Except for a minority of French people, the way justice works is quite ambiguous. For the most part, if we are not faced with a difficult situation, we do not really know how the proceedings go. And of course our imaginations are overflowing with Hollywood scenes, keywords like “Objections Your Honor” and all those phrases the actors say. And one of the most popular themes elsewhere is that of criminal law. But what is it? What does it actually cover?
If this term is really attractive, in France we speak more of criminal law. In Canada, it is criminal law based on the “Criminal Code” and what Canadians call “common law”.
For France, criminal law represents one of the most important branches of the French legal system. When you talk about criminal procedure, it comes down to reviewing a set of rules, all relating to the taking of evidence and the judgment of perpetrators. To be clearer, the primary function of criminal law is to classify, sanction and qualify criminal offenses.
In France, each category of offense depends on a court and different penalties to facilitate its treatment.
They are divided according to their severity into three main parts:
- tickets. This is, for example, a traffic violation. This kind of ban is tried in a police court. As for the penalties, they differ depending on the seriousness of the act. In this specific case it could range from a smaller fine to a license withdrawal.
- Then come the misdemeanors. In that case, for example, it could be theft, drug dealing, that sort of thing. This time the penalties are higher, the offenses can be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison. The judgments meanwhile take place in a criminal court.
- The most serious in the end, the crimes. They are tried in an assize court and in the company of a criminal jury, like in our American series. With regard to convictions, they can go up to life imprisonment. Which quite simply means the rest of a life behind bars. I remind you that before 1981 you could be sentenced to death for a crime.
For criminal proceedings to be complete and without fail, they must meet three inseparable imperatives: a police investigation to begin with. The offense must be proven and the evidence collected of course. This is followed by a judicial instruction, to determine whether or not a trial can be opened. This is how we ultimately have an impartial judgment. However, in France, judges can rule according to their personal conviction, or as often said in law, under their sovereign judgment. So how can we be sure that impartiality is respected ...
To conclude, we will say that French criminal law certainly seems less “glamorous” than Canadian criminal law but it has the merit of guaranteeing the treatment of all offenses (thus covering the most minimal but also the most serious) and all this thanks to perfectly organized and independent courts.