In September 2020, the First President of the French supreme court for private and criminal matters (Cour de Cassation), Ms Chantal Arens, presented the main aspects of the Court’s international strategy for 2020-2022.
The report of this presentation (available here, in French) may be of interest to practitioners and academics dealing with private international law (PIL) issues connected to France.
Here are the key elements of the report and some personal comments.
This “international action plan” of the Cour de Cassation is the result of discussion within the Court and exchanges with institutional partners worldwide. It is based on three main objectives: international reputation, promotion of fundamental values and judicial cooperation.
The first objective is for the Cour de Cassation to gain an international recognition of its qualities as a judicial institution, in particular regarding its working methods (see here) and caselaw. This ambition is also part of a broader goal of promoting the civil law tradition and the French-speaking community worldwide.
Against this backdrop, the website of the Court will be accessible in foreign languages and its landmark judgements will be translated into various languages and accessible online (see, for now, the very few documents available in English). It will be a great advantage for non-French-speaking PIL experts to be able to access the French “living law” in civil and commercial matters. In this respect, the international commercial chamber at the Paris Court of Appeal (ICCP-CA) established in 2018 may surely be seen as a pioneer within the French legal landscape, since its judgements are translated into English (see here).
The second objective is the promotion of the fundamental values and principles of the French judicial system (i.e. independence of justice, legal certainty, “dialogue” between judges, fundamental freedoms). However, these are not specific to France since they are inherent to the European legal order, within the Council of Europe and the European Union.
Regarding transnational judicial dialogue, it can be noticed that the Cour de Cassation is more and more likely to refer to European case law in its own decisions (for a recent example reported on this blog, see here). It may also be noted that the Court submitted to the ECtHR, in October 2018, the first request under Protocol No. 16 in the field of international family law. A PIL issue was at stake, namely the compliance with article 8 of the ECHR of the non-recognition of a foreign birth certificate of a child born abroad as the result of a surrogacy – prohibited in France – (for the request see here and for the advisory opinion see here).
Within the EU legal order, however, one could expect the Cour de Cassation to reinforce its involvement by referring to the CJEU requests of interpretation of EU law (and EU PIL in particular). With respect to judicial Cooperation in civil matters, only two cases submitted by the French Court are currently pending before the Court of justice (and three altogether for France in this field; two were reported here and here), whereas, at the same time, around fifteen preliminary questions from German Courts are pending (following a quick research via the curia case-law search form). A recent judgment of the Cour de Cassation on the scopes of Brussels II bis Regulation and 1996 Hague Convention (reported here) may be seen as an illustration of the reluctance of the French Supreme Court to submit preliminary questions to the CJEU, despite the existence of serious doubts on the interpretation of EU (PIL) law (and its duty to do so pursuant to article 267, §3, TFEU).
International Judicial Cooperation
The third objective is to learn from other legal systems in order to enrich French law. It implies, in particular, the development of transnational exchanges on common legal issues. In this context, international judicial cooperation is crucial.
The Cour de Cassation is a member of various European and international networks such as the Association of the French-speaking Supreme Courts (AHJUCAF) and the network of The Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the Member States of the European Union.
The latter network serves as a forum for exchanges between the European institutions and the national Supreme Courts.
A common portal of case law is also accessible to facilitate the search (and the translation) of national case law within the legal orders of the EU Member States. It should not be confused with the Judicial Network of the European Union (Réseau judiciaire de l’Union européenne, “RJUE”) created more recently on the initiative of the President of the CJUE and the Presidents of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts of the Member States in 2017.
It also provides for a collection of decisions delivered by national courts and tribunals, which are of particular interest for EU law. The creation of such online compendiums of transnational case law is surely of great interest for PIL experts and more efforts (and funds) should be put in their developments (see, by comparison, the unalex and the Lynxlex databases).
*Thanks to my colleague Lukas Rass-Masson (University of Toulouse), a recorded conference on the international strategy of the French Court of Cassation, with Ms First President Chantal Arens, is available here.