In its decision of 21 January 2021, the French Administrative Supreme Court (Conseil d’Etat) gave three months to the Minister of Justice to issue an order setting out the date from which court rulings will be made available to the public. This has now been carried out with a slight delay with the publication of the order of 28 April 2021.
At the present time only an extremely small percentage of the rulings handed down by French courts are made available to the public free of charge in electronic format. Indeed “less than 1% of first instance and appeal decisions are available on the Legifrance website. The other decisions are sold to various subscribers, among them private companies specialised in legal publications”(1) . A few numbers enable one to have an idea of the volume of court rulings handed down in France according to the type of legal dispute, and to realise the work that still has to be carried out to complete what was referred to as “a mammoth task” by Jean-Jacques Urvoas when he was Minister of Justice. In 2019, not less than 2 250 217 court rulings were issued in civil and commercial cases, 812 249 in criminal cases and 267 809 in administrative cases(2). Less than 15 000 court decisions, essentially ones handed down by the French Civil Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation), are made available online each year by Légifrance, a French public service providing access to legal texts including laws and rules in force. The goal is now to distribute more than 3 million decisions per year(3).
The task of making available to the public court rulings in civil cases will be spread out over several years:
Certain decisions handed down by the courts « concerning legal disputes which are of general public interest » will however be made available to the public prior to the target dates indicated in this general plan, although for the present time no order has been issued setting forth any specific calendar in this respect nor a list of the decisions concerned.
According to the timeframe provided by the government starting from the fourth quarter of 2025, a decision of a Paris court will be made available online free of charge on a dedicated website 6 months after the decision. If it is indeed « tomorrow » that all of the decisions of the Cour de cassation and the Conseil d’Etat will be made available, a certain degree of patience will be necessary concerning first instance decisions which are of particular importance in the study of intellectual property.
(1) Further details provided by Senator Evelyne Didier in the framework of the parliamentary debates in April 2016 on a draft bill concerning a Digital Republic