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Professional French to English legal translations and English to French legal translation services play an important role in international arbitration in France. In 2011 France adopted a new law on arbitration (Articles 1142 – 1527 of the French Code of Civil Procedure) that governs both domestic and international arbitration and implements a more flexible regime for international arbitration cases. France has a long history of supporting the use of international arbitration, in fact being one of the first countries to adopt the Model Rules and this new system follows this line of support. The purpose of the reform was to make French law more accessible to foreign practitioners via the introduction of new innovations. Under its new system, it can be said that France has one of the world’s most pro-arbitration policies available. This article explores why.

Court Support

Unlike in many jurisdictions, where arbitration is viewed as ‘in competition’ with the courts, the French law ensures that the arbitration process receives complete support from the courts. For example, French law requires the assistance of the courts in setting up an arbitral tribunal when the process is hindered by the conduct of a party – such as when one party refuses to appoint an arbitrator. To ensure this assistance happens smoothly and quickly, French law has centralized jurisdiction with the Paris Tribunal de grande instance, giving it the sole power to rule on all motions relating to the appointment of arbitrators (termed ‘judge acting in support of the arbitration’).

Further, the party’s ability to recourse to the court system is only an option on a subsidiary basis, meaning the courts will only become involved in instances where the parties have not chosen a person responsible for administering the arbitration. When the arbitration is conducted under the auspices of the International Chamber of Commerce or the International Center for Dispute Resolution, these institutions are recognized as the chosen ‘person responsible’ and the French courts will not intervene at all. In other words, in such situations the administrating authority hears all challenges to the arbitrators and the French courts (unlike many other jurisdictions) are not allowed to second-guess its decisions. In situations where a judge is performing an assistance function, he or she is not allowed to make any substantive assessments as to the validity or scope of the arbitration agreement. Their role is limited to appointing an arbitrator.

French law also speaks to jurisdiction, formally recognizing that the French courts’ jurisdiction to act in support of the arbitration extends to both traditional areas (where parties have selected France as the place of arbitration) and to circumstances where a party “is exposed to a risk of denial of justice” even when the case has no connection to France (Article 1505(4) CCP). French courts can, however, play an evidentiary role in arbitration, particularly when the arbitral tribunal is constrained in its scope to addressing the orders to the arbitration parties only.

Enforcement and Review

According to French law, a French court may review any arbitration award rendered in France in international matters and awards rendered abroad within limited grounds. These limited grounds include:

  • The arbitral tribunal wrongly upheld or declined jurisdiction
  • The arbitral tribunal was not properly constituted
  • The arbitral tribunal ruled without complying with its mandate
  • Due process was violated
  • Recognition or enforcement of the award is contrary to international public policy

More so, any award rendered in France will be immediately enforceable, even when it is subjected to an action to set aside as, according to Article 1526, “neither an action to set aside an award nor an appeal against an enforcement order suspends enforcement of an award.” Another interesting component to the French arbitration law is the possibility offered to the parties, provided they state specifically, to waive any action to set aside an award (Article 1522 CCP). This right to waive an action to set aside is not limited to those domiciled or having a business establishment in France, but is available to all parties. It should be noted, however, that the exercise of this right is without prejudice to the French courts’ review of an arbitral award when a party seeks enforcement of the award in France (in which case the five limited grounds listed above apply).

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