Which foreign court judgments can be recognized and enforced in France?
Pursuant to article 509 of the French Code of Civil Procedure, "Decisions handed down by foreign courts and acts adopted by foreign officials are recognized and enforceable on the territory of the Republic as provided by law".
The recognition and enforcement in France of a certain number of foreign court decision requires the introduction of an exequatur procedure before the civil court in France.
But can all foreign judgments be subject to an exequatur procedure in France?
Not all foreign judgments are subject to exequatur in France
Not all foreign decisions can be presented for exequatur to the civil court in France.
Only foreign decision implying the "intervention by a judge producing effects on people or on property, rights or obligations" can be granted exequatur in France (Cour de Cassation, Civil Chamber 1, 17 October 2000, n°98-19.913).
This means that, only a judgment handed down abroad in civil and commercial matters may be the subject of an application for exequatur in France.
Case law and private international law scholars constantly point out that, regardless of the foreign court that rendered the decision, only foreign judgments concerning a "private law relationship" may be the subject of an application for exequatur in France.
Only decisions regarding in civil and commercial matters are therefore concerned, with the exception of judgments rendered in criminal, administrative, tax and political matters.
However, States may conclude bilateral or multilateral treaties establishing reciprocal cooperation in the enforcement of some of these decisions.
Which judgments fall within the scope of "civil and commercial matters"?
It is necessary to identify what the “civil and commercial” category comprises so as to determine if a foreign court decision can be subject to exequatur.
Civil and commercial matters are not, for the French judge, linked to the nature of the foreign court that rendered a decision. In fact, the criteria is not the name of the foreign court that issued a judgment (criminal court, administrative court, etc.), but the subject matter of the judgment.
As an example, a foreign judgment handed down by a criminal or administrative court is not, as such, forbidden from an exequatur procedure. Such a decision may in fact be subject to an exequatur application each time it rules on questions of private law.
The following decisions are considered to be private law matters and therefore subject to an application for exequatur:
Decisions relating to the status or capacity of a person (divorce, adoption, incapacity) when they are executed on property or on persons in France;
Judgments regarding bankruptcy or a company’s liquidation;
Judgments on assets (foreign decisions ordering one party to pay another party a certain amount, including civil sentences handed down in a criminal judgment).
When applying for the enforcement of a foreign judgment in a civil and commercial matter, the French judge is required to verify whether the foreign judgment was rendered by a court having jurisdiction, whether it violates any rule of public policy, or more precisely, whether it complies with the French concept of international public policy and whether it was handed down without fraud.
For more information on the conditions of exequatur under private international law in France, see https://www.legal-gc.com/post/jugement-etranger-exequatur-france-recognition-enforcement-foreign-court-decision-france
Caterina Giudiceandrea is a lawyer in France, native in English and specialized in international private law and especially recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.