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Frequently Asked Questions

French Customs Law :

A French Bailiff (Huissier) has seized my goods – what should I do ?
A French Bailiff is attempting to enter our subsidiary or branch premises in France what should I do ?
My French bank account has been frozen by a Bailiff or Court order – what should I do?
What steps to shall I take if a writ is received from a French plaintiff ?
Do costs follow the action in French litigation ?
What is the average time period for litigation in France ?
What is the time Bar in Commercial matters in France ?






A French Bailiff (Huissier) has seized my goods – what should I do ?

In order to seize goods, a French Bailiff (Huissier) must produce and serve to the party whose goods he is attempting to seize, some sort of written legal authorisation. Such documents would generally be the notification of a Court decision, which could possibly have been handed down ex parte. There are nevertheless a limited number of circumstances when a Bailiff may seize goods without a formal Court decision. In any event, special care should be taken to obtain a legible copy of papers served by the Bailiff such as a Procès-verbal (in the plural Procès-verbaux), a Signification, a Notification , etc. Thereafter these documents should be communicated at once to your attorney.



A French Bailiff is attempting to enter our subsidiary or branch premises in France what should I do ?

In general terms, and subject to a limited number of exceptions, a French Bailiff would only attempt to undertake such action if so authorised by a judicial decision. Such a decision might be the fruit of inter-partes proceedings or be pursuant to an ex-parte petition. It would be in order to ask the Bailiff to show proof of his identity and to establish that he was indeed acting within the scope of a proper authorisation to carry out his mission. Subject thereto he should not be hindered in undertaking whatever legally prescribed steps with which he was encharged.



My French bank account has been frozen by a Bailiff or Court order – what should I do?

It is within the bailiff's powers to freeze a bank account, either pursuant to a Court decision or in certain limited circumstances without a formal Court decision. In any event, special care should be taken to obtain a legible copy of papers served by the Bailiff (such as Procès-verbal - in the plural Procès-verbaux, Signification, Notification ...). These documents should be communicated at once to your attorney.



What steps should I take if a writ is received from a French plaintiff ?

In general terms, once a writ is received it is necessary to enter an appearance with the Court, and it should be noted that before the Tribunal de Grande Instance (Higher District Court) it is obligatory to instruct an Advocate called to the local Bar. With the exception of Summary or Urgent proceedings (Référé), steps must be habitually be taken within 15 days of the service of the writ and failure to do so could lead to a default judgement being handed down against the defendant.



Do full costs follow the action in French Law ?

The short answer is "no" – in spite of the fact that there are a certain number of French provisions, notably article 700 of the New Code of Civil Procedure, which provide for limited costs to be paid to the other side by the losing party to litigation. Notwithstanding such provisions, common-law practitioners might do well to assume that, as a general rule, full costs do not follow the action, as a party which has won a particular suit is most unlikely to recoup anything like his own real costs, notably lawyers’ fees, disbursed in pursuing or defending the litigation in question.



What is the average time period for litigation in France ?

There are two basic degrees of jurisdiction in France surmounted by the Court of Cassation.
First Instance - Insofar as it is possible to give even an approximation of the likely duration of any particular action before the Courts, in any country, a rule of thumb applicable to France could be that an average suit might last 16 to 22 months before the Courts of First Instance.
Appeal - The decision in question would possibly thereafter be subject to Appeal before the Cour d’Appel and subject to the same caveat as above, the Appeal proceedings could last between 18 and 24 months, but this might well be longer for certain geographical locations in France.
Cassation – France’s highest Court – it does not give a decision on the facts, but only on questions of law. If it finds that the lower Court’s decision cannot stand it sends the matter back to a (different) Court of Appeal for a rehearing. It has been known for matters to take between 22 months and three years to be heard before the Court of Cassation.



What is the time bar in Commercial matters in France ?

The Time Bar in many commercial matters is generally 10 years. However, there are a number of exceptions to this rule, notably where the French statute of limitations provides for a shorter time bar, for example in matters relating to international transport.







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