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Legislation: France: Codes & Legislation

Subjects: Law, Law: Foreign Law

French Codes & Legislation: Finding text online

Codification is a proud feature of the French legal system (Senat Rapport législatif sur les codes)
Part of Napoleon's great vision for a republican France was to achieve a unification of the law across the nation.
This resulted in production of the five "Napoleonic Codes" : the Civil Code & the Code of Civil Procedure, the Criminal Code & the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Commercial Code. These continue - but of course have not been static, having had extensive amendments or re-drafting.

Since then, more codes have been drafted: by the end of the 20th century there were over 40.

The Commission was set up in 1989 to carry on the task of codification, with the goals of keeping the law clear and easy to understand. 

French codes have shelf marks in the range from KV1124 to KV1132.

The official text of French statutes is that as published in the Journal Officiel - Lois et Décrets.

Set up in 1989, the Commission supérieure de codification is the body currently responsible for producing new official codes

Other sources for French legislation

Legislation has not been neglected by commercial publishers, and the LawBod has three serials which include the text of legislation:

Gazette du Palais  Recueil bimestriel  (1987 - )                     Gaz Pal               France 100 G289
Sirey ... lois annotées / Recueil Sirey   (1789 -)                     S / DSL / D        France 100 S619c - e  
Législation / Dalloz-Sirey Législation

Semaine juridique édition générale (1940 - )              JCP G or Sem Jur           France 300 S30

Each journal publishes its own yearly finding aides.  The Table alphabétique will help with subject/keyword searches. Probably the easiest to use is Table chronologique and find the act by date of publication. The

Duvergier / Lois, décrets etc francais    1788-1949         Duv. / Duv. & Boc         France 20 1788
Recueil général des anciennes lois ..    420AD-1789                                           France 20 420

Citations & vocabulary

The principal codes have these abbreviations:

Civil Code C.civ.

New civil procedure code Nouv. C. pr. civ. or N.C.P.C.

Criminal Code C. pén.

Criminal Procedure C. pr. pén.

Commercial Code C. com.

Employment Code C. trav.

  • Lois organiques - dealing with constitutional matters, they are subject to a special procedure (see art.46 Constitution 1958) and are always scrutinised by the Conseil Constitutionnel
  • Lois ordinaires - statutes made by ordinary legislative process
  • Lois référendaires - acts adopted after a public referendum
  • Ordonnances - acts made under powers delegated to the executive by parliament
Règlements (rules issued by ministers or national authorities)
  • Règlements autonomes - in the form of décrets (issuing from President or PM) or arrêtés (issuing from delegates eg ministers, a préfet or a mayor)  under powers vested in the government by the Constitution
  • Règlements d'application - décrets which add detail to acts of parliament

Layout of French statutes

  1. First comes the statute number - made up of calendar year & unique place in that year's Journal Officiel- followed by date of promulgation
  2. Title. There is no equivalent to the short title of English acts. Important laws are often cited by the surname of minister or MP who initiated the bill (eg modern abortion law dates from Loi Veil (1975)) or a recognised abbreviation develops eg PACS.
  3. Enacting formula. This first indicates the route: adoption by one or both houses of parliament, or after a referendum, and whether it has been scrutinised by the Conseil Constitutionnel. Then comes the crucial "Le President de la République promulgue la loi dont la teneur suit:."
  4. The body of the act. Lois are usually made up of a number articles, sometimes in turn subdivided into indented paragraphs called alinéas (al.). In some acts, the articles (though keeping one sequence of numbering) are grouped into numbered Titres (or Chapitres). Throughout the logic of general to specific is maintained.
  5. Final articles will deal with any particular commencement details. The date a loi comes into force is usually that of its publication in the JO.