A Source-Book on French Law: Public Law--Constitutional and Administrative Law : Private Law--Structure, Contract

By Kahn-Freund; Lévy et al. | Go to book overview

3. Structure

Categories

A. Institutional Categories

a. Civil and criminal law

1. There is no need to explain the difference between civil and criminal law: as in England, a sharp distinction is made between civil and criminal jurisdiction (juridiction répressive or pénale, and juridiction civile).1

2. It is, however, a characteristic feature of French law that the victim of a crime can seek to get compensation in the criminal proceedings instituted either by the public prosecutor or by himself. This is known as action civile and the party who takes advantage of this principle is known as the partie civile. Action civile is distinguished from action publique (that is, criminal prosecution) and means civil action in the criminal court.2

3. The victim of a crime can of course also proceed in the civil court, but there are great advantages (especially with regard to evidence and proof) in making use of the action civile in the criminal courts, as the victim can utilize the evidence collected by the public prosecutor or the juge d'instruction.

4. From the alternative possibilities of proceeding in the civil or in the criminal courts there arise difficult problems of detail, for example, of the need for staying actions or res iudicata etc.

5. It follows that the student of French law will often find very important decisions on questions of the civil law (of delict, for example, on motor accidents) in the jurisprudence of the Chambre criminelle of the Cour de cassation. It has happened, for example in the law of damages, that the Chambre civile and the Chambre criminelle were at variance on important issues.

____________________
1
For the various criminal and civil courts see below.
2
For an example see Cass. crim. 7. 6. 1945, below, Cause illicite.

-206-

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