The following is a guest post by Nicolas Boring, Foreign Law Specialist for France and French-speaking countries in the Law Library’s Global Legal Research Center. Nicolas has previously written a post for In Custodia Legis on the history of subsoil rights in France titled Napoleon Bonaparte and Mining Rights in France.
As one might expect, the Library of Congress holds a very extensive collection on French law in both English and French. If one just types the search phrase [French AND law] in the Library of Congress online catalog in the Quick Search box, the search yields over 10,000 hits! These include many books, such as the 1724 The History of the Origine of the French Laws by Claude Fleury that might be of more interest to a historian than to a modern legal practitioner. The Library of Congress collection also contains a great number of French-language books on French law: the search phrase [Droit AND France] brings up well over 5,000 titles.
The collection includes some very good English-language books which provide an introduction for a researcher to French law and the French legal system. An excellent starting point for someone unfamiliar with the French legal system would be Introduction to French Law by George Bermann and Etienne Picard (eds.). This book provides a solid basic understanding of seventeen different fields of law, such as constitutional law, tax law, and civil procedure, each dealt with in a separate chapter written by an expert in that particular field. It is interesting to note that one of these chapters is dedicated to European law, which is appropriate given that European Union law has a major influence on French law.
Another work which gives an excellent explanation of the French legal system as a whole is Principles of French law by John Bell, Sophie Boyron and Simon Whittaker. This work starts out with an overview of the legal system (the sources of law, the court institutions, judicial personnel), before discussing specific areas of French law. The specific areas of law discussed are organized in a logical manner, divided in three sections: procedural law, public law, and private law.
Eva Steiner’s French law: a comparative approach must also be mentioned as a good resource for anyone wishing to understand the French legal system. Steiner focuses much of her book on the various processes that go into making and enforcing law. Indeed, she devotes over half of the book to how laws are made (“Part I: The Law-Making Process”), how laws are applied (“Part II: The Method of Deciding Cases”), and even how actors of the legal system are trained (“Part III: Legal Education”). As the title of her book indicates, Steiner takes a comparative approach, and often compares and contrasts French law with other legal systems, often the English legal system: Steiner teaches both French and English law at King’s College London).
As is the case in many other countries, including the United States, the French legal system has a written constitution as its main foundation. Those wishing to learn about this central element of French law would be interested in reading Sophie Boyron’s “The constitution of France: a contextual analysis,” and David Marrani’s “Dynamics in the French constitution: decoding French republican ideas.” Both of these works focus on the current French Constitution (the 1958 Constitution, founding what is commonly called the Fifth Republic), and discusses France’s sometimes tumultuous constitutional history. (note: France has had several constitutions since the 1789 French Revolution). They also provide a good understanding of the constitution’s place in contemporary French society, and discuss the relationship between European law and French constitutional law.
One of the most salient aspects of French law is its extensive codification. The most famous code, of course, is the Code Civil, which was originally developed under Napoleon more than 200 years ago. Readers will be able to find copies of the original 1804 Napoleonic code as well as the latest version of the code civil and many other versions that were published in-between. The other principal codes, such as the Penal Code or the administrative code, are there as well. Most are unavailable in English, unfortunately, but the collection nevertheless includes recent (2012/2013) English-language translations of the commercial code (“The French Commercial Code in English”) and of the code of civil procedure (“The French Code of Civil Procedure in English”).
To conclude, it should be noted that these highlights really only scratch the surface of the Law Library of Congress’ collection. We do our best to keep this collection up-to-date and growing, so that it always remains an invaluable resource for anyone wishing to conduct research on French law.