There are several public registers that may be useful for identifying the asset position of another party prior to enforcement.
For instance, judgment creditors wishing to identify their debtor’s real estate assets in France may turn to the real estate registry (registre de la publicité foncière), which holds ownership information for real estate in France.
The register of commerce (registre du commerce et des sociétés) is available at www.infogreffe.com and identifies the directors of registered companies. The register also identifies the shareholders who are liable for the company's debts to an unlimited extent (Société civile immobilière and Société en nom collectif), and can be used to check the debt report (privileges and pledges) of a company and whether a corporation faces bankruptcy proceedings.
Decree No 2019-1333 of 11 December 2019 also created a register of movable securities (registre des sûretés mobilières et autres operations connexes), which will be available for consultation from 1 January 2023.
All French trade marks, patents, registered design applications and registrations are publicly available on the online databases of the French National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI).
In addition, as a matter of principle, court proceedings in France are public, and many trial court decisions are reported on www.legifrance.gouv.fr. It may therefore be possible to find useful information about a debtor by scrutinising judicial decisions.
Judgment creditors may also hire a private investigator to gather information on the debtor’s asset position.
If the information collected by the means listed above is incomplete and/or insufficient, there are other means by which a party can lawfully identify another party's asset position within France, by entrusting the task to a French bailiff (huissier de justice).
French law allows bailiffs to make information requests to a wide range of public bodies and bodies authorised by French law to hold deposit accounts (this is done along with access to the FICOBA registry, which is an inventory of all deposit accounts in France).
The bailiff is not allowed to request information from the presumed debtor’s employer.
Public bodies may only disclose the address of the debtor, the identity and address of their employer, or all third-party debtors or custodians of liquid or payable amounts, and a list of real estate assets.
Organisations authorised by French law to hold deposit accounts may only disclose whether one or more accounts, joint accounts or merged accounts have been opened in the name of the debtor, and where the accounts are held.
Normally, the information collected will be sufficient to identify the debtor’s asset position and enforce a judicial decision. Details obtained by the bailiff may not be disclosed to third parties, or even to the bailiff's principal.
Costs associated with these enquiries are fixed by statute.
Different types of domestic judgments are available under French law.
French scholars usually draw a distinction between judicial decisions that have become final after all rights of appeal have been exhausted or after the expiry of relevant time limitations, and those that have not become final.
In addition, a judgment may be contentious or non-contentious (jugement gracieux) – a contentious judgment settles a dispute whereas a jugement gracieux is rendered in non-contentious matters.
French scholars also make a distinction between judgments rendered by adversarial hearing (jugements contradictoires – ie, in the presence of both/all parties concerned and after both/all parties have presented their cases) on the one hand, and judgments assumed to have been rendered by adversarial hearing (jugements réputés contradictoires) and judgments rendered by default (jugements par défaut) on the other. Default judgments arise in circumstances where a defendant fails to appear before the court in a case brought by a claimant. Though not present before the court, the defendant is bound by the court's ruling and is subject to any sanction imposed by the court.
To qualify as such, a default judgment must fulfil two cumulative conditions: the judgment must have been rendered in last resort, and the defendant must not have been served with the document that instituted the proceedings. A judgment will be réputé contradictoire if only one of these two conditions is fulfilled.
Another useful distinction can be drawn between the following:
The key distinction is between enforceable and unenforceable judgments. In principle, judgments will be enforceable after all ordinary rights of appeal have been exhausted or after the expiry of the relevant time limitations.
By way of exception and before Decree No 2019-1333 of 11 December 2019, provisional enforcement could be ordered at the request of the parties or sua sponte each time the judge deemed it appropriate and compatible with the nature of the matter, and where it was not prohibited by law. In addition, summary orders (ordonnances de référé), decisions containing provisional orders (mesures provisoires) governing the course of a proceeding, orders providing for protective measures (mesures conservatoires) and directions of the pre-trial judge (juge de la mise en état) granting an interim payment (provision) to a creditor were all enforceable provisionally by law.
Decree No 2019-1333 of 11 December 2019 reforming French civil procedure established that "First instance judgments are enforceable provisionally by law unless the law or the judgment handed down provides otherwise" (new Article 514 of the French Code of Civil Procedure). In other words, provisional enforcement is now automatic, and is attached to first instance judgments without the need for the judge to order it. The decree thus reverses the rules previously in force in judicial proceedings, which required the claimant to request provisional enforcement to be ordered.
The principle of the provisional enforcement by law of first instance judgments is only applicable to judicial proceedings initiated on or after 1 January 2020, and:
In the event of an appeal, and if the judge of first instance has rejected the provisional enforcement by law of their judgment, a request may be made before the First President of the Court of Appeal or, when the matter is referred to them, to the Pre-Trial Judge of the Court of Appeal (Conseiller de la Mise en Etat), to ask for the reinstatement of the provisional enforcement by law (Article 514-4 of the Code of Civil Procedure). Three conditions must then be met:
An “enforceable judgment” is referred to in French legislation as a “titre exécutoire”. The term is not limited to enforceable judgments resulting from judicial proceedings. The following are considered to be the main titres exécutoires:
For the sake of simplicity, the concept of “enforceable judgment” set out hereafter will refer to enforceable judgments resulting from judicial proceedings.
A lawyer is generally instructed to organise and co-ordinate the enforcement process, and to represent the client during the enforcement proceedings, if there are any.
Act No 2019-222 of 23 March 2019 (on the 2018–2022 Programming and Reform of the Justice System) and Decree No 2019-1333 of 11 December 2019, which reformed French civil procedure, came into force on 1 January 2020. These new provisions entail very important changes, so it is advisable not to take any procedural steps without carefully checking the possible impact of the reform on such steps.
French law provides various options for enforcing a domestic judgment. The rules set out below aim to give an overview of the manner in which judgments can be enforced in France. They do not deal with special regimes, such as rehabilitation (redressement judiciaire) and liquidation (liquidation judidiciaire) proceedings or household over-indebtedness (surendettement des particuliers) proceedings, which trigger an automatic stay of enforcement against the debtor, subject to few exceptions.
At the outset, it should be underlined that, in principle, the enforcement judge (juge de l’exécution) has specific jurisdiction to deal with disputes arising between debtors and creditors on the basis of a final judgment only if and when enforcement has actually been launched, as recalled by the Cour de cassation in a judgment rendered on 25 March 2021.
That being said, a distinction must be drawn between the protective measures (mesures conservatoires) that are available to a creditor who has not yet obtained an enforceable judgment, and those measures that constitute actual enforcement of a judgment (mesures d’exécution forcée).
The various types of protective measures differ according to the nature of the assets to be attached. However, the general circumstances in which any protective measure is granted are very similar. Application is made to the enforcement judge, who in practice will be the president of the Tribunal Judiciaire in which the debtor is located. Application may also be made to the President of the Tribunal de Commerce if the application deals with commercial matters and if proceedings have not yet commenced on the substance of the case.
Application to the enforcement judge will normally be made ex parte. The creditor must simply demonstrate the existence of their claim and the threat of non-recovery of said claim. In a simple debt collection situation, it is usual to present copies of all relevant invoices, together with a copy of a formal demand letter before action (mise en demeure), by recorded delivery post.
If the application is successful, the creditor must ensure that the bailiff serves notice of the protective measure on the debtor within three months of the judge’s order, failing which it is no longer effective. The creditor will be obliged to start proceedings to obtain an enforceable judgment within one month from the date of enforcement of the protective measure; failure to do so results in the automatic lapse of the measure. The low standard of proof required to obtain a protective measure and the nature of ex parte proceedings put the creditor in a strong position. Therefore, if the creditor fails to obtain an enforceable judgment, they may be liable for any damage suffered by the debtor.
The appropriate protective measure requested from the enforcement judge will depend on the nature of the debtor’s asset to be frozen. If the debtor is a company, every asset is at risk, whether movable or immovable, tangible (corporels) or intangible (incorporels). The position is very similar for an individual debtor, except for movable property that is necessary for general living or employment, which is not subject to attachment.
Protective measures can be divided into two categories.
The debtor may challenge these protective measures obtained by the creditor at any time, before the judge who granted the measure, particularly when the conditions for granting it were not satisfied from the beginning. The judge may order its discharge (mainlevée) or, upon the request of the debtor, may substitute any measure to the initial protective measure.
A creditor may also choose to obtain an enforceable judgment without having previously sought a protective measure and simply proceed to enforcement of their judgment against the debtor’s assets.
A creditor holding an enforceable judgment can instruct the bailiff to enforce payment to the creditor of sums owed by third parties to the debtor (saisie attribution). This attachment is executed by the bailiff notifying the third party that sums owed to the judgment debtor are to be paid directly to the judgment creditor up to the amount due, pursuant to the enforceable judgment. The third party is thereby forbidden from paying the debtor.
The procedure of saisie vente (not applicable to real estate property) involves several stages. First, a bailiff is instructed to serve the debtor with an order to pay the debt (commandement de payer). The bailiff then draws up an inventory of the property of the debtor, which has the effect of rendering the assets non-transferable. This process triggers a one-month period in which the debtor may, with the agreement of the creditor, organise the sale of the assets. In the absence of an agreement between the creditor and the debtor, a forced sale takes place following a public announcement, and control of the assets passes to a ministerial officer appointed for the sale. The proceeds of the sale, whether forced or not, will be paid directly to the creditor.
A judgment can be enforced against financial instruments to be attached by the bailiff on the issuing entity or its authorised agent, depending on the nature of the financial instruments and their form of management (saisie des droits d’associés et des valeurs mobilières). Once the attachment has been effected, all pecuniary rights attached to the financial instruments become non-transferable. The debtor can obtain the release of the attachment (mainlevée) by paying the relevant corresponding sum of money to discharge the debt secured by this charge.
The attachment of salaries (saisie des rémunérations) must also be mentioned as a way to enforce judgments but, in practice, this type of attachment is difficult to obtain in France due to the natural reluctance of the French courts to withhold the only source of income from a debtor.
In circumstances where the creditor has to enforce their judgment against the real estate of the debtor, they must seek a foreclosure of real estate (saisie immobilière). Traditionally, the forced sale of real estate is not perceived as a matter of priority, in view of its time-consuming process.
The length of the proceedings to enforce domestic judgments will depend on a wide range of factors, including the nature of the enforcement measure, how easy it is to determine the debtor’s assets, and the nature and location of the debtor’s assets.
It should be noted that several laws were passed in France in the exceptional context of the COVID-19 health crisis, particularly with regard to the time limits for legal proceedings, including enforcement proceedings (Order No 2020-306 of 25 March 2020 on the extension of time limits during the health emergency period and the adaptation of legal proceedings procedures during this period, amended by Order No 2020-427 dated 15 April 2020 and supplemented by Order No 2020-560 dated 13 May 2020).
It was ruled that the time limits that expired between 12 March 2020 and 23 June 2020 were extended, from the end of this health emergency period, for the period that was legally required to act (but within the maximum limit of two months). Added to the limited access to judges during the health emergency period, this suspension of the time limits led to a significant slowdown in court proceedings.
Enforcement costs are subject to a scale of charges that establishes the remuneration owed to bailiffs for each enforcement measure. Under Decree No 96-1080 of 12 December 1996, the remuneration scale for bailiffs comprises fixed and proportional charges. As a matter of principle, the debtor must ultimately pay the major part of the costs of enforcing the judgment against their own assets.
When the publicly available information is incomplete and/or insufficient for determining the debtor’s assets, there are other means by which a creditor holding an enforceable judgment can lawfully identify another party's asset position within the French jurisdiction, mainly by entrusting the task to the bailiff charged with obtaining forced execution against the debtor’s property.
As a matter of principle, the debtor may challenge enforcement measures within one month of the date of service. The case must be filed with the enforcement judge, who generally rules within three to six months, after the parties have had the chance to file written briefs and appear in court.
The enforcement judge may exercise discretionary powers in favour of a debtor, including granting the debtor a period of up to two years to repay the debt.
Enforcement covers all proceedings permitting the carrying out of "enforceable" obligations against the debtor’s assets – eg, under French law, the obligations to pay, to do something or to refrain from doing something, and lastly to give or return. The basic principle in French law is that any creditor holding an enforceable judgment relating to one of these three categories of obligations may obtain forced execution against the property of the debtor.
Therefore, and broadly speaking, a judgment will not be enforceable if it remains subject to ordinary recourses, or if it is not provisionally enforceable by law.
It should also be emphasised that, since 2008, an enforcement action is time-barred ten years after the date of the judgment, as a matter of principle.
The documentation and analysis service of the French Supreme Court (Cour de cassation) has a database mainly containing the decisions and opinions of the Supreme Court and decisions of particular interest issued by other judicial courts. The database is publicly available under the conditions applicable to public service legal publications on the internet. Most of the published court decisions can be accessed via the Legifrance legal portal (www.legifrance.gouv.fr).
Judgments are part of the public record and there is no way under French law for a judgment debtor who has paid what is owed to remove the judgment from the above-mentioned database. Steps may be taken during the judicial proceedings to remove the names of the parties, but only in circumstances that rarely apply.
Act No 2016-1321 of 7 October 2016, amended by Act No 2019-222 of 23 March 2019, implemented open data for judgments of the Cour de cassation and the French courts of appeal via the “Judilibre” search engine (available on the website of the Cour de cassation), which makes available to anyone the judgments rendered by the Cour de cassation as of 1 October 2021, and as of 21 April 2022 for the judgments of the courts of appeal.
The three key conflicts private international law aims to resolve are those relating to jurisdiction, choice of law and the recognition/enforcement of foreign judgments.
There are three main types of law relevant to the enforcement of a foreign judgment:
France is a party to a large number of multilateral treaties (all of which are available on www.legifrance.gouv.fr), including the Hague Choice of Court Agreement 2005, and also to bilateral treaties.
Throughout the European Union, the primary tool used to enforce foreign judgments is the Brussels 1a Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 of 6 December 2012). This recast regulation has applied since 10 January 2015 and replaced Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 (the new "Brussels I Regulation"), which continues to apply to the recognition and enforcement of all judgments rendered in proceedings initiated before 10 January 2015. These regulations are supplemented by a number of other pieces of European legislation, as follows:
The relationship between the EU and Norway, Switzerland and Iceland is governed by a similar piece of legislation to the Brussels 1a Regulation: the Lugano Convention (the Convention on Jurisdiction and the Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters of the European Community with Iceland, Norway and Switzerland of 30 October 2007).
Variations in approach to the enforcement of foreign judgments may exist, depending on their jurisdiction of origin – eg, inside or outside the EU.
If the judgment falls within the scope of the Brussels 1a Regulation, there will be no need for the grant of “exequatur”. The Brussels 1a Regulation shall apply in civil and commercial matters but shall not extend, in particular, to revenue, customs or administrative matters, nor to the liability of the state for acts and omissions in the exercise of state authority. In addition, the Brussels 1a Regulation shall not apply to:
Because of this simplified approach settled by the Brussels 1a Regulation, judgments rendered in EU Member States will be easier to enforce than non-EU judgments.
On 2 July 2019, the Hague Conference on Private International Law finalised a new treaty on the enforcement of judgments: the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters (the "2019 Hague Judgments Convention").
The 2019 Hague Judgments Convention creates rules for the circulation of judgments, except in cases where there was a judgment produced on the basis of a choice of court agreement between parties to an international dispute, which are governed by the 2005 Hague Choice of Court Convention.
The definition of “judgment” in the 2019 Hague Judgments Convention covers any decision on the merits given by a court in the civil and commercial context, with some legal exceptions set out in the Convention (for example, there are certain subject matter exclusions, such as insolvency, intellectual property, privacy or certain antitrust matters). It should be noted that arbitration and related proceedings are excluded from the scope of the 2019 Hague Judgments Convention, as are judgments providing for interim measures of protection.
To be enforceable under the 2019 Hague Judgments Convention, the judgment must meet one of the jurisdictional requirements set out in the Convention (for example, relating to residency, consent to jurisdiction, place of performance of a contractual obligation or jurisdiction agreements). The 2019 Hague Judgments Convention also gives a list of limited grounds on which recognition or enforcement can be refused (including where, broadly, there was improper notice of the proceedings, where the judgment was obtained by fraud, or where recognition or enforcement would be manifestly incompatible with public policy), with it being specified that under no circumstances may a judgment given in a contracting state be reviewed as to its substance under the 2019 Hague Judgments Convention.
The Hague Conference press release describes the 2019 Hague Judgments Convention as a “gamechanger in international dispute resolution”, which will provide “better, more effective, and cheaper justice for individuals and businesses alike”, even if its effect is more limited than the Brussels 1a Regulation regime (recognition and enforcement can be refused on broader grounds under the 2019 Hague Judgments Convention, for example).
Nonetheless, it should be underlined that it will be some considerable time before the 2019 Hague Judgments Convention can apply. First of all, it will only apply between those countries that ratify it and bring it into force (approximately 12 months after ratification); even then, it will not apply unless the proceedings that led to a judgment were initiated at a time when the 2019 Hague Judgments Convention was in force for both the state of origin and the state where the judgment is to be enforced.
It is also worth noting that the 2019 Hague Judgments Convention provides for a number of circumstances in which a contracting state may make declarations that limit its application (for example, a state with a strong interest in not applying the 2019 Hague Judgments Convention to a specific matter can declare that it will not be applied to that matter). A contracting state can also refuse to have a reciprocal relationship with another contracting state. There are also provisions stating that the Convention will not affect the application of other treaties where certain criteria are met.
There are currently six signatory states:
Uncertainty continues regarding post-Brexit processes for the enforcement of judgments across borders, as Brexit led to the end of the application of the Brussels 1a Regulation and the Lugano Convention on 1 January 2021. The United Kingdom has applied to re-accede to the Lugano Convention but the European Commission published its assessment of the UK's application in a Communication to the European Parliament and Council on 4 May 2021, concluding that UK membership should be refused (position confirmed on 1 July 2021).
In the absence of any new agreement between France and the United Kingdom regarding the enforcement of judgments, the Hague Convention of 2005 or the domestic law will apply.
The Hague Convention 2005 ensures the effectiveness of exclusive choice of court agreements concluded in civil and commercial matters in an international context. Currently in force in the EU27, the UK, Mexico, Singapore and Montenegro, the Hague Convention 2005 provides a framework for the mutual enforcement of judgments across its contracting states, so that a judgment given by a court of a contracting state designated by an exclusive choice of court agreement shall be recognised and enforced in all contracting states. If the Hague Convention of 2005 does not apply, the domestic law of France or the United Kingdom will govern the enforcement of judgments.
In the absence of an international convention between France and the country that issued the judgment, non-EU judgments shall be enforceable if the following conditions as set by current French case law are satisfied:
Under the Brussels 1a Regulation, a judgment issued in a Member State that is enforceable in that Member State shall be enforceable in other Member States.
Subject to special regimes set out by bilateral or multilateral conventions, the legal framework under which a foreign judgment rendered outside the EU may be enforced in France is the French Code of Civil Procedure and the French Code of Civil Enforcement Procedures, supplemented by the relevant case law.
In practice, creditors seeking to recover a claim in France will seek an enforcement order (exequatur). To obtain an “exequatur”, the judgment creditor must summon the opposing party before the Judiciaire. The application may be made to the court of the opposing party’s domicile or the court of the place where the enforcement is sought. If the exequatur is granted, it will be done so by a single judge following the exchange of written pleadings and a hearing. Parties must be represented by a lawyer. The requesting party must provide a copy of the foreign judgment, together with a translation if needed. The French judge must make sure that the following conditions as set by current French case law are satisfied:
French courts may not review the merits of the foreign judgment. The exequatur may be appealed within one month of being served by one party on the other (or within three months for parties domiciled abroad).
Decisions rendered by the jurisdictions of EU Member States are enforced in other Member States following a simplified regime initially adopted by the Brussels Convention of 1968 (1972 O.J. (L 299) 32), later superseded by Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 (the New Brussels 1 Regulation), which was itself superseded by the Brussels 1a Regulation, which has been in force since 10 January 2015.
According to the Brussels 1a Regulation, once a judgment is obtained in any Member State’s court, it must be readily recognised and enforced throughout the European Union. Therefore, the judgment creditor needs only to serve on the judgment debtor a copy of the judgment that satisfies the conditions necessary to establish its authenticity, accompanied by a certificate from the court of origin certifying that the judgment is enforceable, and containing details of the judgment (ie, the issuing court, the names of the judgment creditor and judgment debtor, the date of the judgment, and what the judgment requires to be done), as well as a translation of the judgment if requested, before enforcing the judgment. The judgment creditor is then entitled to enforce the foreign judgment as if it were a French judgment. However, the French enforcement authority shall adapt any unknown measure or order contained in the foreign judgment to a domestic legal equivalent, with equivalent legal effects that pursue similar aims and interests.
For the purposes of enforcement in a Member State of a judgment rendered in another Member State ordering a provisional measure (including a protective measure), the applicant shall serve on the judgment debtor a copy of the judgment and the certificate containing details of the judgment, as well as a description of the measure, and certifying that the court had jurisdiction over the substance of the matter, and that the judgment is enforceable in the Member State of origin. Where the measure was ordered without the defendant being summoned to appear, the judgment creditor must also provide proof of service of the judgment.
Regarding the issue of the enforcement of an order of payment, the CJEU stated on 7 April 2022 (C-568/20) that an order for payment (injonction de payer) rendered in a Member State constitutes a “judgment” under the Brussels 1a Regulation and is therefore enforceable in other Member States if it was handed down at the end of adversarial proceedings in the Member State of origin and was declared to be enforceable in that Member State.
The cost and time to enforce foreign judgments will depend on whether the foreign judgment was given in an EU or non-EU jurisdiction. As previously stated, in the first case, a judgment creditor does not need to obtain an enforcement order, so enforcement proceedings will be quicker and less expensive than when a judgment creditor seeks to enforce a non-EU judgment. Indeed, the exequatur proceedings require the judgment creditor to be represented by a lawyer, and the procedure may take a few months at least before the exequatur is obtained.
The cost and time to enforce both EU and non-EU judgments will depend on a wide range of factors, including in particular the nature of the enforcement measure, how easy it is to determine the debtor’s assets, and the nature and location of those assets.
Instructing a competent local bailiff and a competent local lawyer experienced in foreign judgment enforcement is a key consideration in seeking the enforcement of foreign judgments in France, and increases the probability of effective collection, in terms of both cost and time.
The Brussels 1a Regulation does not deprive the judgment debtor of the right to seek suspension of or to challenge the EU judgment via an ordinary appeal in the Member State of origin, nor to challenge the enforcement of the judgment in the Member State where it is sought.
If the judgment is successfully challenged in the Member State of origin, this could neutralise the original judgment. However, this possibility does not affect the presumption of the Brussels 1a Regulation that the original judgment – when presented in the Member State where enforcement is sought – is entitled to receive both recognition and enforcement, even if the enforcement court has the discretion to wholly or partially suspend the enforcement of a foreign judgment if it is challenged in the Member State of origin.
Article 46 of the Brussels 1a Regulation exhaustively sets out the exceptional grounds that, when present, prevent the recognition and hence the enforcement of a foreign judgment in the Member State where the request is made, as follows:
Non-EU judgments may be challenged if the court that initially rendered the judgment did not have jurisdiction over the case, or if the judgment is incompatible with French international public policy or was procured by fraud. The exequatur may be appealed within one month of the date of the service by one party on the other (or within three months for parties domiciled abroad).
In 1981, France enacted a decree on arbitration, which successfully consolidated its position as the leading country in international commercial arbitration. A new decree on French arbitration law came into effect on 1 May 2011 and is seen as strongly establishing France's will to maintain its leading role in international commercial arbitration and its aim to have arbitrating parties continue to select Paris as their seat of arbitration.
France is also a party to the New York Convention, which entered into force in France on 24 September 1959 and deals with the recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards, but specifically provides that it shall not apply when the legislation of the state where the recognition or enforcement of the award is sought is more favourable to recognition and enforcement than the New York Convention, which is the case under French law.
As will be seen hereinafter, the recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards may be refused on only a few grounds, making it typically far easier to enforce an arbitral award than a non-EU court judgment.
The enforcement of arbitral awards involves the very important preliminary question of whether an arbitral award should be characterised as an international or a domestic award. Articles 1487 et seq of the Code of Civil Procedure apply to the enforcement of domestic (ie, French) arbitral awards, whereas Articles 1514 et seq apply to the enforcement of international arbitral awards, covering foreign awards and awards rendered in international matters in France and abroad.
Despite the slight differences of regime between international and domestic awards, French law and French courts are generally considered as pro-arbitration, and decisions denying the enforcement of awards are quite rare.
As previously stated, French arbitration law takes a pro-enforcement position regarding the recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards. Therefore, it is possible, for instance, to obtain recognition and enforcement in France of interim or partial awards. It may also be possible to obtain the recognition and enforcement in France of foreign awards granting non-monetary relief (eg, an order requiring a party to produce documents). An international award rendered outside France (whether international or domestic) that is set aside in the place of arbitration may also be recognised and enforced in France.
Finally, the main limit to the recognition or enforcement of arbitral awards is that the award must not be manifestly contrary to public policy considerations.
Under the Code of Civil Procedure, an arbitral award must be followed by an enforcement decision (exequatur) obtained through ex parte proceedings in order to be enforceable or recognised in France.
French arbitration law does not expressly provide for a limitation period applicable to the commencement of legal proceedings for the enforcement of awards. However, the French Civil Code provides a five-year limitation period that generally applies to personal actions, and should be considered to apply to the filing of legal proceedings for the enforcement of domestic awards in France. There is a debate concerning whether the limitation period may apply to the enforcement of international awards in France, but there is no specific case law on this issue.
The provisions pertaining to the recognition and enforcement of a domestic arbitral award are set out in Article 1487 et seq of the Code of Civil Procedure. First, the party seeking to rely upon the arbitral award must be able to prove the existence thereof. This is a basic requirement and will be easily satisfied upon production of the arbitral award itself, together with the arbitration agreement. The second condition to the recognition or enforcement of the arbitral award is that it must not be manifestly contrary to public policy.
Therefore, a domestic arbitral award may be enforced by virtue of an exequatur from the Tribunal Judiciaire in whose jurisdiction the arbitral award was given, and the party wishing to enforce a domestic arbitral award shall produce the original award, together with the arbitration agreement, or duly authenticated copies of such documents.
A judgment granting an order of exequatur is not subject to any review. A judgment refusing an order of exequatur is subject to appeal within one month of service (or within three months for parties domiciled abroad). A successful appeal against the award will result in its revocation by the Court of Appeal so that the award becomes unenforceable in France.
An international arbitral award shall be enforced in France on the same conditions provided for domestic awards – ie, if the party relying on it can prove its existence and if such recognition or enforcement is not manifestly contrary to international public policy. As with domestic arbitrations, an international arbitral award may be enforced by virtue of an exequatur from the Tribunal Judiciaire in whose jurisdiction the international arbitral award was given, if it was given in France. If the arbitral award was given in a foreign country, it may be enforced by virtue of an exequatur from the Paris Tribunal Judiciaire. A party wishing to enforce an international arbitral award shall produce the original award, together with the arbitration agreement, or duly authenticated copies of such documents. All these documents must be translated into French by a certified translator, if requested.
An appeal against an exequatur must be brought before the Court of Appeal within one month from the date of proper service of the exequatur (or three months for parties domiciled abroad).
When it comes to enforcing an arbitral award against the assets of a debtor in France, the governing legislation is the law on civil enforcement procedures described above.
As stated above, because of the minimal checks necessary to obtain an exequatur of an arbitral award, whether domestic or international, the costs incurred in the related proceedings may not be great, even if the award creditor is represented by a lawyer. As a matter of principle, the party wishing to enforce an international arbitral award must produce the award together with the arbitration agreement translated into French, so the fees of a certified translator should be taken into account. It may take only a few weeks to obtain an exequatur of an arbitral award.
The cost and time to enforce arbitral awards will depend on a wide range of factors, including in particular the nature of the enforcement measure, how easy it is to determine the debtor’s assets, and the nature and location of those assets, especially with foreign awards.
Service of the arbitral award is significant under French law, as this will determine the time period for exercising any rights of recourse against the arbitral award.
Only ordinary recourses are dealt with below; applications for the revision of an arbitral award (recours en revision) and applications by which third parties may challenge an arbitral award (tierce opposition) will not be addressed hereinafter.
Regarding domestic awards, an appeal (if the possibility of such a recourse has been agreed between the parties) or an action for setting aside must be brought before the court of appeal in whose jurisdiction the arbitral award was issued. These recourse actions are admissible as soon as the award has been given, until the end of a one-month period starting from the service of the award (or three months for parties domiciled abroad). Appeals and actions for setting aside are brought, managed and determined according to common French rules governing procedure in contentious matters before the Court of Appeal. There are six grounds on which the Court of Appeal may deny the enforcement of a domestic arbitral award, as follows:
It should be underlined that, in principle, parties are deemed to have waived their right to subsequently rely on any irregularities which they knowingly, and without legitimate reason, refrained from raising before the tribunal. This is not limited to procedural irregularities, but also applies with respect to all of the available grounds to set aside an award, with the exception of public policy grounds.
Appeals and actions to set aside a domestic award lead to a suspension of enforcement, unless the award has been rendered with the provisional enforcement.
Regarding international arbitral awards, whether obtained in France or abroad, the time period for applying for the arbitral award to be set aside is one month following service of the exequatur (or three months for parties domiciled abroad). There is no possibility to challenge an international award without an exequatur. Therefore, there is no preventative recourse, contrary to domestic arbitration. The procedure for setting aside an arbitral award relies on commonly applicable civil procedures under French law. There are five grounds on which the Court of Appeal may deny the enforcement of an international arbitral award, as follows:
International Public Policy
The notion of international public policy has been interpreted by French case law in terms of French public policy requirements, and not as truly international public policy. In particular, the Paris Court of Appeal has stated that "international public policy means our conception of international public policy, that is to say, the entirety of the rules and matters of fundamental importance which the French legal system requires to be respected even in situations of an international character."
Historically, French courts used to perform a minimal review of objections on the grounds of international public policy. Indeed, they did not enquire whether the award infringed a rule of public policy of some other state.
At the very beginning, the scope of this minimal review was limited to the “manifest infringement” of international public policy, which means that the courts were to find whether the award constituted an “effective and concrete” violation of international public policy. Following an evolution of the French case law, the alleged infringement then had to be “serious, accurate and consistent”, but this minimal review was criticised as it did not prevent an award that infringed international public policy (bribery, laundering, etc) being enforced in France.
The case law of the Paris Court of Appeal then showed a tendency towards a deeper assessment of international public policy, which was confirmed on 23 March 2022 by the Cour de cassation.
The Cour de cassation confirmed the decision of the Paris Court of Appeal of 21 February 2021 repealing an award infringing international public policy, by approving the aforementioned considering that the judge's control "was neither limited to the evidence produced before the arbitrators, nor bound by the findings, assessments and qualifications made by them". This means that a judge is still able to re-examine the facts, even though they are forbidden to amend the award, as long as their examination is only meant to assess whether the award does indeed infringe a rule of international public policy.
French case law has clarified the scope of international public policy, with French courts considering that the failure of the arbitrator to comply with a European rule of law if this rule is imperative and effectively applicable to the case infringes the French concept of international public policy. French international public order also encompasses equality of arms (in the context of the right to a fair trial), as well as access to justice (see Paris Court of Appeal, 23 November 2021).
Ultimately, it should be emphasised that the French arbitration law that came into effect on 1 May 2011 provides the possibility for a party to enforce an international award notwithstanding a pending action to set aside or a challenge to enforcement. In this respect, two decisions of the Paris Court of Appeal on 12 July 2021 and 12 January 2022 held that the setting aside of the award by the court of the place of arbitration does not prevent the enforcement of the award in France.
Accordingly, an exequatur of an international arbitral award granted by the Tribunal Judiciaire is provisionally enforceable as of right, whereas actions to set aside or appeals against an exequatur of an award previously led to a suspension of enforcement. However, the person against whom enforcement is sought and who challenges the enforcement may request a temporary stay of enforcement, if such enforcement could severely prejudice their rights.
It should also be noted that the grounds for denying enforcement of an international arbitral award under French law are almost the same as those provided in the New York Convention. The only difference under French law is that French courts do not refuse or stay the enforcement of a foreign award simply because a challenge against the award has been sought in a foreign court, or because a judgment of a foreign court has set aside or annulled the award.