France - Judicial system
There are two types of lower judicial courts in France, the civil courts (471 tribunaux d'instance and 181 tribunaux de grande instance in 1985, including overseas departments) and the criminal courts (tribunaux de police for petty offenses such as parking violations, tribunaux correctionnels for criminal misdemeanors). The function of the civil courts is to judge conflicts arising between persons; the function of the criminal courts is to judge minor infractions (contraventions) and graver offenses (délits) against the law. The most serious crimes, for which the penalties may range to life imprisonment, are tried in assize courts (cours d'assises); these do not sit regularly but are called into session when necessary. They are presided over by judges from the appeals courts. In addition, there are special commercial courts (tribunaux de commerce), composed of judges elected among themselves by tradesmen and manufacturers, to decide commercial cases; conciliation boards (conseils de prud'hommes), made up of employees and employers, to decide their disputes; and professional courts with disciplinary powers within the professions. Special administrative courts (tribunaux administratifs) deal with disputes between individuals and government agencies. The highest administrative court is the Council of State (Conseil d'État).
From the lower civil and criminal courts alike, appeals may be taken to appeals courts (cours d'Appel), of which there were 27 in 2003. Judgments of the appeals courts and the courts of assize are final, except that appeals on the interpretation of the law or points of procedure may be taken to the highest of the judicial courts, the Court of Cassation in Paris. If it finds that either the letter or spirit of the law has been misapplied, it may annual a judgment and return a case for retrial by the lower courts. The High Court of Justice (Haute Cour de Justice), consisting of judges and members of parliament, is convened to pass judgment on the president and cabinet members if a formal accusation of treason or criminal behavior has been voted by an absolute majority of both the National Assembly and the Senate. The death penalty was abolished in 1981.
The Conseil Constitutionnel, created by the 1958 Constitution, is now the only French forum available for constitutional review of legislation. Challenges to legislation may be raised by the president of the republic, the prime minister, the president of the Senate, the president of the National Assembly, sixty senators, or sixty deputies of the National Assembly during the period between passage and promulgation (signature of president). Once promulgated, French legislation is not subject to judicial review.
The French judiciary is fully independent from the executive and legislative branches. The judiciary is subject to European Union mandates, which guide national law. This has been the case in the Court of Cassation since 1975, in the Council of State since 1989, and now even in the civil courts.