kivoyu during that period. He only went back on his false account of his
movements when he learned of a number of witness statements placing him in Kigali during the
Equally, Pascal Simbikangwa clearly changed tack in his statements concerning his day-to-day
activities between April and July 1994.
After claiming in vain that he had barely set foot outside his house, he finally admitted having left
his home on a number of occasions when faced with the statements of those persons whom he
sheltered, stating that they saw him leave every day with his bodyguard, as though he were going
to work.
Again, the Court considers that this intention to mislead the Court as to his real activities during
the genocide is a concrete manifestation of his involvement in the charges against him.
The long-maintained ambiguity as to his actual status, to such an extent that some of his
neighbours believed that he was still a captain in the Rwandan Army; the use, belatedly
acknowledged at trial, of a military-style jacket added to the presence of his bodyguards and his
reputation as a former member of the presidential guard; all evidently gave him unquestionable
authority in the neighbourhood and when crossing roadblocks in Kigali.
This authority - which the accused himself ultimately did not dispute, invoking his former status
as an officer to justify it – was noticed by all who travelled with him during the genocide when
crossing roadblocks, and particularly by the Gahamanyi brothers and Béatrice Nyirasafari.
Equally, Isaïe Harindintwari, the Tutsi security guard at the house opposite Pascal Simbikangwa’s
home and whose life was saved by the latter when he was taken, in his own words, to the
slaughterhouse – which, incidentally, demonstrates the authority that Pascal Simbikangwa had
over the Interahamwe – explained in particularly significant terms that he had the power of life or
death over any person in the neighbourhood. This expression was repeated in the same terms by
another security guard, Joël Gasarasi.
The Court notes in this respect that Simbikangwa never exercised that authority for the survival or
protection of those Tutsis who were killed at the roadblocks in Kivoyu, and yet these were less
than one hundred metres away from his residence.
The fact that Pascal Simbikangwa claims not to have seen any corpses whatsoever over the course
of the events described, in spite of his many journeys and in spite of the testimony of almost all
the survivors of the tragedy in Rwanda, is clearly a part of his intention to minimize his role and
disguise the full knowledge that he had at the time of the genocide, events which were unfolding
close to his house and before his very eyes.
His initial statements made before the examining magistrate, which consisted in arguing that there
had been no roadblocks within the city of Kigali, are clearly part of the same strategy.
His application for political asylum, submitted to the OFPRA on his arrival at Mayotte in February
2005 under the name of Senyamuhara Safari, which identity he had not used in thirty years, again
illustrates his intention to evade justice and hide his true involvement in the Tutsi genocide and
crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda in 1994.
The Court considers that his arguments claiming that the witnesses calling him personally into
question were subject to pressure brought by the Rwandan authorities or by IBUKA, a lobby group,
are devoid of any factual basis given that many of those witnesses - particularly the Gahamanyi
brothers, Isaïe Harindintwari and Béatrice Nyirasafari, all of whom continue to reside in Rwanda
(with the exception of Pascal Gahamanyi) – freely stated during the trial that Pascal Simbikangwa
was among those who contributed to their survival.
The Court consequently considers that their testimony cannot be motivated by a desire to harm
the accused or result from outside pressure.
The Court also considers that any contradictions as may be between some of these accounts on
such and such a factual aspect may easily be explained by the amount of time that has elapsed
since the events in question took place, difficulties in translation or the fact that the witnesses did
not necessarily see exactly the same events. Too close a similarity would, on the contrary, indicate
potential fraudulent concertation between the witnesses.
In this regard, it must be admitted that while there are indeed differences in the statements given
by Isaïe Harindintwari, Michel Gahamanyi and Pascal Gahamanyi on the transportation and
stockpiling of weapons of war in Pascal Simbikangwa’s home during the genocide, all maintained
at trial that they had seen those weapons in the accused’s residence.
These accounts are supported by the statements of Thadée Nzbonimana, Venance Munyakasi and
Jean-Marie Vianney Niyrigira, all of whom had also seen soldiers or Interahamwe procuring
weapons at the home of Pascal Simbikangwa or directly from him at the beginning of the
Adbelrahmane Sadama, Isaïe Harindintwari, Jonathan Rekeraho, Diogène Nyirishema and Joël
Gasarasi all confirmed that Pascal Simbikangwa distributed weapons in the neighbourhood,
including the “Chinese” roadblock which was one of the most murderous in Kivoyu, located some
hundred metres or so from Simbikangwa’s home.
Again, while their statements differ on the circumstances surrounding the distribution of those
weapons – which is unsurprising given the passage of time and the stress that the witnesses were
under at the time of the events – all maintain that, on the orders issued by Pascal Simbikangwa,
the weapons were intended to kill inyenzi, i.e. Tutsis.
On this point, Venance Munyakazi and Isaïe Harindintwari both stated that people were indeed
killed with the weapons distributed by the accused. Jonathan Rekeraho had also confirmed this
during the judicial investigation.
Faced with multiple and repeated allegations, Pascal Simbikangwa began by lying to the examining
magistrate, disputing the handing over of a rifle to Jonathan Rekeraho only to admit subsequently,
in light of the accumulation of statements made against him, that the weapon had been intended
to be used solely in protecting the home of Abdelrahmane Sadala; this is devoid of any credibility,
the rifle having been personally handed over to Jonathan Rekeraho, who was guarding a roadblock
intended to filter out Tutsis and was in no way the employee of Mr Sadala.
The particularly detailed and reliable testimony given by Jean-Marie Vianney Nyirigira, essentially
confirmed by Jean-Népomuscène Nsengumuremyi, also proves that Pascal Simbikangwa gave
orders at roadblocks to ensure that guards and Interahamwe immediately exterminated any Tutsis
likely to present themselves there, especially by meticulously examining all identity cards.
Indeed, Jean-Marie Vianney Nyirigira, a Tutsi guard who survived the genocide, has given the same
account in the same terms since 2000, i.e. long before the location and arrest of Pascal
Simbikangwa: that the latter passed through the “Chinese” roadblock on numerous occasions,
calling on the guards there to be vigilant and ordering Nyirigira’s execution after casting doubt on
the authenticity of his identity card, which was indeed a forgery.
While, in the context of the appeal brought by Protais Zigiranyirazo, the ICTR found that the
statement made by Jean-Marie Vianney Nyirigira did not establish beyond all reasonable doubt
that Protais Zigiranyirazo was in Kigali in April 1994, this is only due to the uncertainty that
remained as to his exact location in light of statements made by the defence witnesses brought
before the Chamber of First Instance by Zigiranyirazo and in the absence of any verification as to
the journey times between Kigali and the province where he allegedly was. The ICTR’s proper legal
analysis therefore related to facts that are in no way connected to the present case.
Albert, Michel and Pascal Gahamanyi all described having heard Pascal Simbikangwa’s bodyguards
boasting about having murdering Tutsis in the neighbourhood, and Michel even noticed on one
occasion that there was blood on the weapon belonging to one of the bodyguards on their return –
a fact of which Pascal Simbikangwa must have been aware, bearing in mind the authority that he
had over the two soldiers attached permanently to his service and, indeed, his person.
Consequently, the bodyguards’ participation in the killings in the neighbourhood can only be
explained by their knowing that their superior officer, to whom they were supposed to provide
close protection 24 hours a day, supported such acts of violence and that they consequently ran
no risk of being reprimanded or sanctioned by him for leaving the house.
In conclusion, it is clearly apparent from oral argument at trial that Pascal Simbikangwa actively
supported the operation of the Kigali roadblocks and the killings there, supplying weapons and
directly issuing orders that Tutsis be systematically executed on the spot, with a view to
completely destroying the ethnic group presumed to be responsible for the death of President
Habyarimana and, to his mind, consequently to be viewed as the enemy to be exterminated by its
very nature, within the scope of a concerted plan, particularly through the meticulous organisation
of roadblocks controlling the city and the systematic search of houses that may have been
sheltering Tutsis.
Pascal Simbikangwa did indeed enable others to kill and commit acts causing serious physical or
mental harm, in the execution of a concerted plan leading to the total destruction of the Tutsi
ethnic group. This, in light of the offences under Article 211-1 of the Penal Code, constitutes
genocide, not complicity in genocide.
Furthermore, Simbikangwa knew perfectly well that, at that time, opposition Hutus were put in the
same category as enemies of the state and that they were suffering the same fate as the Tutsis
thanks to the weapons that he had supplied and his orders to eliminate all inyenzi.
The examination of his character and professional career proves that he fully supported those
summary executions and inhuman acts, performed systematically and on a massive scale; this
characterizes his involvement on grounds of complicity in crimes against humanity committed
against a section of the civil population, in the execution of the same concerted plan as that for
the crime of genocide committed against the Tutsi community, but also directed against
opposition Hutus.
4.3: On the involvement of Senyamuhara Safari alias Pascal Simbikangwa in crimes against
humanity and genocide committed at the prefecture of Gisenyi in Rwanda between April and July
On the other hand, the Court considers that the charges brought against Pascal Simbikangwa
regarding his alleged involvement in the roadblocks set up in the prefecture of Giyensi between
April and July 1994 are too weak to secure a conviction.
Indeed, his presence at the meeting in Kibihekane on 7 April 1994, between 3:00 pm and 5:00
pm, during which orders were allegedly given to the Interahamwe to raise roadblocks and hunt
down Tutsis, does not tally with the fact that he was seen in Kigali that day, bearing in mind the
journey time between the capital and the prefecture in the north-west of the country, which was
estimated to be three to four hours at normal times.
Furthermore, his presence on the morning of 8 April 1994 in the prefecture of Gisenyi does not
tally with the testimony given by the Gahamanyi family, stating that he was at his home in Kivoyu
that morning.
Equally, his involvement in the training provided to the Interahamwe in Kibihekane during the
genocide does not tally with his state of health.
Finally, the statements taken from Théoneste Habarugira, Théoneste Marijoje and Jean de Dieu
Bihintare, present
striking similarities,
concerning Pascal Simbikangwa’s car
registration plate, which had never been at issue prior to the trial; this suggests a degree of
concertation between them which does not tally with the truth.
Consequently, Pascal Simbikangwa will be acquitted of the charges of genocide and crimes against
humanity, as both accomplice and perpetrator, relating to the prefecture of Gisenyi.
Made at the Paris Law Court, 14 March 2014
The foreman of the jury
The Presiding Judge of the Paris Assize Court
Issue No.1 January 2015
Political Science:
The Front National at the centre of the French political stage: a
consequence of the UMP’s losing strategy to win and stay in power
Clémence Faure, doctoral student, Centre Montesquieu de Recherches politiques, University of
Professor Patrick Troude-Chastenet, Centre Montesquieu de Recherches politiques, University of
"Earthquake"; "tidal wave"; "volcanic eruption" (1)… The French media made a beeline for the
language of natural disasters to describe the Front National’s (FN) victory in the European
elections on 25 May 2014. The reaction in the press proves that these results are a significant
historic event in French political life: for the first time, a party at the far-right of the political
spectrum had won an election in France.
Admittedly, 21 April 2002 may have set something of a precedent. In coming second in the
presidential elections, Jean-Marie Le Pen had proved that the FN could secure high numbers of
votes. However, the current situation is not at all on the same scale at that in 2002. Firstly, the
electoral contexts are not alike: the FN leader’s success in reaching the second round of the
presidential elections could then be explained by a number of political parties putting up
candidates for the first round of the elections (2). The inflated number of parties was especially
unfavourable for the left, as it found itself deeply divided and was therefore unsuccessful in
fielding a candidate in the second round (3). Secondly, the number of votes secured by the FN
must be viewed in context. Indeed, whilst it is obvious that it was an unprecedented success for
the party, it achieved a much better result in 2012: the number of votes for Jean-Marie Le Pen was
lower than that garnered by his daughter, Marine Le Pen, ten years later (4), which adds weight to
the argument that 2002 is far from being a zenith for the FN. Furthermore, the abstention rate
seen in 2002 was much higher than in 2012, which goes some way to qualify the FN’s 2002
breakthrough (5). Finally the “shock of 21 April” prompted a large-scale response not only from
political parties, who put up a united front in condemning and countering the FN’s success, but
also from the French populace, which took to the streets in large numbers on election night and
on 1 May – International Workers’ Day – to protest against Le Pen’s party. Conversely, the 2014
European elections met with little response from French society: on the evening when the results
were announced, there were no mass demonstrations, and the national campaign organised,
amongst others, by young high-school students was a failure. Moreover, while French political
parties emerged from the 2002 elections stronger than ever, 2014 saw their relative collapse: the
right, embodied by the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) is divided and on the brink of
implosion; the socialist left has suffered yet another defeat marked, in particular, by its desertion
by part of its traditional support base.
If we examine the results of the 2014 European elections in detail, we cannot help but notice the
FN’s success. With an almost equal turn-out, the party increased its 2009 result by 400%. It came
first in five of the eight major electoral districts established for the European elections. It came
second in two others, behind the UMP. France’s Overseas Countries and Territories were the only
district where the FN came fourth. A majority of voters in sixteen out of twenty-two regions voted
for the FN, with levels over 30% in seven of these. As regards the départements, the FN came first
in 71 of them. On a European level, France is not the only country where a far-right and/or
populist party won. For the first time in its history, the United Kingdom saw a “rebel party (6)”, the
United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), win the elections (7). The latter, founded in 1993,
made a significant breakthrough, adding a further 11 MEPS to its total number of representatives
(24 in total). It is anti-Europe and campaigns for the United Kingdom’s independence, which would
lead to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party was
also victorious (8). The latter party is described as populist and xenophobic.
The 2014 European elections were therefore historic for the far-right on both a national and a
European level. However, as regards French political life, they are a distraction: while the FN has
indeed achieved impressive election results, we must remember that those results serve only to
confirm the party’s steady progress since 2010. Furthermore, over the last four years, the FN has
achieved results which have attracted less media coverage but are nonetheless significant and
even of greater interest in analysing the FN’s growing influence in French national politics. Thus,
as mentioned above, Marine Le Pen came third in the 2012 presidential elections with more votes
than her father secured ten years earlier and against a smaller number of parties. Those elections
are of greater significance for the French electorate than the European elections, as is shown in the
higher voter turn-out. Equally, the 2012 parliamentary elections gave the FN two seats in the
National Assembly, which had not happened since 1988. More recently, the FN won thirteen
municipal councils at the 2014 municipal elections (9) and a large number of councillors (10).
This situation is all the more surprising when one considers that from 2007 to 2009, the FN was
so unpopular that many observers predicted its demise. The most obvious illustration of that
decline is the 2007 presidential elections: the FN won only 10.44% of the vote, a fall of 6
percentage points as compared with the first round in 2002. So what could explain this reversal of
In order to understand the rise of the FN from 2012 onwards, we must go back to its years in the
wilderness and see what caused its collapse at the polls in 2007. The explanation can be found in
the rise of Nicolas Sarkozy within the UMP and the campaign strategy that he and his team
developed from 2004 onwards to win the 2007 presidential elections. One of that campaign’s
main objectives was announced by Sarkozy himself: he intended to "tackle the FN on its home turf”
(11), both geographical and ideological, To achieve this aim, he stripped the Le Pen rhetoric away
from the FN’s favoured topics whilst building his own leadership ethos, which allowed him to
present himself to his electorate as a legitimate presidential candidate and win over Le Pen voters
by appearing more credible in implementing the latter’s policies. This strategy worked for a time
(electoral successes of 2007 and 2009) but, ironically, its long-term effect was the advances made
by the FN and, on a deeper level, the party’s gravitation from the fringes to the heart of the French
political landscape. It also spawned the wider acceptance of the views held by the far-right, as
shown by a greater outspokenness in French society. We cannot, however, ignore the part played
by the FN in its own institutional legitimisation: the arrival of Marine Le Pen, in 2011, was an
especially significant event for the part. Her “de-demonisation” strategy, which included a
“republicanisation” of her views, accelerated the trend brought about by Sarkozy’s own strategy
In order to account for this scenario, we will present our findings in two parts. We will firstly show
that the FN’s advances are the fruit of a rhetorical convergence between each party’s discourse,
resulting (for the most part) from the strategic re-orientation instigated by Sarkozy’s team from
2004 onwards; and, secondly, we will examine the consequences of that convergence for French
political life.
1. Winning over the right: a rhetorical convergence resulting from the UMP’s new strategy
With a personality to instigate and embody it, the new strategy put forward by the main party of
France’s institutional right would never have seen the light of day. Nicolas Sarkozy, a member of
the "cadets de la droite" (13) generation, succeeded in building himself the leadership ethos
necessary to impose a successful strategic reorientation. To do this, he capitalised on a troubled
political context within the UMP, which allowed him to become chairman of the party; this is the
key for anyone wishing to run for office. It was with a view to taking power that the délepénisation
strategy - a difficult balance between the republican right and the far right – was formulated and
succeeded in propelling its main proponent to the presidency.
1.1 Nicolas Sarkozy, the embodiment of the new right
Nicolas Sarkozy became leader of the UMP on 28 November 2004, during the party conference at
Le Bourget. He appeared to be the only man able to ensure that the party would retain the
Presidency. The first question to be asked in light of that situation is one of understanding the
context in which Sarkozy succeeded in becoming leader of the party and, therefore, ralliying the
UMP around him, when he had been one of the most divisive personalities in the eyes of the left as
well as those of his own party since his arrival at the French Ministry of the Interior in 2002.
1.1.1 Constructing the Sarkozy image: an uninhibited leader
In order to attain high office within the party and then secure the Presidency, Nicolas Sarkozy had,
since entering the Ministry of the Interior, sought to forge himself an image as a charismatic
leader. To do this, he made particular use of language.
Language is one of the elements in building the image of a leader. An ethos, constructed primarily
through words, is necessary for a candidate’s speech to have any force of persuasion. It is only
possible for an orator to argue, convince or contradict if they have a positive self-image.
Furthermore, while a politician’s image is forged though his speeches, that image will decide
whether a speech is well received by voters. Damon Mayaffre (14) shows that, in order to give
himself an authority worthy of high office, Nicolas Sarkozy used language above all for the image
that it would confer (ethos) and not for the logic behind the speech ( logos). That is to say, he used
words to project his own personality rather than the substance of his speech. Furthermore, it was
not only a matter of putting himself in the spotlight; the Sarkozy image reflected in his speeches
had to be that of a determined, authoritative person ready to volunteer his service whilst also
being paternal and thus inspiring confidence as a wise man offering protection to the weak. This is
expressed, inter alia, in the over-use of je - "I" - and moi - "me": ““I” takes the place of a
manifesto and strips it of all meaning. “Me” (pronoun) replaces “France”, the “people”, or the
“Republic” (nouns)” (15). The inordinate use of on or "it" is also a constant in Sarkozy’s discourse.
According to Mayaffre, it is there as a counter-balance to the I-me pairing and also contributes to
the construction of a leadership ethos: "Everything is done in a speech for Nicolas Sarkozy’s je-
moi (I-me) to appear as the only protection against a threat made all the more worrying by the fact
that it is unqualified by the use of “it” (16). What is more, the promotion of the ethos of Sarkozy as
guide is based on the forbidden and therefore on the abundance of negative formulations and
turns of phrase in his speeches. He is the one who permits and prohibits, because he is
responsible and vested with authority: "On the subject of authority, Sarkozy’s discourse is above a
discourse of authority: a paternal or martial authority likely to say “no”, likely to say “do not…””
(17). Finally, the use of "I want" abounds in Sarkozy-speak:
“NS’s charisma is thus built through the stage management or publicity (the fact of making
public) his desire to become or to be President. As the winner can be defined as he who
wants to win, the President is defined as he who wants to be President. Since 2006, NS has
made no apologies for his ambition: he has made it an argument in his favour […]; once
elected, that desire to be president is beyond all doubt”. (18)
While Nicolas Sarkozy presented himself as a charismatic guide, an image constructed through his
specific use of language, he also wanted to be an "uninhibited" leader. This is done through
specific lexical and grammatical turns of phrase, such as the recurrence of more relaxed
expressions (qui est-ce qui..., ça…, je veux pas), which give the impression of a man of the people
who speaks like the people and not like an intellectual or a technocrat (19), but also whilst laying
claim to a right-wing identity.
Just as with the construction of the leadership ethos, taking on such a partisan identity is one of
the bases of the strategy put in place by the UMP to appeal to FN voters. Their chosen candidate
had to appear to be credible, and indeed more credible than Jean-Marie Le Pen, all whilst
reassuring the FN electorate as to the content of the UMP’s manifesto. This was the first time
under the Fifth Republic that the leader of a dominant party, on the right of the political spectrum,
so openly declared his political stance. Such determination in asserting a political identity can be
explained by the generational effect: Nicolas Sarkozy is a member of the "cadets de la droite" – the
right-wing cadets, young cadres rising through the party’s ranks following the defeat of the RPR
(20) at the hands of the Parti socialiste (PS – the French Socialist Party) in the 1981 presidential
elections. This was the left’s first electoral victory since the Fifth Republic’s inception in 1958 and
contributed to a generational renewal within the republican right fuelled by young people
radicalised by the Socialists coming to power and determined to use ideas in order to vanquish the
forces of the left. There was then a manifest desire on the part of those young cadres to establish
their right-wing credentials and reject en masse the “laxity” deemed inherent to the left. This
vehemence towards socialists can be seen in Sarkozy’s anti-May 1968 speech. In his diatribe, he
rejected the idea of a society in decline which was, according to Sarkozy, the result of the events
of May 1968 and of left-wing government. Behind May 1968, he was also taking aim at the events
of 1981 so it is not surprising that, in the Sarkozy’s eyes, the "liquidation of the legacy of May
1968" should be synonymous with the assertion of an alternative model and, therefore, with the
promotion of right-wing values.
1.1.2 A favourable political context
The UMP was officially born on 17 November 2002 during the party conference at Le Bourget. It
was the result of the merger of the three main parties on the republican right: the Gaullists of the
RPR; the liberals of the Démocratie Libérale (Liberal Democracy) Party; and the centrists, the
majority of whom were members of the Union Démocratique Française (French Democratic Union).
At the same conference, during which old political formations were absorbed into the new entity,
the members elected their new leader: Alain Juppé. He could be considered as the dauphin to
Jacques Chirac, then serving his second term as President of the Republic. Juppé embodied the
Gaullist trend. The UMP was thus adapted to him so as to allow him to run for office and succeed
his mentor. He therefore quite naturally became leader of the UMP to await the presidential
Nicolas Sarkozy’s supporters began to sow discord in 2003. Their leader had been Minister of the
Interior for a year by that time, a position that he used, as we have already seen, to construct his
ethos as a guide able to lead a country. Tensions grew between sarkozystes and chiraquiens, each
defending a very different conception of politics. This was also a generational clash between those
still bearing the Gaullist standard (the chiraquiens) and those who felt that it had to be updated
and its message overhauled (the sarkozystes).
Two events allowed handed victory to Nicolas Sarkozy and his supporters. Firstly, the UMP suffered
crushing defeats in the 2004 regional elections, in which the Socialists seized control of twenty
out of twenty-two regions. More significantly, Alain Juppé was arrested by police in July 2004 as
part of the investigation into fictitious jobs at Paris City Hall and was consequently forced to
resign. With no other chiraquien leader able to unite the factions within the UMP, Nicolas Sarkozy
emerged as being the only man capable of accomplishing the task. This set of circumstances thus
allowed him to outflank the once hostile Gaullist right, which found itself compelled to follow and
support him. He naturally became leader of the UMP following the election on 28 November 2004,
in which he won 85.09% of the vote. The margin of victory was such as to bolster his legitimacy as
then he appeared to be the chosen candidate of the republican right.
1.2 Winning over the right and reassuring the centre: délepénisation
Sarkozy’s team then had all the authority needed to begin the party’s strategic reorientation,
employing a double tactic drawn from the lessons of 2002. Nicolas Sarkozy endlessly hammered
home his point, namely that the FN was a symbol of xenophobia and racism, and that it was antidemocratic. At the same time, he set about republicanising themes usually evoked by the FN. He
thus embodied exactly a blend of right and far-right. This marked the beginning of the
“uninhibited right” era, and Nicolas Sarkozy personified this best. Indeed, from the time of his
arrival at the Ministry of the Interior in 2002, he was able to present himself as the leader in the
fight against insecurity. He succeeded in taking that particular theme away from the lepéniste right
in such a way that political rhetoric on security was no longer directly associated with an attempt
to adopt far-right themes, as it had previously been in France during the 1980s. The assertion that
insecurity is a right-wing issue whilst associating it with republican political discourse allowed
Sarkozy to “de-lepenise” the subject, i.e. strip away associations with the Le Pen style of rhetoric.
The same strategy was used in relation to illegal immigration and criminal justice policy. Sarkozy’s
rhetoric became even more radical from 2005 onwards, when he began his preliminary
presidential campaign. He intended to take on the FN on its home turf, be that geographical or
ideological. To do this, he turned to the issue of immigration law. He declared that he was going
to seek out FN voters “one by one” and proved it when he adopted the following stance: "If some
of them are bothered by living in France, let them leave a country that they don’t like" (21). He
then began advocating “selective immigration", which allowed him to distance himself from the Le
Pen discourse but was only a more respectable version of the far right’s own policy. The
announcement, on 8 March 2007, of a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity was also part
of the strategy to win the FN vote through the "republicanisation" of FN policy, a strategy that
proved to be a winning one: in the first round of the 2007 presidential elections, not only did
right-wing voters stay loyal to their candidate, but Sarkozy had also won over a third of Jean-Marie
Le Pen’s supporters, the latter only winning 11% of the vote. Furthermore, Sarkozy won by a
comfortable margin at the second round, securing 53% of the vote and allegedly gaining support
from 70% of those voters who had voted for Le Pen at the first round (22). Le Pen himself had,
however, called on FN voters to abstain. The same pattern repeated itself for the parliamentary
elections in June of the same year. The FN came to grief and did not get beyond 5% (23) when it
had hoped to win back the votes taken by the UMP. In the 2008 municipal elections, the party
collapsed altogether, winning 0.93% of the vote at the first round and 0.28% at the second. The
results from the 2008 cantonal elections were no better. The FN then began its spell in the
wilderness; 2010 saw Jean-Marie Le Pen announce his resignation as leader while the party
suffered a wave of defections and serious financial difficulties.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s new strategy had won the day. Thanks to the charisma and credibility that he
has built up for himself during his time as minister, President Sarkozy had won at the ballot box.
The strategic reorientation he had instigated within the UMP in what was a favourable political
context, had worked in such a way as to secure votes that both the right and the left had believed
to be lost. He also succeeded in not frightening off the more centrist electorate, even winning
votes from other sections of society by not only playing on his personality as a leader but by
relying on French society’s latent potential for xenophobia. The FN was defeated and did not
recover after the presidential elections.
The roles were reversed three years later. The FN began to do well from the 2010 regional
elections onward and continued to make gains right up until its victory in the 2014 European
elections. While the Sarkozy strategy had worked in the short term, we cannot help but see that its
effects were not sustainable over time. As has been shown by European research, it had a
boomerang effect resulting in the trivialisation and legitimisation of far-right themes, as well as
the wider acceptance of radical right-wing parties.
2. A new strategy, ineffective in the long run: the normalisation of the FN through the
legitimisation of its themes
2010 was pivotal, with the FN’s return to the French political stage and a sea-change in the French
representation of immigration, authority and Islam.
The issue here is one of ascertaining the extent to which the UMP’s strategy contributed to the
shift of the margins in France’s political arena and the recrudescence of the population’s
2.1 The reversal of the political spectrum: a legitimised, arbitral FN
The only advantage of the "sarkozyste" discourse is that it legitimises our own. Our voters
know that this government hasn’t solved any problems and they have returned to the fold in
the regional elections. (24)
The above comment, made by French MEP Bruno Gollnisch, is far from meaningless. Indeed, if we
examine the investigations conducted by European researchers into the radical right, we reach the
same conclusion. According to their analysis, the adoption by a mainstream right-wing party of
themes belonging more traditionally to the far right leads to the wider acceptance of far-right
themes and political thought and to a shift in a country’s political margins, whereby parties on the
fringes of national politics move towards the centre, thus allowing them to dominate public
Joost Van Spanje and Wouter Van Der Brug measured the impact of tactics adopted by dominant
parties vis-à-vis the radical right. They concluded that pursuing a strategy of exclusion results in
extremist parties maintaining their radical stances without getting worse. Conversely, integrating
themes and stances associated with the radical right into a manifesto, or even working with the
radical right, results in the trivialisation or wider acceptance of far-right ideology whilst weakening
the extremist party (25).
Kay Arzheimer examined the issue of whether support for far-right parties grows because the
main parties do not adopt strong stances on those themes evoked by the radical right, what
Arzheimer terms "the conspiracy of silence"; or whether, on the contrary, the fact that the
dominant parties adopt the ideological stances of far-right parties cements support for the latter.
On the basis of the results of an investigation conducted in seven European countries from 1980
to 2002, he concluded that the second hypothesis holds true: not only does it legitimise those
parties but it also perpetuates them (26).
According to Joost Van Spanje, who based his findings on a study of political ideologies in Europe,
the more established a far-right party becomes, the greater the contagion for other political, even
left-wing, parties. This contagion is seen especially in themes that then become central to political
debate (particularly those concerning security and immigration) (27).
If we combine the results from these different studies and apply them to France and the UMP, we
can assert that the new strategy implemented in 2007 allowed the FN to become more widely
accepted and take a position at the centre of the political stage. This would explain the party’s
growing successes at the ballot box. A further consequence, according to Joost Van Spanje and
Wouter Van Der Brug, is the trivialisation of far-right thinking in society. In order to verify this
theory, we will now turn to the annual reports published by France’s Commission nationale
consultative des droits de l'Homme (CNCDH – National Consultative Commission on Human
2.2 The wider acceptance of far-right themes: greater outspokenness in French society
The Commission’s experts have shown that, for the first time since the creation of indexes on
French representations on immigration, the curve is inverted: while French society has become
more open year on year, the indicators reversed in 2012, showing a growing intolerance.
The CNCDH’s 2012 report tells us that the perceptions and attitudes of French people on racism
have evolved in particular. Indeed, we are witnessing a significant increase in the recriminations
made against immigrants and growing criticism of Islam. The most striking fact is that this finding
is not limited to right-wing voters but extends to the French population as a whole. This
downward trend emerged in 2012, persisted in 2011 and became more acute in 2012. Thus, while
previously we saw leaps in the level of conjectural intolerance, today we can wonder whether the
conjectural has now become structural.
As regards racism, its level has admittedly remained stable as compared with 2011 but that
disguises the ever more widely held view that racist acts may sometimes be justified. Furthermore,
while the percentage of people declaring themselves to be racist has remained more or less stable,
the number of individuals stating that they are not racist has fallen by 5% per year. Above all, the
feeling that there are too many immigrants in France has increased sharply (+10% compared to
2011 and +22% compared to 2009). It is also interesting to note that while the majority of those
stating that there are too many immigrants in France are right-wing sympathisers, that feeling is
less widespread amongst left-wing voters. It has thus increased by 3% amongst right-wing voters
and 11% amongst left-wing voters. Moreover, the belief that in France “you don’t feel at home
anymore" has risen by 6 percentage points, its highest level since 1990.
Islam is also increasingly criticised, the positive view of the religion having fallen by 7% in a year.
This brings with it an increased hostility towards the practices associated with Islam.
Finally, if we look now at the tolerance index, it is closer to that of 2001, showing a sharp
decrease. The analysts who contributed to the report stress the fact that the phenomenon is not
only unprecedented in terms of scale but also in terms of duration. Indeed, it in the first that the
index has fallen in three consecutive years.
This data is especially striking as it calls into question what is known as the "ratchet effect":
The consecutive falls in levels of tolerance had always remained higher than the minimum
levels reached in periods of decline. This is how that the 2000 minimum was still higher
than the 1991 level, and the 2005 minimum was higher than the 2000 one. For the first
time, the 2012 minimum was lower than that in 2005. (28)
This phenomenon is widespread amongst right-wing sympathisers, which means that it has
moved even further to the right as compared with previous years. The most striking fact is that the
level of intolerance has increased in French society as a whole, which shows that tensions have
spread through all the groups questioned.
The FN’s advances since 2010, together with the trivialisation of its thinking within French society,
therefore originated in the UMP’s strategic reorientation from 2004 onwards in its desire to stay in
power. This innovative strategy would have been impossible without a charismatic leader able to
rally his party and its voters under his banner, and was successful in the short term. However, as
we have seen, its advantages were not sustainable in the long run.
The sarkozystes’ show of force ultimately went against them and the violence of the boomerang
effect threatens to smash the UMP to pieces. The party will have to rebuild and escape the noose
that it willingly placed around its own neck. The main issue now is as to whether it will gravitate
back towards its traditional centrist allies or continue with its drift further to the right of the
political spectrum; and, above all, whether it will have time to pick itself up before the 2017
presidential elections.
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Garat J.-B., « La victoire du Front national provoque un séisme politique », Le Figaro, 26.05.2014,
available at http://www.lefigaro.fr
Haegel F., Les droites en fusion, Transformations de l'UMP, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2012,
339 p.
Mallet J.-B., « FN-UMP, Les liaisons dangereuses (1) - Relookage extrême », Regards, 6 janvier
2011, available at http://www.regards.fr
Mayaffre D., Nicolas Sarkozy, mesure et démesure du discours (2007-2012), Paris, Presses de la
fondation nationale des sciences politiques, 2012, 368 p.
Mayer N., Michelat G., Tiberj V., « Montée de l'intolérance et polarisation anti-islam », Rapport de
la CNCDH, 2012, pp. 28-47
Sulzer A., « Européennes : le raz-de-marée FN », L'Express, 26.05.2014 available at
(1) For example: Arianne Chemin, « La France en éruption volcanique », Le Monde, 26.05.2014,
available at www.lemonde.fr; Alexandre Sulzer, « Européennes : le raz-de-marée FN »,
L'Express, 26.05.2014 available at www.lexpress.fr; Jean-Baptiste Garat, « La victoire du
Front national provoque un séisme politique », Le Figaro, 26.05.2014, available at
(2) Six parties had their candidacies approved by France’s Constitutional Council.
(3) The Socialist party thus found itself isolated and unable to join forces with the Verts (Green
Party), the Parti communiste (Communist Party) or the Parti radical de gauche (Radical Left
(4) In the first round of the 2002 presidential elections, Jean-Marie Le Pen garnered 16.86% of
the vote, i.e. 4,804,713 votes. In the second round: 17.79% i.e. 5,525,032 votes. In the first
round of the 2012 presidential elections, Marine Le Pen garnered 17.90% of the vote, i.e.
6,421,426. She therefore beat her father in terms of both percentage and the number of votes.
(5) The abstention rate in 2002 was 28.4 %, the highest in the first round of the presidential
elections since the beginnings of the Fifth Republic. The same rate was 20.3% in the second
round. In 2012, abstention stood at 20.5% in the first round and 19.7% in the second.
(6) This is also how UKIP leader Nigel Farage defines himself.
(7) It won 27.5% of the vote, being 14 seats in the European parliament.
(8) It won 4 seats by garnering 26.6% of the vote.
(9) The thirteen towns are not all officially FN but are at the very least part of a far-right trend.
Thus the mayor of Béziers, Robert Ménard, is not a member of the FN but the latter supported
him during his campaign. Jacques Bompard, mayor of Orange, left the FN in 2005 and
campaigned under the banner of the Ligue du Sud (Southern League).
(10) 1,544 municipal councillors according to results compiled by the Ministry of the Interior.
(11) Matthias Bernard, La guerre des droites : droite et extrême droite en France de l'affaire
Dreyfus à nos jours, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2007, p. 251
(12) This subject merits an article on its own. We may still stress that the FN implemented its own
strategic re-orientation later than the UMP did. It was only when Marine Le Pen was elected
party leader in 2011 that the "de-demonisation" strategy was launched with a view to
normalising the party’s discourse. The strategy is almost a mirror image of the UMP’s, as it
seeks to advocate republican principles (such as secularism) in order give the FN credibility
and legitimacy in its bid for power. It wishes to appear respectable and, in order to so this, it
does not intend to present itself as anti-democratic or anti-republican. However, it is also a
matter, like it is for the UMP, of retaining its more radical supporters by maintaining its antisystem image and through greater professionalization achieved by recruiting and training
party cadres. It is the overlap between these two strategies – that of the FN and of the UMP –
which blurred the line between the parties’ respective identities and discourses. Indeed, with
each borrowing tactics from the other, the result is two kinds of political rhetoric that tend to
muddy the ideological waters for voters.
(13) Jacques Frémontier, Les cadets de la droite, Paris, Le Seuil, 1984, 303 p.
(14) Damon Mayaffre, Nicolas Sarkozy, mesure et démesure du discours (2007-2012), Paris,
Presses de la fondation nationale des sciences politiques, 2012, 368 p.
(15) Ibid., p.197.
(16) Ibid., p.104.
(17) Ibid., p.307.
(18) Ibid., p.313
(19) It should be noted on this point that Florence Haegel has highlighted, in Les droites en fusion
(published in 2012 by Presses Universitaires de Sciences Po'), the inferiority complex shared
by UMP members vis-à-vis left-wing voters deemed more intelligent and cultured. We can
also connect the comments made by both researchers and put forward the idea that the way
in which Nicolas Sarkozy speaks is also a way for him to take “non-intellectualism” on as part
of his identity and thus put an end to his supporters’ inferiority complex.
(20) Rassemblement Pour la France
(21) Matthias Bernard, op. cit., p. 261
(22) Ibid., pp. 262-263
(23) He lost 7 percentage points as compared with the previous presidential elections.
(24) Bruno Gollnisch quoted by Jean-Baptiste Mallet, « FN-UMP, Les liaisons dangereuses (1) -
Relookage extrême », Regards, 6 janvier 2011, available at www.regards.fr
(25) Joost Van Spanje et Wouter Van Der Brug, The Party as Pariah : The Exclusion of Anti-
Immigration Parties and its Effect on their Ideological Positions, West European Politics, 30 (5),
2007, p. 1022-1040 in Florence Haegel, Les droites en fusion, transformations de l'UMP,
Paris, Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, 2012, p. 275
(26) Kay Arzheimer, Contextual Factors and the Extreme Right Vote in Western Europe, 1980-
2002, American Journal of Political Research, 48, 2009, pp. 335-358 in Ibid., p. 276
(27) Joost Van Spanje, Contagious Parties: Anti-Immigration Parties and Their Impact on Other
Parties' Immigration Stances in Contemporary Western Europe, Party Politics, 16 (5), 2010, pp.
563-586 in Ibid., p. 273
(28) Nonna Mayer, Guy Michelat, Vincent Tiberj, « Montée de l'intolérance et polarisation anti-
islam », Rapport de la CNCDH, 2012, p. 30
Issue No.1 January 2015
The Huron at the Palais Royal, or innocent remarks on judicial review
Professor Jean Rivero
J. Rivero, « Le Huron au Palais-Royal, ou réflexions naïves sur le recours pour excès de pouvoir » ,
Dalloz, 1962, chron., p. 37. Translated to and published in English by kind permission of the
He was a Huron, and a Huron lawyer at that. He sat at the foot of a copper beech that swayed in
the breeze, occasionally dropping a leaf that came to rest on the Huron’s shoulder like the clasp
on a red epitoga (1). There he sat, teaching public law to the future warriors of his tribe. The
tender hearts of those good and virtuous young men sang as his learned words described the
wonderful devices invented by the Wise Men across the Great Ocean to protect humankind against
actions ultra vires. The Huron dreamed of making a pilgrimage to the city where the beacon of
administrative law burned so brightly. A UNESCO scholarship granted his most ardent wish, and
off he flew to Paris.
At Orly airport, where I went to welcome him, his first words were: “Take me, if you please, to the
place where your Great Council sits”. As we stood in the courtyard of the Palais Royal, he
prostrated himself, face down, saying “I kiss the ground where the great tree of judicial review
takes root, “that most marvellous of lawyers’ creations, the most effective, the most practical, the
most economical weapon that exists in this world to protect freedoms” as your Gaston Jèze (2)
wrote. Bastion of the oppressed, scourge of the oppressor who, at the very moment when he will
strike a fatal blow, stops dead as he hears the dread voice of the judge proclaim: “You shall go no
Gently, I interrupted him: “My dear fellow, don’t lose sight of the fact that legislators, in all their
wisdom, have been unwilling to endow judicial review with a suspensory effect. It therefore
doesn’t fall to the court to stay the hand of the Administration when it is about to act; its dreaded
censure comes after the event”.
“I’m quite aware of that”, said he, “but have you forgotten the judge’s right to order a stay of
“No, indeed; but the law confines that power within some very narrow limits”.
His face creased into an impish smile: “I know, but I also know about the marvellous ingenuity that
your courts put to the service of freedom against the letter of an oppressive law; where the law on
stays of execution left only enough room for a musquash to squeeze through, I imagine that case
law has surely widened the gap to allow a whole herd of bison to pass with ease”.
“The lower courts”, said I, “once tried to take that path; but the wise judges in the upper courts
recognised their imprudence. They didn’t settle for ensuring that the conditions set by legislation
for ordering a stay of execution were strictly observed, but instead added further requirements (3),
and have generally been praised for it”.
He looked disappointed at this, but quickly recovered: “No matter, after all! Isn’t the main thing
that final decision, which with a single word annihilates an unjust act, obliterates its consequences
as the sun melts the ice on our Great Lakes, and gives the victim all that the law grants him, all
that the Administration has refused him?”.
A misgiving made me start speaking again: “Careful now, the court’s power doesn’t extend that
far! Generally, you know, the court isn’t permitted to order the Administration to do anything, and
may certainly not substitute its own decision for that which it has just overturned. Even in full
remedy proceedings, it may only order the Administration to pay: in judicial review cases, the
court is forbidden to go beyond a pure and simple annulment of the act in question”.
“That’s a strict prohibition,” he sighed, “which law imposed it?”.
I smiled: “There’s no need for a law when the very nature of things is in command; and the nature
of things demands that, within the Executive, judging a matter be distinct from taking action.
Where would we end up if, on the basis of the annulment, the court were to draw out the
necessary consequences, dictate the behaviour to be adopted by the Administration in order to
restore the law, or dare to substitute a legally correct decision for that which has been annulled?”
“Thus”, said he, “no obstacle other than the nature of things prevents the court from enjoining the
Administration to act, or even decide a matter in the Administration’s stead?”. I could only agree.
He thought for a moment then continued: “The nature of things… that can be understood in any
number of ways! Where I come from, we believe that the court’s role is to state what the Law
demands in all matters; when our judge decides which of the two hunters contesting a caribou
carcass has actually killed the caribou that each claims to have killed and can take it (away) in
accordance with our hunting laws, we think that he remains a judge and does not become a
caribou hunter. You reason differently, it seems, when it concerns administrative acts rather than
caribou. Does the nature of men impose itself? I’m not sure. Incidentally, in your country as in
mine no doubt, it seems to me that what the litigant hopes is that something in the reality of his
day-to-day life be changed for the better: that he be able to do something that had been wrongly
forbidden to him, or be allowed to take up a post that he had been refused illegally. Is it the
abstraction that is the annulment that interests him? No; what interests him is the result that he
expects from it. That being the case, is it not a matter of dissociating the annulment from its
consequences rather than being unaware of the nature of things? In casting an act into oblivion
but refusing to say what ought necessarily to follow from its disappearance, is the court not
stopping short, without seeing its task through to the end? And what would be said of the
lumberjack who chops through a tree’s roots but refuses to fell the tree itself, entrusting that task
to the winter storms instead? It is one thing when the new definition is part of what I believe you
call judicial discretion: that is not at all the judge’s remit – though I could well have said that yours
does sometimes go beyond that, when he sees fit to do so. But when everything results from the
annulment by virtue of legal necessity, why does your judge, who is usually so fearless, not dare to
substitute his own decision for the annulled act, or tell the Administration what it is bound to do?”
“He will indicate as much to the Administration, on occasion”, I retorted, “not as an imperative in
the court order, but rather as friendly advice in the grounds of the judgement. Authors cite a
decision where this trend manifests itself (4); we would no doubt find others if we were to look.
Incidentally, don’t underestimate our judge’s wisdom and prudence: if, in issuing an injunction, he
sees that it comes to nought; if he is not obeyed; what would become of his prestige and
authority? In confining himself simply to the annulment itself, he has saved the dignity of the
judiciary, the very foundation of the legal system.”
Astonishment was etched across my companion’s face: “What? Is your judge the same as our weak
sachem whose miserable rule was endured by my tribe for several years and who, knowing that
that his authority was in dispute, found no better solution to allow him to rule peaceably than
choosing never to use his authority as chief, safe in the knowledge that he would not be disobeyed
when in fact he was in command of nothing at all? I could not believe it; anyway, is obedience not
easier when order is clearly established? If, in my country, the judge were simply to tell those
warriors in charge of the tribe’s departments “your act is null and void”, embarrassment would be
written all over their faces; in order to obey, they expect to know what they must do and, unlike
your civil servants in this respect, they definitely do not like initiatives and feel lighter when a clear
decision stands between them and their responsibilities, just like those canvas shelters that offer
protection from the great autumn rains. I for one don’t doubt that if your judge – your prestigious
and powerful judge – were to order it, his own authority, together with that of the Law, would
reduce even the most recalcitrant of administrators to immediate obedience.”
Here, I bent my head: “Alas! What makes me doubt that the judge would indeed be obeyed if he
were to embark on the path of an injunction, is the fact that, when it comes to a simple
annulment…”. He interrupted me: “Do not suggest that the Administration defies annulment
decisions and does not proceed with restoring the Law even in the absence of an injunction! I
know that is not true and that the enforcement of annulment decisions poses not the slightest
problem, seeing as the most learned works devoted to judicial review (5) make no mention of it
anywhere, and the majority of authors do not tarry on this issue”. (6)
“And what could they say about it?”, I cried. “One of two things: either the Administration agrees to
interpret the consequences of the annulment itself, if indeed this is materially possible despite the
passage of time; else it refuses to do so. In such cases, what is the court to do? Can it summon the
army? Do you see it mobilising a platoon of guards to compel the chief of police, their own
commanding officer, or even the Minister of Culture to enforce an annulment decision, should any
of them not comply?”
I could see that that he was beginning to reel. “And so? Is there no law that makes a civil servant’s
disobedience to the judge a crime punishable by a fine or a term of imprisonment? At the very
least, should the person who so scorns the law not be personally liable for the same vis-à-vis his
victim? Ruin would be just deserts for so great a crime.”
“Case law has sought to remedy the law’s deficiencies”, I replied. “A person who has been unable
to secure the Administration’s compliance with the court’s decision has a simple, practical path
open to him: he applies for compensation for the damage suffered as a result; if refused, he brings
another action before a judge, in a full court hearing, with the costly ministrations of a wise
barrister. The judge will then order the Administration to pay the compensation requested; if the
order is confirmed on appeal, the Administration will settle, almost certainly, one day or another.”
“So, if I have understood correctly, on payment of a ransom that will be even less of a burden as
that it is, I believe, paid out of the public purse which is in turn fed by the offerings made by
taxpayers, the Administration will secure its own freedom once and for all, together with the right
not to respect the Law… And what if the victim is poor, or ill-informed, or tired of pleading his
case? It seems to me that time passes, going from one appeal to the next. So, if that person does
not take the matter before the second court, what will happen then?”
“What do you want to happen? In ordering the annulment, the judge has fulfilled his duties; the
court is divested of jurisdiction in the matter; the decision will be published; the exegetes will
appreciate its great doctrinal importance and weigh up its finer points. Would you have them
follow the sidekick applicant in their subsequent and often petty quarrels with the Administration?
Moreover, is the pure and simple failure to comply with a judgement all that commonplace? There
are no statistics allowing such an assertion to be made; out of its concern for lawfulness, the
Administration has at its disposal, when it deems necessary, a number of avenues to avoid
scandal: it can replace the regulations breached by the annulled act with a new text, on the basis
of which it could make the same decision again tomorrow; I could give you a very recent example
of this without looking much further than the Théâtre Français that you can see over there. If it
thus intends to protect the past, all it has to do is secure the passage of a law that reverses the
effects of the res judicata and restores the previous state of affairs by giving it supreme authority;
it most often does so without any great difficulty (7); and the Rule of Law thereby reclaims its
The Huron’s candid features registered his astonishment: “Let us sum up”, said he. “An apparently
arbitrary administrative decision affects an individual; it is enforced, should the Administration so
choose, without the judge preventing it. If this enforcement instantly takes full effect, all is said
and done and an annulment after the event can only undo what has already been done. Where its
effects are felt over a period of time, the annulment leaves the Administration with the task of
deciding on the correct measures to take in order to restore the law; and all this without the court
daring to do anything on this point other than suggest occasional, timid instructions without, for
all that, consenting either to enjoin the Administration to act or to rule on the matter itself. Where
the Administration refuses to draw the necessary conclusions, the victim has no recourse other
than the remote possibility of compensation. But then why is it sometimes said that your great
court acts as the Administration’s overseer? There are claims that it is audacious; I find it overcautious. I concede, of course, that it cannot wield the battle axe against the very authority that
wears it at its belt; however, that impossibility aside, could it not give teeth to a platonic
annulment that nonetheless leaves the Administration essentially free to impose the most
implacable arbitrariness on citizens without the slightest hindrance?”.
I made a vehement interruption: “Do not blaspheme! Judicial review is a great and glorious
creation; even when it does not give concrete satisfaction to the person who brings the action
successfully – though it does do so in many cases, in spite of it all – it maintains the principle that,
above all contingencies, the Administration is subject to the Law. Firstly, it provides a means for
individuals to protest against arbitrariness, to voice their indignation; next, as a bare minimum,
the satisfaction of being proved right against the Administration. Does a moral victory count for
nothing, in your eyes? And do the services rendered to the Law, the endlessly more demanding
and rigorous definition of legality, also count for nothing? Must I remind you of all that has
flourished within the scope of such actions? The theory of general principles, the examination of
the grounds…”
Now it was his turn to interrupt: “Whereas we noble savages, we are simple creatures: we believe
that justice is made for litigants, and that its value is measured in terms of everyday life. It is not
the development of the Law that concerns us, but rather the effective protection to be drawn from
it by the individual. I thought that your great judicial review guaranteed that protection. Have I
travelled so far to find that this is not so?”.
There was such a woebegone look on his face that I tried to comfort him: “Do not despair! The
progress made is a guarantee of future progress; judicial review has not given its last word and
the future remains open. Place your trust in the court’s liberalism.”
He hung his head and said: “But why would it be tempted to start anew the very thing that
everyone tells him over and over again is a fully-formed masterpiece? How can the court not fear
that it will debase the thing, if it so much as dares touch it? When our tribe’s artist has sculpted a
new totem pole in secret, the tribe gathers around and looks at it. When the work is deemed fit for
the god that it is intended to honour, the artist is forbidden to touch it again, for fear of angering
the deity. Were I from your country, and if I were to admire your great Council and its judicial
review as you all do, it seems to me that I would not stop denouncing its weaknesses rather than
singing its praises, to encourage it to surpass itself and make it equal to the mighty god that you
call the Rule of Law.”
“That is wise advice”, said I, “but there are some who will maintain that now is not the right time to
push forward in the fight against arbitrariness and give fresh impetus to the development of
judicial review on the road to effectiveness. We must, however, have faith in the future.”
“I shall return”, said he, “when the future will have answered to the faith that you place in it and
when citizens will, through judicial review, have the effective remedies to which we humble Hurons
attach what is doubtless too high a price.”
That very evening, without so much as a glance at the Eiffel Tower all lit up, he sadly took the path
home to his copper beech and his wigwam. When will we see him again?
(1) Translator’s note: French barristers wear red robes, known as epitogas
(2) Rapport à l’Institut international de droit public, Annuaire de l’Institut, 1929, p. 162
(3) Conseil d’Etat, 18 June 1954, Préfet du Var, D. 1955, Somm. 32; S. 1954. 3. 93, note by Guy
Braibant; Long, Weil et Brabant, Les grands arrêts de la jurisprudence administrative, p. 411,
for an analysis of the development of case law in this area.
(4) Conseil d’Etat, 26 December 1925, Rodière, S. 1925. 3. 49, note by Maurice Hauriou.
(5) This is undoubtedly the classic work by Raphaël Alibert, Le contrôle juridictionnel de
l’Administration au moyen du recours pour excès de pouvoir, Payot, 1926, which indeed does
not devote a separate chapter to the issue of the effects of judicial review.
(6) Our colleague is obviously unaware of the book by Prosper Weil, Les consequences de
l’annulation d’un acte administratif pour excès de pouvoir, 1952.
(7) Cf. the many examples cited by Michel Lesage, Les interventions du législateur dans le
fonctionnement de la justice, 1960.
Commentary by Professor Jean-Bernard Auby:
All administrative lawyers know what a heavy task it has been (and continues to be) to impose the
respect of the rule of law on the administrative authorities in an efficient way; that is, in making
sure that judgments made by the courts are both truly implemented and really repair the illegal
damage done by administrative misbehaviour.
In the paper above, written in 1962, Jean Rivero shows, with biting humour, that French law was,
at that time, far from ensuring in a quite satisfactory way the rule of law in administrative matters.
Jean Rivero was a very well-known administrative lawyer, and he was also a comparative lawyer.
This is what had led him to take the critical position he adopts in this paper, which he drafted
using the same rhetoric process that Montesquieu used in his “Lettres Persanes”.
His article especially
underlines three weaknesses in the courts’ supervision of administrative
authorities: the first one deriving from the fact that challenges brought before the courts had –
with very limited exceptions - no suspensory effect on the administrative course of action; the
second one residing within the fact that courts did not recognize to themselves the right of issuing
injunctions against the administration;, and the third one, somewhat linked to the second, coming
from the fact that judgments made by the courts against the administrative authorities could in
general consist only of an annulment of the decisions taken by the latter, and not in a
reestablishment of the situation illegally disrupted.
It is important to stress that things have very much changed and that, due to reforms made
essentially in 1996 and 2000, these three weaknesses, pinpointed and implicitly criticized by Jean
Rivero, have been strongly attenuated. First, actions brought to court against administrative
bodies still do not have an automatic interrupting effect, but a “référé suspension”: these
proceedings allow plaintiffs to make courts suspend challenged decisions where they can be
seriously suspected of being illegal, and their implementation would cause significant harm;
courts decide on these requests within a few days. Second, courts have received from legislation
the right to issue injunctions when they are asked to do so by people challenging the
administration before them. Finally, courts can, if required, add to the annulment of administrative
decisions challenged before them an injunction to restore things to their previous situation or to
re-examine a case within a certain period of time.
This is not to say that the French system has succeeded to perfectly discipline the administrative
organizations to respect the law. Certainly, a lot has yet to be done, but dramatic progress has
been made since Jean Rivero wrote “Le Huron au Palais-Royal”
Issue No.1 January 2015
The absurdity of the law, following an exposition on Racine and Kafka
Professor Jean Carbonnier
An excerpt from Flexible Droit, Pour une sociologie du droit sans rigueur, 10th edition (2001),
Paris, LGDJ, pp 432 – 433 Translated to and published in English by kind permission.
"Absurd" – now there is a grand word: laws, justice, social pressures… the entire apparatus of the
law is absurd. According to Racine, the law is a rational mechanism open to abuse by madmen; for
Kafka, it is a demented mechanism that draws the individual into its madness. The thing is, from
Racine’s time to Kafka’s, the ways in which society works have undergone radical changes; the
State has become an anonymous, multi-faceted, many-tentacled thing; its edicts have become so
numerous, complex and fickle that, materially, it is no longer possible to know them, never mind
understand the reasoning behind them. As to the rest, if the premise is that society knows better
than the individual what the individual must do, why would society waste its time reasoning with
him? Thus, at the time when each person came into increasingly frequent and inevitable contact
with the law, the law was frighteningly strange and unintelligible. A fog of law-induced insanity
has spread through peoples’ lives. No mind can resist completely, but the effects vary from person
to person. For some, like Kafka, it is crushing. For others, it is a kind of legal anaesthetic: the
citizen remains unmoved by the law; he lives (either as a criminal or as a wise man) as though the
law did not exist.
There are no preventive measures at hand against this kind of legal psychopathy, to say nothing of
the treatment that slightly eludes lawyers.
First of all, the legal knowledge that law faculties are tasked to impart contributes directly to the
prevention of evil. It is a sign of the times that they are increasingly frequented by the masses.
Many of those jostling each other there wish to learn not so much a science (required only for a
small number of professionals) as a general familiarity with the beast, so as to render it less
terrifying in their eyes.
But there is a duty incumbent upon the legislature, above all, to organise the prevention of the
anxiety that spreads all around it. It ought to think to itself that any law, however excellent in its
content, is harmful in view of the disturbance it produces in the psyche of its subjects. The
legislature must always weigh up all the social advantages that it expects from a law against the
disadvantages of the heavy-handed and damaging influence that any regulations may exert on any
citizen’s nervous system. Nowadays, the hubbub in Paris is pierced at any given moment by the
strident call of sirens: the fire brigade, police, ambulances... Who will compare the social cost of
the emotional fright caused with the time saved for the emergency services?
The legislature would do well to agree to use its own emergency siren only when faced with real
danger. It could even give up that siren; in legislating less, it would legislate more gently. Let the
law drop its aggressive tone, that rasping, megaphone voice that it has all too often taken on and
which has shattered the frazzled nerves of citizens. Let the law speak conversationally, explain its
reasons, follow the rules of courtesy (non-retroactivity being one of them). Great progress will
have been made, and legal psychology could make a decisive contribution, when we come to
notice that freedom – and, indeed, order – is not only a matter for abstract declarations, but a pure
and simple need for good mental health.
Commentary by Professor Jean Hauser:
The worrying expansion of the legal apparatus is a recurrent theme, particularly in politics, but the
debate yields concrete results. Indeed, there was in France a recent statute on the simplification of
French law, which consisted in several dozen articles and many pages that were almost impossible
to read!
The crux of the Carbonnier text lays in the fact that it situates this phenomenon in the history, and
the very philosophy, of humankind in society. The Racine reference will take connoisseurs back to
the 17th century and one of the few comedies that he wrote, Les plaideurs, in which a judge who
has lost his mind agrees to judge a dog who has stolen a chicken. He invokes innumerable laws,
including a paragraph from the Justinian Code (Si quis canis, Digeste D6, paragrapho, messieurs,
caponibus….). The damage may have been done by the broadly Roman origins of continental
European law but that would omit the fact that Roman law – at least that of the Republic – was, for
the most part, practical and rooted in case law. It is doubtless the various codifications that
heightened the legislative and regulatory zeal, to the extent that, in French law, there has been a
proliferation of “false” codes, which are the product of multiple laws being compiled without any
changes being brought to existing legislation. However, it would doubtless be unjust to limit this
criticism to legislation. The constant avalanche of case law in recent years adds to the flood of
legal norms.
It is an expression of a degree of decline in freedom, as legal knowledge is now the preserve of a
coterie of "experts" who control (with varying degrees of success) the foreseeability of a given rule
whilst reserving the right to praise or criticize it. The interested party, reduced to being an
applicant in respect of case law, is “subjected” to the rule more than he understands or approves
of it.
Carbonnier’s powerful assertion that "any law is an evil" echoes the reservations voiced by Portalis,
at the time when the Code civil was drafted: “there must be no pointless laws; they would weaken
the necessary laws; they would compromise the certainty and the majesty of legislation”
(Preliminary Address on the first draft of the Code Civil, 1 Pluviôse IX (21 January 1801)).
Lastly, the final link established between freedom and “mental hygiene” asks the real question: the
normative proliferation of laws and case law is a fundamental challenge to democracy that is
neither explained nor justified by the so-called natural complexity of our society. It is the pride of
modern legislators (often little versed in history) that convinces them of a power that they do not
truly have. Everything is doubtless simply a question of modesty and, ultimately, of “legal
psychology”, to use the author’s own words.
This gargantuan task has not yet begun in national, let alone European, law.
Honorary Board:
Stephen G. Breyer
Michel Fromont
Olivier Dutheillet de Lamothe
Hélène Gaudemet-Tallon
Guy Canivet
Françoise Tulkens
Scientific Board
Editorial Board:
Aurélie Bergeaud-Wetterwald
Jean-Bernard Auby & Mireille Delmas-Marty
Laurent Bloch
Jean-François Brisson
Gordon Anthony
Pascal Combeau
Michel Bouvier
Florence Deboissy
Pierre Brunet
Sophie Delbrel
Giacinto della Cananea
Amane Gogorza
Vlad Constantinesco
Adeline Gouttenoire
James Crawford
Jean Hauser
Joachim Englisch
Marie Lamarche
Frédérique Ferrand
Leïla Lankarani
Jean-François Gaudreault-DesBiens
Florence Lerique
Jean-Louis Halpérin
Valérie Malabat
Herwig Hofmann
Sébastien Martin
Pascale Idoux
Philippe Mozas
Jean-Pierre Laborde
Alain Pariente
Li Bin
Gaël Piette
Kathia Martin-Chenut
Sébastien Platon
Laurent Pech
Jérôme Porta
Marie-Claire Ponthoreau
Christophe Radé
Nikos Scandamis
Aude Rouyère
Jean-Michel Servais
Frédérique Rueda
Denys Simon
Jean Sagot-Duvauroux
Giovanni Tuzet
Jean-Christophe Saint-Pau
Pierre-Yves Verkindt
Sandrine Sana Chaille de Néré
Zhang Li
Sébastien Saunier
Jacques Ziller
Laura Sautonie-Laguionie
Florian Savonitto
Stéphane Schott
Managing Editor:
David Szymczak
Olivier Dubos
Anne-Marie Tournepiche
Patrick Troude-Chastenet
Editor in Chief:
Guillaume Wicker
Rachael Singh
Alexandre Zabalza

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