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France: Justice Reforms Adopted

(Dec. 6, 2016) On October 12, 2016, the French Parliament adopted a law reforming various aspects of the French justice system. The President promulgated the law on November 18.  (Loi n° 2016-1547 du 18 novembre 2016 de modernisation de la justice du XXIe siècle (1) [Law No. 2016-1547 of 18 November 2016 to Modernize XXIst Century Justice (1)], LEGIFRANCE.)

The main goals of this law are to simplify certain procedures in order to make justice more accessible and to reduce the workload of French judicial institutions. (Jean-Baptiste Jacquin, Divorce, délits routiers, pacs: ce que prévoit la « loi justice du XXIe siècle » [Divorce, Road Traffic Infractions, Civil Unions : What the “XXIst Century Justice Law” Provides], LE MONDE (Oct. 13, 2016).) The law brings changes in a wide variety of judicial areas. The main highlights include:

  • Juvenile correctional courts (tribunaux correctionnels pour mineurs) were eliminated. (Loi No. 2016-1547, art. 29.) These courts had been established in 2011, but were found to be less efficient in dealing with juvenile delinquency than the prior system, under which minors accused of committing criminal infractions were judged by a court for children (tribunal pour enfants). (Jacquin, supra.)
  • Certain driving offenses, such as driving without a license or without insurance, will be automatically punished by a fine of €800 (about US$850), which offenders can pay to avoid having to go through a judicial procedure. (Loi No. 2016-1547, arts. 35 & 36.)
  • A judicial information service is to be formed to help people learn about their rights and about judicial procedures. (Id. art. 2; Loi du 18 novembre 2016 de modernization de la justice du XXIe siècle [Law of 18 November 2016 to Modernize 21st Century Justice], VIE-PUBLIQUE.FR [web portal of the French administration] (Nov. 21, 2016).)
  • Spouses seeking a divorce by mutual consent will need to be represented by separate attorneys (formerly, spouses could be represented by one attorney in amicable divorces), but they will be able to simply have their divorce agreement officially recorded by a notary rather than have to go before a family judge as was previously the case. (Loi No. 2016-1547, art. 50; Jacquin, supra.)
  • Civil unions will, like marriages, be officially recorded at town and city halls, instead of at courthouses. (Loi No. 2016-1547, art. 48.)
  • Transgender individuals who wish to change the gender designation on their birth certificate and other official records will no longer be required to have gone through any surgical operation or other medical treatment beforehand. (Id. art. 56.)
  • Rules of procedure for class actions in the fields of health, discrimination, environment, and digital privacy were largely consolidated and harmonized. (Id. arts. 60-92; Jacquin, supra.)
  • Alternative dispute resolution will be further encouraged. For certain smaller claims, an attempt at ADR will be required before a court is willing to hear the claim. (Loi No. 2016-1547, arts. 4-11.)