1902 Encyclopedia > France > France: Government and Administration; Law and Administration of Justice.

(Part 2)


Government and Administration. Law and Administration of Justice.

Government and Administration

The governments and constitutions which have ruled France since 1789 have been many, and have presented wide differences. We have not, however, to consider here those frequent changes, which belong to history; we have merely to state from a geographical and statistical point of view how France is now governed and administered. The law of the 25th February 1875 confirmed in France the republican government which had existed from the fall of the empire; but the institutions of the country still bear strong evidence of their monarchical origin and tendency. The sovereignty of the people, acknowledged and proclaimed since 1789, is now represented by three powers, -0 the chamber of deputies, the senate, and the president of the republic. The deputies are elected by universal suffrage; each district or "arrondissement" sends one deputy to the chamber, if its population does not exceed 100,000, and an additional deputy for every additional 100,000 inhabitants, or fraction of that number. The senate consists of 300 members, the fourth part of whom were at first elected by the national assembly, and hold office for life, each vacancy being filled up by a vote of the senate. The others are elected by special bodies formed, in each department and in the colonies, by the deputies, the general councilors, the councilors of arrondissement, and a delegate of each municipal council. They are in office for nine years, and every third year are partly renewed. The president of the republic is chosen for seven years by the senate and chamber of deputies voting together. He promulgates the laws passed by the parliament; he has the command of the land and sea forces, but cannot declare war without the advice of the chambers; he makes treaties of peace, alliance, and commerce, nominates to all Government offices, and has power to dissolve the chamber of deputies, with the sanction of the senate. He receives a yearly salary of 600,000 francs, with an allowance of 162,400 francs for household expenses. Senators and deputies have an allowance of 9000 francs each per annum. It may here be interesting to compare the salary now paid to the president of the republic with the civil list or revenue of the various dynasties which have successively ruled France since the beginning of the century. Louis XVIII. had 15,510,000 francs per annum, and 4,000,000 were allowed to the royal family. Charles C. got 25,000,000 for himself and 7,000,000 for the princes. Louis Philippe was satisfied with 12,000,000 francs a year, and adequate allowances to his children. And lastly, the second empire cost 25,000,000 francs a year, not including the pensions to the members of the imperial family, the revenues of the palaces, castles, and forests, and those mysterious resources which have become known by the name of virements.

Next to these three great powers must be mentioned the council of state, presided over by the minister of justice, and composed of a vice-president, 22 councilors in ordinary service, 15 councilors in extraordinary service, representing the different ministers, 24 mautres des requetes, 20 auditors of first class, 10 auditors of second class, a general secretary having the title and rank of a mature des requetes, and a secretaire du contentieux. The auditors are appointed after a competitive examination; the councilors in ordinary service are elected by the chamber, and the other members of the council of state are nominated by the president of the republic. The business of the council is to give its advice on the projects of law which the parliament or the Government wish to submit to it, and on administrative regulations and bye-laws. All dispuites arising in matters of administration, and all claims or complaints against administrative officials, are brought before the council of state, whosedecision is final. The vice-president receives a salary of 25,000 francs, the presidents of sections or committees 18,000 francs, the councilors 16,000, the matures des requetes 8000 francs, and the auditors of first class 4000 francs; auditors of second class have no remuneration.

The executive department of the Government is administered by the president of the republic and his cabinet council, consisting of nine ministers, viz., - the minister of justice and keeper of the seals; the minister of foreign affairs; the minister of the interior; the minister of finance; the minister of war; the minister of marine and colonies; the minister of public instruction, ecclesiastical affairs, and the fine arts; the minister of agriculture and commerce; and the minister of public works. They are appointed by the president of the republic, and are responsible to the chamber. They receive a salary which has been reduced from 100,000 to 60,000 francs, and may live, if they choose, in the "hotels" where the duties of their ministry are discharged.

Administratively, France is divided into 87departments cut rather arbitrary out of the territory of the ancient provinces. These departments are subdivided into 362 "arrondiseements," 2865 "cantons," and about 36,000 "communes." The table on page 510 contains a list of the departments, with their capital towns and arrondissements, and also a reference to the old division into provinces.

Each department is administered by a prefect appointed by the president of the republic, and each arrondiseement by a sub-prefect. The prefects are divided into three classes, the salary being 35,000 francs for the first class, 24,000 for the second class, and 18,000 for the third class. The prefect of the Seine has 50,000 francs a year. The authority of each prefect is great in his own department: he can issue local decrees; he appoints and dismisses a number of agents who depend directly in him; he is at the head of the police to maintain public order, and for this purpose can summon the military forces; he super-intends the collection of taxes; he is in correspondence with all the subordinate functionaries in his department, to whom he transmits the orders and instructions of the ministers; in one word, he is the general agent of Government, and the principal instrument of centralization in the state. He is assisted in his work by two bodies, the general council (conseil general) , which is elected by universal suffrage, and the council of prefecture, which is nominated by the head of the executive power. The business of the council of prefecture is to decide all legal question and to advise the prefect, when asked to do so. The general councils assess the taxes, authorize the purchase, sale or exchange of department property, superintend the management of the same, decide about new roads, railways, or canals, vote the budget for sanitary and charitable institutions belonging to the department, and give advice on every matter of local interest, political questions being strictly excluded. The law of the 23d February 1872, however, has invested them with great political importance; in case of the parliament being violently dissolved by a coup d’etat, they must immediately assemble, and form a new parliament with their delegates, in order to oppose by all means the criminal attempt.

As the prefect in the department, so the sub-prefect, with a more limited authority, is the representative of the central power in the arrondisssement. He is assisted, and to certain extent controlled, in his work by the council of arrondissement – an elective body to which each canton of the arrondessement sends one member. Except in that case, the canton is not an administrative division. It will be noticed again in connection with the judicial system of the country.

The commune is the administrative unit in France. At its head is a mayor assisted by deputy-mayors (adjoints), the number of whom varies according to the population; communes of 25600 inhabitants have one deputy-mayor; up to 10,000 inhabitants they have two, from 10,000 to 30,000 three, and one additional for every 20,000. The mayor has a double part to perform, as he represents both the central power and the commune;


And often it is a difficult matter to avoid a conflict of duties. He is besides officier de l’etat civil, or official registrar of births, marriages, and deaths. The mayor and deputy- mayor are not salaried officials. In the large towns they are nominated by Government, but they must always be chosen out of the municipal council, which is elected on the principles of universal suffrage, and has with regard to the commune much the same power and duties as the general council with regard to the department.

Every canton must have a commissary of police, who is under the direct control of the mayor. This police-officer is appointed by the prefect in towns having not more than 6000 inhabitants, and by the president of the republic in the others. He has rather complex duties, being at the same time a governmental, judicial, and municipal agent.

Paris and Lyons have in some respects a special and exceptional administration, the consideration of which belongs to the articles devoted to these cities.

Law and Administration of Justice

Judicial proceedings may be classed under civil, commercial, and criminal jurisdictions; there are besides some special departments, such as military and maritime tribunals, councils of discipline, and the cour des comptes.

In civil matters, every canton has a juge de paix, whosedecision is final when the amount in dispute does not exceed 100 francs (4 pounds); up to 200 francs, he only can give a sentence subject to appeal. His principal business is, however, one of conciliation; and no suit can be brought before the tribunal of first instance till he has endeavored without success to bring the parties to agreement.

A tribunal of first instance, or primary court, is established in every arrondissement. Its decision may be appealed against for sums above 1500 francs. The cours d’appel decide the actions when the sentence of the first court has been appealed from. They are 26 in number, established in the following towns: -


Tribunals of commerce to decide disputed points arising out of business transactions are instituted in all the more important commercial towns, and consist of judges chosen from among the leading merchants, and elected by their fellows. For sums above 1500francs there can be appeal from their decision. In small towns, the judges of the civil tribunal decide such commercial cases.

The courts of criminal jurisdiction are of three kinds. The tribunals of ordinary police (that is, the justice of the peace court in each canton) have the cognizance of small offences, which are punishable by a fine not exceeding 15 francs (12s), or by imprisonment not exceeding 5 days. Offences of a more serious character, which French law calls delits, are judged by a special section of the tribunals of first instance, bearing the name of tribunal correctionnel. This tribunal can be appealed to from the sentences pronounced by tribunals of police; but its judgments are also subject to the revision of the cours d’appel. Offences which rank as crimes are judged by the cour d’assises, consisting of three magistrates and twelve jurors. The jury, as in England, decides only on the facts of the case, leaving the application of the law to the judges. The assizes are the only courts that are not stationary. They are held in the chief towns of the departments once in three months. In all criminal suits, the first inquiry is confided to a special magistrate attached to the tribunal, called juge d’instruction. He conducts the necessary investigations privately and with almost absolute power. An order of non-lieu issued by this magistrate at once puts an end to any prosecution. But if he finds that the case should go to trial, he hands it over to the court, beforewhich a public prosecutor, with the title of procureur, or procureur-general de la republique, maintains and endeavors to prove the accusation.

Above these various tribunals the court of cassation stands supreme. It is held at Paris, and is composed of three chambers, the chamber des requetes, the chamber civile, and the chamber criminelle. Its province is to decide in all appeals from the other courts, investigating, not the facts of the case, but the forms of law, and ordering, wherever these have been infringed or deviated from, a new trial before such other tribunal as it thinks fit.

Among the special jurisdictions may be mentioned the military tribunals or councils of war, which sit in judgment on crimes and offences committed by soldiers, or by civilians in a town or district proclaimed by the Government as in a state of siege; the maritime tribunals, which are to the navy what the councils of war are to the land forces; and the councils of discipline for lawyers and other professional corporation. The cour des comptes deserves special notice. It consists of three chambers, with a president in chief over the whole court, and three presidents (one for each chamber), a general procurator, a chief greffier, 102 councilors, 20auditors, and 81 clerks. This important institution, which costs, 1,554,500 francs a year, was created in 1807 in order to control all the accounts of the Government officials. Certain agents who are not magistrates are, however, connected with the administration of justice. Such are the greffiers (clerks of the court), who keep the archives, and receive a salary from the Gvoernment; the huissiers (sheriff-offices), who give notice of summonses and sentences; and the avoues (solicitors) and the public notaries (notaries).

Statistics of Justice (1874). – In 1874 the juges de paix had before their bar, with a view to private settlement, a total of 2,160,116 cases, and brought the parties to an agreement in 856,340 a result which is hardly satisfactory. As judges, they had on their rolls 391,129cases, to which5166 electoral disputes must be added. Their decisions were appealed from in 4460 cases. There were 125,248 cases on the rolls of the civil tribunals of first instance. The commercial courts had 255,333 cases before them, 5596 of which were cases of failure of bankruptcy. In 1850 the number was only 138,027. The decisions of the various courts above mentioned were followed by 10,555 appeals, which were brought before the cours d’appel. Ina bout 67 per cent. of these the original sentences were confirmed. Of offences 168,835 were brought under the consideration of the tribunaux correctionnels, 171,432 males and 31,678 females being implicated in them. of these 7509 were under sixteen years of age, and 146,588 above twenty-one. The tribunals aquitted 13,506. Out of 7949 appeals the cours d’appel confirmed about three-fourths of the original sentences, and in 1206 cases increased the punishment awarded by the tribunaux correctionnels. The jury and judges of assize courts tried4084 cases, affecting 5228 prisoners, 4368 being males and 860 females; 55 were under sixteen years of age, 799 under twenty-one, and 284 above sixty; 2818 were unmarried; and nearly the half of the number consisted of people living in towns, 170 only had received a good educational; 1810 could not read, and 2160 could read and write but imperfectly. The jurors found 1056 prisoners not guilty; 31 were condemned to death, 151 to hard labor for life, 972 to hard labor for a limited time, 1 to transportation; 29, who were under sixteen years of age, were sent to houses of correction; sentences of imprisonment for various periods were passed on the others, except two, who were fined. Four women were among the prisoners condemned to death; the sentence was carried out in the case of 13 of the convicts; the others, including one of the women, had their sentences commuted. Besides these criminal cases, the cours d’assise had to decide on 20 alleged infringements of the laws and regulations affecting liberty of the press, and on 10 political offences, consisting of speeches, cries, or displaying of emblems considered as seditions. The accused were 52 in number, of whom 28 were acquitted, 4 fined, and 20 sent to prison. There were 1100 criminal matters as in civil. In a large majority of cases it confirmed the decrees of the tribunals, only 103 having been sent back for a new trial.

Prisons. – Although the prisons are attached to the ministry of the interior, it is impossible to treat of the administration of justice without saying a word about them. The convicts who have to serve more than one year are distributed into 24 central prisons (maisons centrals). Departmental prisons receive those whose sentence does not exceed one year. Political convicts are kept in custody in the two maisons de detention of Doullens (Somme) and Belle-Ille (Morbihan). Two places of transportation, Cayenne and New Caledonia, receive those who were formerly confined in bagnes, or convict prisons. The population of these penal colonies is considerably increased by the victims of internal discord; for in France it seems as if the victorious party thought that by banishing its opponents from their native land it could eradicate the ideas for which they unsuccessfully fought. The expenses of these different penitentiary establishments amount to about 18,5000,000 francs. On the other hand, the produces of prison labor has a value of 2,800,000 francs.

Police. – The public peace is maintained by an armed police or gendarmeire, partly on foot and partly mounted; and in all emergencies, when this force is found insufficient for the preservation or execution of the laws, the troops may be called in to assist, subject, however, to the orders of the police. About 7000 gardiens de la paix, formerly sergents de ville (policemen), under the orders of the prefect of police, form in Paris an additional police force; and similar organizations exist in all the larger towns.

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