French Law on the Internet - The Basics and Free Resources


By Emmanuel Barthe



Emmanuel Barthe has a Licence en droit (3-year diploma in French law). He graduated from Ecole de Bibliothécaires Documentalistes (Librarian Researchers' School), and works as a law librarian researcher at BMH Avocats in Paris, France. He is a Member of the Board of Juriconnexion, an association of users of legal databases.  His personal web site can be found at



Published May 2005


Table of Contents



1. French legal web sites: the basics

1.1. What's free and valuable v. what's fee-based and valuable?

1.2. How to use search engines and directories to search for French legal content on the Web

1.3. Lots of documents are still not available in digital format

2. Free resources

2.1. Official, Government maintained, web sites: legislation, case law from the supreme courts

2.2. Parliament documents

2.3. La Documentation française: legal news and quick summaries of French law

2.4. Internet law reviews and law firm publications





This article will focus on French law from a business lawyer's perspective. For a more scholarly perspective, see:


Neither is this article a detailed list of all valuable French legal resources. For such lists (in French), please see:


Here, we will see that major French legal publishers' digital offerings have very recently become mature, while at the same time free access to French law is more and more a reality. The Internet is now a powerful media for those who want to access French law.


This article will become more comprehensive - encompassing fee based resources - in the near future.



1. French legal web sites: the basics


In part 1 of this article, we will begin with a quick summary of the main characteristics one has to know, i.e. the basics.


1.1. What's free *and* valuable v. what's fee-based and valuable


Free content covers two categories of web sites: mainly Government and Authorities web sites, plus attorneys' web sites and some bits of the legal publishers' web sites. The first ones provide mainly legislation and case law and, through the Administration interpretation of the law, a small part of legal analysis and doctrine. The second ones provide legal news and they analyze a number of cases.


Fee-based content will shortly cover nearly all periodicals and loose-leaf editions published on paper by traditional legal publishers.


That may be summed up in two lessons to be remembered about free French law on the Internet:


For a guide to free resources, see Part 2.


1.2. How to use search engines and directories to search for French legal content on the Web


Using search engines to search for French law documents


Google, Yahoo Search, and in a lesser way MSN Search, can be effectively used to dig "gold nuggets", generally more effectively than the only active French legal search engine,[1]  The more effective are Google, followed by Yahoo Search, while MSN Search can only compete with them on very usual, broad thematic queries. Searching Google for French law is best done through, by restricting queries to French content (click on the radio button "Pages: France" then restart your query).


But beware, the usual limits of web search engines still remain:


Legal research guides, legal web sites directories, law lists, libraries' online catalogs and legal citation guides


The best French law web sites directories are (all sites in French):


1.3. Lots of documents are still not available in digital format


At the present time, a lot of French law remains - and will remain - on paper. In talking about chronological coverage, here is a rule of thumb: in the private sector, the publishers have no digital content of their own dating back before 1985. Only official legal data - case law and legislation - will go back further.


Law journals


Nearly all law reviews and law journals are not available on the Web pre-1990. The Recueil Dalloz starts in 1990. Les Petites affiches start in 1995, as do the G (Générale), E (Entreprise) and N (Notariale) editions of the Semaine juridique. The other journals published by LexisNexis France (ex-Editions du JurisClasseur) are not yet available on the LexisNexis-JurisClasseur online platform, but their publisher has announced that its monthly law journals - the ones that serve as updates to the JurisClasseur looseleaf editions - shall be online in June 2005. All Lamy journals but for some very recent ones are available online on its Lamyline Reflex platform.


There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule, but they don't go back that far, as, for instance, the Bulletin Joly Sociétés (1986-.).  A false exception - a reference database with only bibliographic data and abstract - is the doctrine part of Juris-Data, indexing articles from approximately 1970 onwards.


Case law


Apart from the supreme courts (see infra), only a small selection of French jurisprudence is available online. The supreme courts go back to the 1960s on Legifrance and are nearly complete from 1988 onwards, but decisions from the appellate and lower jurisdictions are scarce. In fact, no jurisprudence is available online before 1958.


Full text of the civil judgments of the Cour de cassation starts with the year 1959 on Lamyline Reflex and 1960 on Legifrance. Criminal judgments start with 1970 on Lamyline and 1963 on Legifrance. Before 1988's rulings, Legifrance contains only the judgments published in the Bulletin de la Cour de cassation.


Juris-Data is the only important database of decisions of first and second instance courts. It is now part of LexisNexis-JurisClasseur and only accessible through subscription to this global service. It is a small selection -- less than a few percent of the current French lower courts production -- and the criteria used remains vague (the interest of the decision). Although its abstracts go back to 1960, its full text only starts from 1985. It is often cited for its cour d'appel decisions.


Legislation and regulation


Even the French official gazette (Journal officiel) in digital format is not really complete before year 1990.  Legifrance before 1990 does not contain nominations of civil servants (mesures nominatives). And the same limit is true for Lamyline Reflex. The Textes généraux part (legislation and regulation) of the Journal officiel is, however, available from 1955 on Lamyline Reflex and from 1947 on Legifrance.


About the Official Bulletins of the Ministries (bulletins officiels -- BOs), one should bear in mind that they are not part of Legifrance, the bulk of the Government's efforts to put French law online, free. Already, two Bulletins -- the BO du Ministère de l'Intérieur and the BO de l'Environnement -- have lost some of their online content following redesigns of their respective ministries' web sites.



2. Free resources


2.1. Official, Government maintained, web sites: legislation, case law from the supreme courts


Official Gazette and Bulletins



Another version of the Journal officiel may be found at Adminet, where it is reproduced on static web pages. That makes them more easily indexed in search engines. Those pages also have links to the Legifrance HTML and PDF pages.


Please note that although the Journal officiel database on Legifrance may contain texts dating back before WWII, the JO Lois et décrets is not complete before 1990. Between 1947 and 1990, minor, low level texts may remain unfound. Also, not all texts have been consolidated and sometimes, the quasi-automatic techniques used for consolidation creates errors, which is where the JurisClasseur Codes et lois -- available in the new LexisNexis-JurisClasseur portal -- may help. And Legifrance's Codes are not annotated. For annotated Codes online, one will have to wait for the *future* Dalloz portal.


Official supreme courts case law reporters



2.2. How a Government project becomes an Act


Legislative documents also are free and allow any lawyer, political professional or lobbyist to follow the legislative procedure step by step.



For a quick overview of the basic structure of the French legal system, see Researching French Law by Stéphane Cottin and Jérôme Rabenou.


2.3. La Documentation française: legal news and quick summaries of French law


Another major player among the French official legal web sites is the Documentation française (DF). The DF is the Government's publisher. On the Web, the DF maintains a number of resources which can ease the understanding of French law for a French speaking foreigner who does not follow French legal news everyday. The DF's web sites should be a place to start a number of your French law research, mainly thematic research and global understanding of a reform.


Summaries of French policies and legal reforms:


2.4. Internet law reviews and law firm publications


Apart from the above mentioned official sources, the most important free French legal web sites also include:




[1] Although its site is still online, Legicite stopped indexing web pages in 2003.

[2] For an example, see this query on Google.