The Other Branches of Government

Both the French administrative system and judicial structure were creations of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era of 1789 to 1814, and both are deeply rooted in French life. They have outlasted two empires, two monarchies, and two republics—and they will probably outlast the present Vichy-Nazi monstrosity. They seem to be well suited to French civilization and to French ways of thinking and doing.

The legal system is based upon the great codes of law established under Napoleon’s direction. They regulate: (1) criminal law, (2) commercial law, (3) civil law, and (4) court procedure. Unlike the Anglo-American legal system that has developed through an accumulation of common law and court decisions, the French codes, based fundamentally on Roman law, are fixed and prescribed.

The court system, too, is unified and direct. The design is like a pyramid: above the lower courts are courts of appeal, and at the top is the so-called “court of cassation.” This is the supreme court of the French judicial system, but it does not have the power possessed by the United States Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of laws.