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'Ambitious' French international court plans will be welcomed by businesses, says expert

"Ambitious" plans to create new international sections of the Paris Court of Appeal will be welcomed by international businesses operating in France, particularly those for whom French is not the native language, experts have said.08 Feb 2018

Detailed protocols relating to the new court sections were signed yesterday by justice minister Nicole Belloubet and Marie-Aimée Peyron, head of the Paris Bar Association, at the Paris Court of Appeal. The new court sections will permit parties to plead in English and feature English-speaking judges, who may have expertise in common law legal systems.

Paris-based dispute resolution expert Melina Wolman of Pinsent Masons, said: "This is a very ambitious project, which clearly reflects a pro-business approach and the desire for France to attract international companies and investors to the French market. Non-French speaking companies will welcome the fact that they will be able to plead in their own language, without fearing the language barrier." 

She said that the creation of the new court "may influence international companies having operations in France to opt for jurisdiction clauses electing French courts", particularly after the UK's anticipated departure from the EU.

"French decisions will still benefit from the Brussels Regulation on recognition and enforcement of judgments and will thus be very easily enforceable in Europe."

“There is currently some uncertainty as to how straightforward it will be to enforce judgments of UK courts in the EU post-Brexit, although there are a range of possibilities such as a UK/EU agreement equivalent to current arrangements, use of other international treaties and enforcement under member states’ own laws”, said Jean-François Le Gal of Pinsent Masons, who is qualified as both a solicitor-advocate in England and Wales and an avocat at the Paris Bar. “UK and EU negotiators have agreed that clarity needs to be provided on this issue."

Le Gal of Pinsent Masons, who is qualified as both a solicitor-advocate in England and Wales and an avocat at the Paris Bar, said that "this initiative is another illustration of the increasing trend, in Europe and throughout the world, to use law as an integral part of a state's economic strategy to gain a competitive advantage and attract investors".

France is one of a number of EU countries which have put initiatives in place to attract international dispute resolution business post-Brexit. Currently, London is one of the leading jurisdictional hubs for financial disputes, in a market worth an estimated £25 billion.

The European Banking Authority (EBA), which is currently headquartered in London, announced last year that it would relocate to Paris once the UK leaves the EU. President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to "finalise a headquarters agreement" for the EBA before the UK's departure date, and to put €1.5 million towards "lease and fit-out costs for the authority's new premises".

The ultimate success of the new court will depend on "the quality of the judges, their knowledge of the common law system and their practice of the English language," Jean-François Le Gal said.

"There has been discussion of attracting judges with a common law background," he said. "To what extent this will be effectively pursued remains to be seen."

"The success of this initiative will also heavily depend on the capacity of the French authorities in general, and of the judges of this new chamber in particular, to promote the initiative abroad in a voluntarist way, and not be shy about it – otherwise, any attempt by French companies to 'sell' this newly-created chamber to their economic counterparts when negotiating international contracts would likely be counter-productive," he said.

International businesses would, however, welcome the low costs associated with the French justice system, and the expertise of its judges, he said.

"The French justice system is totally free in France except for stamps' rights, which are very low. Overall, the cost of bringing proceedings in France is far lower than the cost or bringing proceedings in England. This, combined with the fact that judges at the Court of Appeal are generally highly regarded with a huge experience and judicial culture, could be quite attractive," he said.