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An introduction to legal research in the jurisdiction of France
Last Updated: Sep 18, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates
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Last updated:

Lisa Davies, August 2013

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    The IALS Library has a good comprehensive collection on the law of France: legislation, codes, law reports, print and electronic finding tools, academic treatises, and several academic law journals. As with all jurisdictions, priority is normally given to primary sources (statutes, cases) though with the greater importance of what the French call "doctrine" or scholarly legal literature in continental legal systems, the definition has to be broadened to include standard texts on the major fields of law.  The databases LexisNexis Juris Classeur and Le Doctrinal Plus offer academic users on-site access to comprehensive electronic collections of legislation, case law, commentary and journals.

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    Primary sources: Codes and statutes

    The consolidated version of the Constitution of 1958 is available on Legifrance in French, and on the website of the Conseil Constitutionnnel. It is also on Hein Online (in French, English and other languages).

    The sources of law for France include international treaties, EU law, and the national law of France. French legislation includes the Constitution, "lois" passed by the French Parliament (Le Parlement, which consists of the Assemblée Nationale and the Sénat), "ordonnances" which are governmental measures approved by Parliament for a limited period, "décrets" or decrees of the President or the Prime Minister, and "arrêtés" issued by ministers. A basic and useful outline of the sources and types of French law, A propos de l'ordre juridique français, is available on the Legifrance website.

    The main print sources for the legislation of France at IALS are the Codes Dalloz, of which about 20 current volumes are available, including the Code civil, the Code pénal, the Code de commerce, etc. These are easily recognised by their red covers, and many previous editions are in the reserve collection. New editions are regularly received. The codes offer a systematic and thematic treatment of the current law. The Codes Dalloz include many relevant pieces of legislation (lois, ordonnances, décrets, arrêtes, etc) as well as summaries of relevant jurisprudence (case law) and copious references to doctrinal writing. The codes are the best starting point to find the current law on a particular topic.

    Certified authentic texts of French legislation are available on Le Journal Officiel électronique authentifié, free on the web (June 2004 – to date).  The texts are certified with an electronic signature. In general, all laws published in the JO come into force on the day following publication. Users can select a particular issue of the JO by date, and can view the legislation in html or pdf versions.

    Legifrance also offers the laws published in the Journal Officiel (1990 – to date) but not the certified authentic versions. More search options are available in the Legifrance version.  Many current codes are available on Legifrance in French, with some in English too. This site also offers law by theme to aid subject searching.

    Academic researchers at IALS can find the Journal Officiel and the Codes on the Electronic Law Library, on both LexisNexis Juris Classeur and Le Doctrinal Plus.

    Of historic interest, IALS has the Bulletin des lois (1789-1931).

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    Finding legislation online

    Free online resources

    The best starting point to find legislation is Legifrance. Legifrance is the official portal offering public access to the legislation of France currently in force. "Les textes en vigueur" offers a template to search for legislation by

    • "nature du texte" - type of legislation: loi, décret, etc.
    • "numéro du texte" - the number of the text, e.g. 2002-73
    • "date du texte" - date signed or date published
    • "recherche par des mots" - by title word or word in text

    It is possible to find all the above citations using these methods. Users of Legifrance are reminded that the printed Journal Officiel de la République Française is the sole authoritative version of the legislation. The Journal Officiel has its own web site, but only offers full text of the most recent issue. So it is best to use Legifrance for efficient and comprehensive searching of French legislation.

    Collections of the legislation in force are known as Codes. The codes are in effect a framework for the major branches of the law. Among the well-known codes are the Code Civil and the Code Pénal. The full consolidated and official versions of the codes are available in French on Legifrance. Also available on this site are English versions of the main codes, including civil and criminal. Useful glossaries explain and translate French legal terms into English.

    Commercial subscription databases

    The following databases are available onsite at IALS for academic users.

    Le Doctrinal includes:

    • full text primary material for France including the Journal Officiel, the Codes, and decisions of the higher courts: Sources Officielles Françaises
    • the treaties, legislation and court decisions of the European Union, in French: Sources Officielles Européennes

    Lexis Nexis JurisClassuer includes:

    • législation consolidée (from 1539) including almost all Codes and many international agreements
    • Journal Officiel , full text since 1990.  Legislation for the European Union is also available

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    Finding legislation in print at IALS

    The clear and straightforward approach is to check the "table chronologique" for the relevant year in each of the 3 following recueils généraux. This gives an index of legislation by date published, and refers you to the relevant pages in the receuil for the full text. You may have to search in the subsequent year's "table chronologique" also. Subject or keyword indexes are also available, known as "tables alphabétiques", but you need to check under different terms in French in order to search thoroughly. Laws are not listed alphabetically by title.

    In short, you can search for French legislation as follows:

    Gazette du Palais

    • Table chronologique de législation
    • Table alphabétique de legislation

    Recueil Dalloz

    • Table chronologique des lois, décrets, etc.
    • Table alphabétique des textes législatifs et réglementaires

    Semaine Juridique

    • Table alphabétique
    • Table chronologique des textes

    Collections of the legislation in force are known as Codes. The codes are in effect a framework for the major branches of the law. IALS Library regularly receives updated versions of the Code Civil and the Code Pénal , in addition to many other compilations of French law published by Dalloz. The series is known as "Codes Dalloz" (formerly "Petits Codes Dalloz") and Mégacode. Remember that the Codes Dalloz are shelved with books (e.g. GO13.D.1, etc.) and not at GO13.E

    The codes can also be a good source of law which is not code. The appendix in each volume of code contains lots of related legislation.

    For example, if you want to find law on juvenile delinquency, or if you want to find a particular piece of legislation on juvenile delinquency you can check in the latest available edition of the Code Pénal (Dalloz), and use the Table Alphabétique and the Table Chronologique, as follows:

    • Look up "enfance délinquante" in the table alphabétique and it refers you to various articles in the Code or to legislation in the Appendice
    • Look up the table chronologique by the date of the legislation you require to see if it is included in the Appendice

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    Citing legislation

    Here is a selection of citations to French legislation. The reference in brackets in each citation is to the Journal Officiel de la République Française. This series is not held by IALS Library, but it is available free on Legifrance.

    Loi n° 2000-196 du 6 mars 2000, Loi instituant un Défenseur des enfants

    (J.O n° 56 du 7 mars 2000 page 3536)

    Décret n° 2000-601 du 30 juin 2000, Décret relatif au régime d'assurance chômage des travailleurs privés d'emploi

    (J.O n° 151 du 1 juillet 2000 page 9963)

    Ordonnance n° 2000-550 du 15 juin 2000, Ordonnance relative aux parties législatives des livres VII (Dispositions sociales) et IX (Santé publique vétérinaire et protection des végétaux) et à la mise à jour des parties législatives des livres Ier (Aménagement et équipement de l'espace rural), III (Exploitation agricole) et VI (Production et marchés) du code rural

    (J.O n° 273 du 25 novembre 2000 page 18790)

    Arrêté du 25 mai 1999 modifiant les arrêtés du 24 janvier 1994 modifiés relatifs respectivement aux caractéristiques du gazole et du gazole grand froid

    (J.O n° 146 du 26 juin 1999 page 9377)

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    Case law

    Official sources

    There is only one official series of French law reports, which the Institute Library holds from 1986:

    Bulletin des arrêts de la Cour de Cassation. (Paris: Imprimerie des Journaux Officiels, 1798-)

    The Bulletin is split into two concurrent series - Chambres civiles and Chambre Criminelle and forms part of the Journal Officiel de la République française.

    Some "grands arrêts" and "arrêts sélectionnés" are published on the website of the Cour de Cassation.

    The decisions of the Conseil d'Etat are published under its patronage by Sirey as:

    Recueil des décisions du Conseil d'Etat, du Tribunal des Conflits et des jugements des tribunaux administratifs, 1821- ; (IALS from 1905). It is known by the name of its 19th century editor, Lebon.

    Summaries of important decisions are available on the website of the Conseil d'Etat.

    More than 300,000 decisions of the French courts are now available on Legifrance under Jurisprudence.  They include the decisions of the Cour de Cassation from the early 1960s onwards, and important decisions of the appeal courts. Users can search for decisions by the date of the decision, the court and by themes or keywords.  Decisions of the Conseil d'Etat and of the Conseil Constitutionnel are likewise available.

    Commercial print sources

    Other than the official series and websites, the main source for decisions of all types of court are the three recueils généraux.The most common way of looking up decisions of French courts is by the date of the decision or by the subject matter or keyword of the case. Indexes of party names are uncommon.

    Begin with the three recueils généraux as follows:

    Recueil Dalloz (formerly Recueil Dalloz Sirey)

    • Table chronologique des décisions de jurisprudence (cases indexed by date of decision)
    • Table des noms des parties (index of party names)
    • Table alphabétique des décisions de jurisprudence (subject index)

    Semaine Juridique (Juris Classeur Périodique)

    • Table chronologique - indexes decisions of various courts by date
    • Table des matières - subject index of decisions

    Gazette du Palais

    • Table chronologique - by date, then by subject and paragraph number
    • Mots clés - keyword index to cases
    • Also indexes all 3 recueils, so it can refer you to reports in the Semaine Juridique or the Recueil Dalloz

    Other printed sources at IALS to try:

    • Recueil des Décisions du Conseil d'Etat for CE decisions
    • Bulletin des Arrêts de la Cour de Cassation for decisions of the Cour de Cassation. IALS has this series from1986, both for the Chambre Civile and the Chambre Criminelle
    • Droit Administatif (Juris-Classeur) for selected decisions in administrative law. IALS has this series from 1972

    Commercial subscription databases

    The Jurisprudence section on Lexis Nexis JurisClasseur is a good source for case law. This database is available onsite at IALS for academic users. You can search for cases by party name, court, keyword and free-text. Case law includes the full text of decisions of the Cour de Cassation, the Conseil d'Etat and various Cours d'Appel. Coverage is selective for some of the appeal courts and tribunals. Coverage begins with decisions from 1804, with a more comprehensive treatment since 1985. Many decisions are in summary form.

    Le Doctrinal includes a digest of, and commentary on, significant French court decisions: Jurisprudence Clé.

    Free online resources

    Droit.Org  and World Law: France are internet gateways which offer some selected coverage of jurisprudence or case law.

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    Citing cases

    Here is a selection of citations to decisions of French courts:


    What it means

    Cass. Crim., 28 juin 2000, BC no 251, p.741

    A decision of the Cour de Cassation, Chambre Criminelle, of 28 June 2000, and reported in the Bulletin des Arrêts de la Cour de Cassation, 2000, report number 251, page 741

    1997 TC 12 mai

    A decision of the Tribunal des Conflits, of a case heard on 12 May 1997

    1996 CE 31 juillet

    A decision of the Conseil d'État of 31 July 1996

    1995 CA Rennes, 11 mai

    A decision of the Cour d'Appel de Rennes, of 11 May 1995

    1995 CA Toulouse, 20 juin

    A decision of the Cour d'Appel de Toulouse, of 20 June 1995

    1994 Crim. 9 mai

    A decision of the Cour de Cassation, Chambre Criminelle, of 9 May 1994

    1994 Civ. (1) 12 juillet

    A decision of the Cour de Cassation, Chambre Civile, of 12 July 1994

    1993 CA Paris 15ème ch.B, 24 sept.

    A decision of the Cour d'Appel de Paris, of 24 September 1993

    1993 TGI Aix-en-Provence, 22 déc.

    A decision of the Tribunal de Grand Instance of Aix-en-Provence, of 22 December 1993

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    Academic users of IALS Library will find the full collection of Encyclopédies Juris Classeur on LexisNexis Juris Classeur on the IALS Electronic Law Library.  Fifty one collections are arranged by subject, an equivalent of over 300 volumes, and the whole encyclopedia can be searched or browsed. 

    IALS Library has two major encyclopedic works, each in loose-leaf format, but no longer updated and now shelved in the reserve collection:

    Encyclopédie juridique Dalloz, 2nd edition, published by Dalloz and divided into répertoires covering the main subject areas of law:

    Répertoire de droit civil . 10 volumes plus tables

    Répertoire des sociétés. 5 volumes

    Juris-Classeurs, published by Editions Techniques, again in subject sets, but extending in all to over three hundred bulky A4 binders.       

    The IALS holdings are as follows:

    Droit administratif . 10 binders

    Droit commercial . 9 binders

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    IALS has a good collection of French law books on various topics, with current material on the open shelves and older material kept in the reserve collection.  Publishers include Dalloz, Litec, Harmattan, Presses Universitaires de France and LGDJ, among others. The following list of recent titles has been selected to illustrate briefly the range of subjects and publishers represented in the collection. Search the Library Catalogue for full details of library holdings. 

    Beignier, B et al. Traité de droit de la presse et des médias (Litec 2009)

    Collet, M. Droit fiscal (2nd edn PUF 2009)

    Emerich, Y. La propriété des créances: approche comparative (LGDJ 2007)

    Favoreu, L et al. Droit constitutionnel (12th edn, Dalloz 2009)

    Gavalda, C and Stoufflet, J. Droit bancaire: institutions, comptes, opérations, services (7th edn, LexisNexis 2008)

    Germain, M et al. Traité de droit commercial. Tome 1, volume 2, Les sociétés commerciales (19th edn, LGDJ 2009)

    Jacquemont, A. Droit des entreprises en difficulté (6th ed, LexisNexis and Litec 2009)

    Jacquot, H and Priet, F. Droit de l’urbanisme (6th edn, Dalloz 2008)

    Lebreton, G. Libertés publiques et droits de l’homme (Dalloz 2009)

    Malabat, V et al (eds). La réforme du Code pénal et du Code de procédure civile, opinio doctorum (Dalloz 2009)

    Malaurie, P. Les personnes, les incapacités (3rd edn, Defrénois 2007)

    de Raulin, A et al (eds). Droit, culture et minorités (Harmattan 2009)

    Terré, F. Droit civil: les personnes: personalité, incapacité, protection (8th edn, Dalloz 2012)

    Terré, F. Introduction générale au droit (8th ed, Dalloz 2009)

    Terré, F and Simler, P. Droit civil : les régimes matrimoniaux (6th edn, Dalloz 2011)

    Vericel, M (ed). Les juridictions et juges de proximité : leur role concret en matière d’accès à la justice des petits litiges civiles (Harmattan 2009)

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    English language works on French law

    Most of the Library's materials on French law are in French. Below is a list of selected works in English. Refer to the Library Catalogue for full details of library holdings.


    Bell, J. French legal cultures (Butterworths 2001)

    Bell, J et al. Principles of French law (2nd edn, OUP 2008)

    Elliott, C et al. French legal system (2nd edn, Pearson / Longman 2006)

    Steiner, E. French law: a comparative approach (OUP 2010)


    The French civil code translated with an introduction by John H. Crabb [as amended to July 1, 1994] (Rothman 1995)

    The French penal code of 1994 translated by E.A Tomlinson [as amended to 1 January 1999] (Rothman 1999)

    The French commercial code in English, 2006 translated by Philip Raworth.  (OUP 2006)

    Other works in English include

    Delvolvé, J. et al.  French arbitration law and practice  (Kluwer Law International 2003)

    Elliott, C. French criminal law (Willan 2001)

    Fournet, C. Genocide and crimes against humanity: misconceptions and confusion in French law and practice (Hart 2013)

    Legros, C. Transport law in France (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012)

    Newman, John Charles French tax & business law guide (CCH Editions 1994-)

    Nicholas, B. The French law of contract - 2nd edition. (2nd edn, Clarendon Press 1992)

    Other sources for French texts in English include international publications such as those of the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation (for tax law and treaties), the International Labour Office (for employment laws), and the World Intellectual Property Organization (for copyright and patent legislation).

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    Printed journals

    The Institute has a current subscription to several French legal periodicals that focus on French domestic law. These include the important series in wide areas of law such as:

    Revue administrative (IALS: 1955-)

    Revue de science criminelle et de droit pénal comparé (IALS: 1936-)

    Revue trimestrielle de droit civil (IALS: 1902-)

    Revue trimestrielle de droit commercial et de droit économique (IALS: 1980-)

    as well as several specialized journals, for example:

    Droit d'auteur (IALS: 1953-1964)

    Droit maritime français (IALS: 1927-)

    Revue français de droit aérien (IALS: 1929-1974)

    Revue générale des assurances terrestres (IALS: 1962-1995)

    Electronic journals

    Lexis Nexis JurisClasseur has over 20 journal titles in full text, coverage starting with 2004, but some of the titles of La Semaine Juridique are from 1995 onwards.

    Le Doctrinal contains an index to French law journals. More than 150 journals are indexed, and the database is updated daily.  Some journals of international scope and in English are included in the index.  Data starts from 1993.

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    Online resources

    The following offer, variously, annotated links and guidance to some primary and secondary sources of French law:

    Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire Cujas de droit et de sciences économiques - the Cujas Library in Paris offers on its website links to several sites on French law, and a number of very useful guides to the major sources of the law of France. Portail du Droit Français   - a gateway site on French law

    Legifrance short for Lé, "le service public de la diffusion du droit", is an official French site offering comprehensive access to legislation and case law. - a site published by La Documentation Française, giving access to many official publications and offering the possibility to track legislation in progress.

    Eagle-i Internet Portal for Law- a guide to good quality law resources on the internet.  Possible to browse by jurisdiction and there are over thirty resources on the law of France included.

    World Law: France (a resource guide to French law on the WorldLii site)

    Germain's French law guide (a comprehensive guide, archived on the LLRX site)

    GlobaLex has an article on Researching French Law, by Stéphane Cottin and Jérôme Rabenou, published in 2009.

    Another useful resource is the FLAG Foreign Law Guide (Search on France to discover which UK research and national libraries hold materials on French law).

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