Criminal Law

French Criminal Law

Criminal offences in France are broken down into three distinct classes :

Contraventions – (cf. petty offences) – which would include parking and speeding tickets for example are dealt with, if they were to come before a French Court, by the Tribunal de Police.

D̩lits Р(cf. misdemeanours) Рmore serious offences, which might include for example theft, actual bodily harm etc, are dealt with by the Tribunal Correctionnel

Crimes – (cf. felonies) – the most serious types of offence such as murder, rape etc. are heard by the Cour d’Assises.

It should be noted that the French word ‘crime’ is not the translation of ‘crime’ in English.

For French lawyers a ‘crime’ only means a certain class of offence and would be misunderstood if it were used generally to indicate an offence.

The generic word ‘crime’ in English would normally be translated by the French word ‘infraction’.

The Tribunal de Police and the Tribunal Correctionnel do not have juries.

The Cour d’Assises has a jury which is made up of 12 people, being 9 citizens drawn at random from a panel which derives from the electoral register and the three trial Judges.

Cross examination by lawyers does not happen in France and all questions to any party including the accused must ostensibly be asked by the Court.

Most specialist trial lawyers speak little English, in that generally there is no need given that their clientele is usually local to the place in which they practice.

The specialist trial lawyers who do speak good English are mainly to be found in Paris and are often quite expensive to retain.

The different parties who would participate in the prosecution process would include the Police or the Gendarmerie, the Public Prosecutor and the Juge d’Instruction (or Investigating Magistrate).