Traveling In France? Three Key Differences In French And American Justice

FranceTraveling abroad not only means organizing your paperwork and arriving at the airport on time. During travels to an amazing country such as France, you are likely to encounter many new things, though sometimes, not all of them will be positive. Accidents and bad situations can happen, which is why it’s always useful to know a thing or two about the legal system of the country you are traveling to. When in France, you are subject to French laws of course.

Whether you’re taking a short trip or are spending a longer period for work or study in France, it’s your responsibility to be aware of some key differences in the US and French legal systems. This article outlines three key differences to be aware of when traveling to France.

The judicial system: Common law vs. Civil Law

Hopefully you won’t find yourself in court, but it could pay to be aware of this first and most striking difference between French and US legal systems.

In the US, justice and court rulings are based on common law. This means that a judge can make a ruling based on past court cases, or ‘customs’. These ‘customs’ are unwritten laws of conduct, which have come into place after centuries of documented court proceedings. The French judicial system, however, is governed by civil law. This means that judges only refer to written laws when passing a verdict, and there are extensive discussions before a new law is passed.

Legal costs: Availability of Legal aid

Finding legal aid in France is both easier and cheaper than it can be in the US. Should you qualify for legal aid in France, you can receive partial or full cover depending on both your income and the type of legal aid you require. While the US also offers legal aid based on income, your entitlement for a given salary is less than it would be in France.

Your eligibility for legal aid in France will also depend on the length of your stay and whether you are a resident or not.

Duration of Trials: Awaiting a verdict

If you’re an American citizen accused of a criminal offense while in France, you’re in for a nasty surprise. One of the most striking differences between awaiting a verdict in the US and in France is how long you have to await a trial.

While the US sees a lag of around 5 to 10 months between the accused crime and the trial, the average waiting time in France is more like 3 to 5 years. In this case, you could potentially be spending 5 years in a French jail, even if a judgement has not yet been passed. In one extreme case, an innocent French man was recently released after 10 years in jail—during which he was simply awaiting trial.

When traveling to France make sure to do a little research on the local laws and the legal system so that you’re prepared in case an incident occurs for which you require legal help.

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