Le Tribunal de Commerce de Paris – Paris Commercial Court
The Paris Commercial Court in its present form was established in 1792. It is the successor to the Paris merchant court (Juridiction Consulaire de Paris) which was created in the XVIth century pursuant to a Royal order issued in 1563.
The jurisdiction of the Court is established by law in accordance with the provisions of Articles L 721-3 and L 721-4 of the Commercial Code of France (Code de Commerce). It requires that disputes:
1) Relating to commitments made by merchants, credit institutions and financial institutions;
2) Between commercial companies (including those relating to unfair competition);
3) Dealing with commercial transactions;
4) Regarding promissory notes issued in connection with commercial transactions;
will be heard by the commercial courts.
There are 134 commercial courts in France, of which Paris is by far the largest with 180 judges. It is headed by its President who is accountable to the First President of the Paris Court of Appeal.
Judges are elected by representatives of the business world, for successive mandates of periods which cannot exceed a total of 14 years. They are drawn from the business world, where at the time of their first election, they generally hold senior positions in all types of business activity. Thus, judges in the Paris Commercial Court have been, and some continue to be, business entrepreneurs, general counsels for major corporations, senior managers in engineering, trade, insurance, banking and financial services. Upon joining the Court, all receive intensive legal training from lawyers, law professors and professional judges.
The fact that they are peer-elected judges and come from the business world means that they are aware of the specific needs of the business community and understand its rules and practices. Their experience of the business world reflects a thorough knowledge of its technical as well as commercial aspects. The head of the treasury of a multinational corporation, or bank, can grasp the intricacies of complex financial transactions, and likewise, the chief engineer of a construction company will comprehend the technical specifications applicable to an important industrial project.
The Paris Commercial Court handles over 6000 cases every year. Each case is heard by three judges, or by one ‘Reporting’ Judge, if the parties so elect. The average duration of a case from the introductory writ to the issuance of the judgment is 14 months.
The Paris Commercial Court has 12 chambers dedicated to litigation; these are specialized in fields such as banking, distribution and franchising, construction, transportation and insurance, company law, unfair competition, money and financial markets, the digital economy and media, among others.
In addition, for over a decade the Paris Commercial Court has had an international chamber (The International Chamber) to hear cases in which the contracting parties have selected Paris as their preferred forum. In such cases most often the defendant is a non-resident, or the governing law is foreign. Judges sitting in the International Chamber are bilingual (French/English); most have studied or worked in English-speaking countries. In addition, the Chamber may draw on other specialized chambers of the Paris Commercial Court for judges who have specific expertise in the case at hand.
As a rule, the International Chamber endeavors to offer foreign litigants the flexibility and ease of access that business cases require. Whereas procedural acts (basically the introductory writs and the judgment) will be in French, all other communications, written or oral, including the submission of evidence, may be in English.
It is worth noting that the judge will ensure the protection of confidential business information and limit its communication and distribution to named recipients.
The rules of procedure applicable to cases heard by the International Chamber are outlined in a Protocol on Procedural Rules Applicable to the International Chamber of the Paris Commercial Court, available on the web:
Foreign counsels will be able to directly assist their clients before the International Chamber if they are members of a Bar Council located in a member country of the European Union. Counsels from non-EU countries are authorized, as a matter of principle, to attend hearings and possibly assist their foreign clients by taking part in the debates, alongside a member of the Paris Bar.
Since April 2018, a fully-functioning appellate system has been put in place with the establishment of a dedicated International Chamber within the Paris Court of Appeal. Decisions of the International Chamber of the Paris Commercial Court may be appealed before the International Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal.
In France, the Court of Appeal holds full rehearings, re-examining both the facts and the application of the law. Insofar as facts are concerned, judges in the court of appeal are often guided by the findings and statements made by the lower court. This is especially so in the case of Paris Commercial Court judges, given their grasp of the matters at hand.
In effect, the rate of appeal on decisions rendered by the Paris Commercial Court is low, under 13%, and the percentage of decisions overturned on all decisions by the Paris Commercial Court, is below 3%.
Finally, it may be worth noting that in France the cost of access to justice is competitive compared to that in other European countries. Clearly, this is one of the comparative advantages of the Paris Commercial Court.
International Commercial Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal
The International commercial chamber of the Paris Court of appeal (ICCP-CA) was created in February 2018 by the signature of a protocol agreement between the Paris Bar and the Court of appeal of PARIS, under the supervision of the French ministry of justice.
The purpose of the creation of the International commercial chamber of the Paris Court of appeal is to offer a full set of jurisdictions with two levels (the international commercial Paris court of first instance and the new international chamber of the Paris court of appeal) which is able to better adapt the French legal system to contemporary economic and international challenges. The aim is to facilitate access to French commercial courts for transnational disputes
Scope of the ICCP-CA’s jurisdiction:
In addition to appeals from decisions of the Paris first instance International Chamber, the court of appeal’s international chamber has jurisdiction over disputes arising from international economic and financial relations, including those concerning:
-Commercial contracts and the breach of commercial relations,
-Transactions on financial instruments, master agreements, contracts pertaining to financial instruments and financial products,
-Claims for compensation following anti-competitive practices,
It also has jurisdiction over international disputes if parties have specifically so chosen.
Rules of proceedings:
The protocol agreement signed with the Paris Bar provides also the modalities by which cases will be examined and judged. It also provides the rules relating to the use of English in court: although French is mandatory for the writ of claims, briefs and the decision, untranslated English-language documents may be submitted nonetheless.
English language can also be used during hearings. The ICCP-CA allows more flexibility in the admission of evidence: while oral submissions before the court are normally in French, permission to speak English may be given, upon request, to witnesses and professionals such as experts or even counsels.
Parties who find it more convenient to have simultaneous English translation may choose an interpreter for the hearings, and cover the expenses in advance.
A case management conference is organized to identify and understand what the real issues in dispute are and to obtain the agreement of the parties to apply the protocol.
The chamber shall also usually exercise its broad case management powers to direct how the case should be conducted going forward, including making the first order for directions and setting a timetable for all the steps up to trial. Parties may also request many features more commonly found in adversarial common law jurisdictions such as mandatory disclosure of documents, witness oral evidence in court.
Thus, a mandatory timetable for the proceedings shall be set and includes:
-The respective dates upon which the Parties will exchange their briefs,
-The date on which the Parties will have to appear in person,
-The date of examination of witnesses and experts,
-The date on which legal counsel shall deliver their oral arguments,
-The date of closure of the proceedings,
-The date of the decision of the Court.
Whether the parties choose to enter into the contract under French law or any other national law, the international chamber enforces the applicable law chosen by the parties.
Judgments are rendered by a full bench division of the Court (a panel of three highly qualified judges).
The judgments of the courts are delivered in French together with a copy of a sworn English translation thereof.
Decisions handed down are enforceable throughout the European Union without any exequatur procedure, that is without extension of judgments (in compliance with the provisions of the so-called “Brussels I” regulation of 2012).
This new chamber in the court of appeal of Paris should offer parties a new and secure venue for the resolution of their transnational disputes in Paris, within the boundaries of the EU.