Criminal law (France)

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In France, criminal law is codified in the new 1994 version of the code pénal . Since Article 34 of the French constitution does not have legislative competence for contraventions , these could be regulated in the partie réglementaire solely through règlement (~ ordinance). Offenses are divided into crimes (~ serious crimes), delits (~ offenses and minor crimes) and contraventions (~ administrative offenses). This classification has an impact on jurisdiction: Crimes are tried before the cour d'assises . The examining magistrate is also obliged to investigate ( juge d'instruction ).

History of theory

The doctrine of criminal liability in French jurisprudence today differentiates between "élément matériel", "élement légal" and "élément morality", which - viewed very roughly - correspond to the offense , illegality and guilt in German criminal law .

Historically, the development of the criminal offense started with enlightenment and natural law . In 1780, Muyart de Vouglans describes a two-part structure:

«Il faut bien distinguer dans le crime le fait et l'intention; le fait sans l'intention ne peut soumettre à (la) justice (humaine). C'est par la réunion du fait extérieur avec l'intention que se forme le crime. »

“In the case of a crime, a distinction must be made between what is happening and the will. What happens without the will cannot be subject to human jurisdiction. The clash of external events with the will is what constitutes the crime. "

- Pierre-François Muyart de Vouglans : Les lois criminelles de France dans leur ordre naturel, p. 2 no. 7th

These two prerequisites soon became widely recognized in research and the legislature. They were first described as "elements" of criminal liability at the beginning of the 19th century by Pierre-Jean-Paul Barris :

«Tout délit se compose de two éléments: d'un fait qui en constitue la matérialité, et de l'intention qui a conduit à ce fait et qui en détermine la moralité. »

"Every crime is made up of two elements: an event that establishes its material content, and the will that leads to this event and constitutes its spiritual content."

- Pierre-Jean-Paul Barris

Although this conceptual change was a first step towards a general doctrine of the crime, the designation as "elements" was initially purely terminological: the "élément matériel" and the "élément morality" were, however, rather unrelated; the former as a doctrine of the action, the latter as a doctrine of the perpetrator. The most important dogmatic innovations on the way to the classic "division tripartite" came from Edmond Villey and Armand Lainé . In 1877 Villey postulated the direct relationship between "élément intentionnel" and external events. He also prepared the third element, which is still valid today, as a prerequisite for criminal liability. Accordingly, "infraction" is:

"Toute action ou inaction contraire à un commandement posé par la loi sous une sanction pénale et qui ne se justifie pas par l'exercice d'un droit"

"Any act or omission contrary to a commandment which is punishable by law and which is not justified by the exercise of a right"

- Emond Villey : Précis d''un cours de droit criminel, p. 61

This approach was completed by Lainé's "élément légal:" The principle of legality - already in force since the constitutions of 1791, 1793 and III - had thus turned from a constitutional principle into a real component of a three-part doctrine of criminal offenses, consisting of act, perpetrator and law.


  • Yves Mayaud, Carole Gayet (eds.): Code pénal (2010) . Dalloz , Paris 2009, ISBN 978-2-247-08256-8 .
  • Jean Perfetti, Hervé Pelletier (ed.): Code pénal (2010) . LITEC, Paris 2009, ISBN 978-2-7110-1130-8 .
  • Jean-Claude Soyer: Droit pénal et procédure pénale . 20th edition. LGDJ, Paris 2008, ISBN 978-2-275-03303-7 .
  • Jacques-Henri Robert : L'histoire des éléments de l'infraction . In: RSC . 1977, ISSN  0035-1733 , p. 269 ff .
  • Volker Helmert: The definition of a criminal offense in Europe . Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2011, C. The definition of criminal offenses in France, p. 128-165 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b Volker Helmert: The concept of criminal offenses in Europe . Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2011, p. 129 .
  2. a b c Volker Helmert: The concept of criminal offenses in Europe . Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2011, p. 130 .