Filing a civil suit in France

The term “civil party” is often confused with the term “victim”, when in fact it is not quite the same concept.

A civil party is a person who considers himself to be the victim of an offence and who intervenes as such in a procedure with the objective of obtaining compensation for his or her loss.

The immediate victim of an offence is not automatically a civil party in the sense of criminal procedure, but he or she acquires this procedural status as a result of his or her constitution. However, trade unions or associations can become civil parties to an action, in cases strictly defined by the law, not because they are the immediate victims, but because they are defending a collective interest.

A victim who wishes to sue for damages must meet several conditions:

  • To have the capacity to act in justice

Non-emancipated minors and adults under tutorship do not have this capacity. The action for compensation for their damage is then exercised by their legal representatives (minors) and tutors (incapable adults).

  • The damage must be personal and actual

The personal damage is the damage that the victim suffers personally, as a result of the offence.

The damage is actual, when it has actually occurred. Possible damages, those that are only about to be produced, are thus excluded.

  • The damage must be directly caused by the offence

In other words, the damage must not result from any other event than the offence.

When the conditions are satisfied, the suit can be filed either before the criminal court or before the civil court. This choice is open and the consequences are not identical.

If the civil way is chosen, the rules of the civil procedure will be applied. If the criminal court has not been seized by the public prosecutor, the civil judge is free to assess the facts submitted to him. On the other hand, when the criminal court is seized of the facts at the origin of the victim’s damage, the outcome of the civil proceedings will depend on the criminal judgment. The civil court will therefore suspend its decision, pending the decision of the criminal court. Once this criminal decision is definite, the civil judge will necessarily take it into consideration : this is the rule of res judicata.

If the criminal way is chosen, the civil suit can trigger the prosecution by the public prosecutor’s office: seize the court by direct summons or the investigating judge by the complaint with civil suit. If criminal proceedings have already been initiated by the public prosecutor’s office, the civil suit can be filed at any time during the proceedings.

Why file a civil suit?

The victim who constitutes a civil party before the criminal court becomes a real party to the proceedings and thus acquires the following rights: information on the progress of the proceedings, access to the criminal file through his attorney, and even active participation in the judicial investigation – exercise of appeals against certain acts of the investigating judge are possible. It is also possible to appeal the decision, in the part that concerns her civil action.

It is not uncommon that the decision to become a party to the proceedings is difficult for the victim, despite the fact that it is possible to refuse the confrontation with the offender and that the presence of the civil party is not obligatory during the hearings – his/her voice can be carried by his/her lawyer. Maria Snitsar will listen to you and will advise you on the opportunity of this procedure in your individual situation. If this option is finally chosen, Maria Snitsar will assist you throughout the procedure and will ensure that your rights are protected.

Contact Maria Snitsar

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