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France: IALS Library Guides

An introduction to legal research in the jurisdiction of France

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Last updated:

Alice Tyson, November 2019

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France (la République Française) is a unitary state and Republic, governed by the Constitution of the Fifth Republic (4 October 1958). It is a civil law country with a legal system based on a hierarchy of legal sources (also known as the 'hierachy of norms'). Sources of law include the Constitution, international treaties, EU law, and the national law of France. France’s head of state is the directly elected President. The President is chief of the executive branch of government and presides over the cabinet (Conseil des Ministres). The Prime Minister leads the government. He or she is appointed by the President, based on the parliamentary majority.

The IALS Library has a good 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 Lexis360 and Le Doctrinal offer academic users onsite access to electronic collections of legislation, case law, commentary and journals.

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

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French legislation includes the "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.

Session laws

Session laws are published in the Journal Officiel de la République Française. Legifrance makes available the laws published in the Journal Officiel for free (1947 to date). Texts from June 2004 to date are certified with an electronic signature.

Academic researchers at IALS Library can also access the Journal Officiel from both Lexis360 and Le Doctrinal. Currently, both Lexis360 and Le Doctrinal are only available onsite at IALS Library.

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


Collections of the legislation in force are known as codes. The codes are in effect a framework for the major branches of the law. Many current codes are available on Legifrance in French, with some in English too.

Academic researchers at IALS can find codes on the Electronic Law Library, on both Lexis360 and Le Doctrinal. Lexis360 reproduces Legifrance codes, some with added annotations/comments written by authors, academics and practitioners.

IALS Library regularly receives updated print 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 around 20 current volumes are available. These are easily recognised by their red covers, and many previous editions are in the reserve collection. The codes offer a systematic and thematic treatment of the current law and are the best starting point to identify the law on a particular topic. The Codes Dalloz can also be a good source of law which is not code. They include many relevant pieces of legislation (lois, ordonnances, décrets, arrêtes, etc) as well as summaries of relevant jurisprudence (case law) and references to doctrinal writing.

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Finding legislation online

Free online resources

Legifrance is the official portal offering public access to the legislation of France currently in force. "Les autres textes législatifs et réglementaires" 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 de signature" or "date de publication" - date signed or date published
  • "recherche textuelle" - text search

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.

Legifrance makes available the laws published in the Journal Officiel for free (1947 – to date). Texts from June 2004 to date are certified with an electronic signature.

Guides to using Legifrance are availble at

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

Lexis360 includes:

  • Codes with annotations or commentary
  • Journal Officiel

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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

In France there are two separate court systems; the judicial system (which comprises civil and criminal courts and is known as l'ordre judiciaire) and the administrative system. A diagram showing the hierachy of the civil and criminal courts in the judicial system is available on the Ministry of Justice website at Appeals from the courts of first instance are heard by one of appeal courts (Cours d'appel) and then the highest court in the system; the Cour de Cassation. Administrative cases are heard initially in the Tribunal Administratif and may go on appeal to the Cour Administrative d’appel. The highest administrative court is the Conseil d’Etat.

The Constitutional Council (Conseil Constitutionnel) is concerned with the constitutionality of legislation and the regularity of elections. It sits outside of the two court systems mentioned above.

Official series and websites

Cour de Cassation

Decisions from the Cour de Cassation are published in the following series of law reports, which the Institute Library holds from 1986 to 2007.

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.

Decisions of the Cour de Cassation from the early 1960s onwards are now available on Legifrance under Jurisprudence. Some "grands arrêts" and "arrêts sélectionnés" are published on the website of the Cour de Cassation.

Conseil d'Etat

The decisions of the Conseil d'Etat are published in:

Recueil des décisions du Conseil d'Etat, du Tribunal des Conflits et des jugements des tribunaux administratifs, 1821- ; (IALS: 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. A selection are available in English at Decisions of the Conseil d'Etat are available on Legifrance under Jurisprudence.

Conseil Constitutionnel

Decisions of the Conseil Constitutionnel are available on Legifrance under Jurisprudence.

Commercial subscription databases

The Jurisprudence section on Lexis360 is a good source for case law. The database includes decisions of the Conseil constitutionnel, Conseil d'Etat, Cour de cassation, Cours d'appel and other French courts. Many of the cases include added commentary and analysis.

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

Commercial print sources

Other than the official series and websites, court decisions can be found in 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. The three recueils généraux are:

  • Recueil Dalloz 
  • Semaine Juridique
  • Gazette du Palais

Other printed sources at IALS to try:

  • Recueil des Décisions du Conseil d'Etat for CE decisions (IALS: 1905 -)
  • Bulletin des Arrêts de la Cour de Cassation for decisions of the Cour de Cassation (IALS: 1986 - 2007)
  • Droit Administratif for selected decisions in administrative law (IALS: 1964 -)

Other online resources for finding decisions

Legifrance provides a useful list of links to decisions and other documentation from the courts

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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The database Lexis360 includes a section called Encyclopédies, where users can access a collection of more than 50 JurisClasseurs and other legal encyclopedias. These are regularly revised. The encyclopédies include collections of texts, commentaries and case law.

IALS Library holds print copies of Encyclopédie juridique Dalloz titles including Répertoire de droit civil, Répertoire de droit public et administratif and Répertoire de droit international. Most of these works are looseleafs which are no longer updated at IALS and are shelved in the reserve collection. See the catalogue for full details.

Another encyclopaedic work shelved in the reserve collection is Juris-Classeurs, published by Editions Techniques. This work is in loose-leaf format, but is no longer updated at IALS. 

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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. 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. 

Dupre de Boulois X, Droit des libertés fondamentales (Presses universitaires de France 2018)

Favoreu L, Droit constitutionnel (21st edn, Dalloz 2018)

Merle P, Droit commercial : sociétés commerciales (Dalloz 2018)

Perrot R, Institutions judiciaires (17th edn  LGDJ  une marque de Lextenso 2018)

​Saint-Alary-Houin C, Droit des entreprises en difficulté (11th edn, LGDJ  une marque de Lextenso 2018)

Stefani G, Procédure pénale (26th edn, Dalloz 2017)

Terre F, Droit civil: law familie (Dalloz 2018)

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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 and others, Principles of French law (2nd edn, OUP 2008)

Elliott C and others, French legal system (2nd edn, Pearson / Longman 2006)

Steiner E, French law: a comparative approach (2nd edn, OUP 2018)


The French code of civil procedure in English, 2017 translated by Philip Raworth (Thompson Reuters 2017)

The French civil code translated by Tony Weir (UCL Press 2006)

The French commercial code in English translated by Philip Raworth (Thomson Reuters 2018)

Other recent works in English include

Bouche N, Intellectual property law in France (3rd edn, Wolters Kluwer 2017)

Despax M, Labour law in France (2nd edn, Wolters Kluwer 2017)

Duguet A, Medical law in France (2nd edn, Kluwer Law International 2018)

Lagesse P, Labour and employment compliance in France (6th edn, Kluwer Law International 2018)

Vogel L, French merger control (LexLaw 2018)

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Printed journals

The Institute holds several French law journals. These include:

Archives de philosophie du droit (IALS: 1952-)

Droit d'auteur (IALS: 1953-1964)

Droit maritime français (IALS: 1927-)

Droits: revue française de théorie juridique (IALS: 1985-)

Revue administrative (IALS: 1955-2014)

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

Revue française de droit administratif (IALS: 1985-)

Revue française de droit aérien et spatial (IALS: 1929-)

Revue génerale de droit international public (IALS: 1910-)

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

Revue historique de droit français et étranger (IALS: 1922-)

Revue juridique de l'environnement (IALS: 1984-)

Revue trimestrielle de droit civil (IALS: 1902-)

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

Revue trimestrielle de droit européen (IALS: 1980-)

Electronic journals and journal indexes

Lexis360 has over 40 law journals. Some are historic i.e. they may not include issues up to present day.

Le Doctrinal contains an index to French law journals. More than 300 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.

A small collection of full-text journals is available on Leixs Library International (enter Lexis Library International from the Sources tab of Lexis Library). This includes La Semaine Juridique - Edition générale, La Semaine Juridique - Entreprise et Affaires, La Semaine Juridique - Notariale et Immobilière, La Semaine Juridique - Social, Revue Loyers et Copropriété and Revue Procédures. At the time of writing it was not possible to browse the journals but they could be searched. 

The Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals covers journals from non-common law jurisdictions, international law and comparative law. It can be used to identify articles in French law journals on a particular legal topic.

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Online resources Portail du Droit Français: a gateway site on French law

Eagle-i Internet Portal for Law: a guide to good quality law resources on the internet, including many concerned with French law

Germain's French Law Guide: a guide to the French legal system sources of French law written by Claire Germain

GlobaLex has an article on Researching French Law, by Stéphane Cottin and Jérôme Rabenou, published in June 2017

Jurisguide: guides to sources of French, European and international law produced by Cujas University library in collaboration with eleven other university libraries

The Judiciary in France: a guide to the French judiciary published in English by the Ministry of Justice

Legifrance: 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 providing overviews of the key organs of governance and law making in France

World Law: France: a resource guide to French law on the WorldLII site

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