On 13 March 2017, just weeks before the French presidential elections, marking the end of his mandate, the French Minister of Justice presented a Bill reforming tort law, following a lengthy public consultation. Although not revolutionary, given that it mainly enshrines case-law relating to torts, this long-awaited and somewhat daring reform will most certainly make noise.

A need for reform

The French Civil Code is currently a major construction site, due to growing concerns about its lack of readability. This great renovation was initiated several years ago with the divorce regulation reform (2004) and the security interests reform (2006), followed by reform of the statute of limitation (2008) and more recently, in 2016, by contract law reform, which was adopted by way of government order.

Above all this, the reform of tort law, also referred to as ‘civil liability’, was recently triggered and will be the most hotly debated in parliament, especially given the strong impact it may have on individuals and companies.

To date, French tort law rests only on five articles of the French Civil Code, all of which have remained unchanged since 1804 when the code was implemented. Yet, while the Code, strictly speaking, has not been substantially amended since, tort law has significantly evolved over the past few decades, at the expense of an increasing lack of legal security. This development was notably driven by case-law, which has proved very creative.

According to the instigators and proponents of the reform, if France wants to remain competitive and enjoy an international – or at least European – stature, it is high time to modernise its 200 year old law.

Jul-Sep 2017 issue

Jones Day