1 – Who?
– Lawyers: there is no split profession and ‘French avocats’ undertake the advocacy;
– Judges: lay judges before commercial courts and employement tribunals; professional judges (civil servants) before civil courts and courts of appeal;
2 – How?
– French judges mainly rely on written submissions and evidence;
– There is no disclosure process (each party discloses the evidence it wishes to disclose) ;
– There is no sophisticated system of affidavits or witness statements;
– The trial itself is much shorter than in the UK (only one to two hours for a big commercial case);
3 – Where?
– The first instance courts are either commercial courts (Tribunal de Commerce) for commercial disputes or civil courts (Tribunal d’Instance or Tribunal de Grande Instance) for disputes involving a non-business persons;
– There is a special court for employment disputes (called the Conseil des Prud’hommes);
– Appeal is a right granted to every litigant (no leave to appeal required);
– The highest French court for private law is the Cour de Cassation. It’s a second appeal degree.
(It only rules on legal issues and does not re-examine facts);
4 – How much and how long?
– The cost will vary depending on how big and complex the case is. In broad terms it is fair to say that litigating in France is less expensive than it is in the UK or the US;
– There is no system of costs (the loser can get away with token costs payable to the winner);
– There is no equivalent of the English Part 36 offer;
– It takes roughly 12 to 18 months to obtain a first instance judgment and another 18 to 24 months for an appeal judgment;
– Mediation is slowly developing in France as an alternative to litigation, although it is not as developed as in the UK. At Hammonds Hausmann we are trying to develop it.
One last piece of advice. Whenever you’re contemplating or facing litigation in France, or involved in a dispute where one of the parties is French, do give the Paris CDR people a call for preliminary advice – it’s quick and can save you a lot of time and money!