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Published on 1 April 2020 by Pauline Kubat

Covid-19: French rules of civil procedure have been adapted

The Emergency Law to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic of March 23, 2020 (the “Emergency Law”) came into force on March 24, 2020, i.e. the date on which it was published in the Official Gazette. Article 4 of the Emergency Law declares health emergency throughout the national territory for a period of two months, i.e. until May 24, 2020.

Article 3 of the Emergency Law also empowers the Government to take, by means of Ordinances, the adaptation measures intended to put in place health emergency arrangements, under the conditions set out in Article 38 of the French Constitution.

As a result, the Government adopted 25 Ordinances on March 25, 2020.

In judicial matters, several Ordinances were issued to govern the organization of courts and procedures during this crisis.

In particular, the rules of criminal procedure were adapted by Ordinance No. 2020-303 of March 25, 2020[1] and rules applicable before administrative courts were amended by Ordinance No. 2020-305 of March 25, 2020[2].

Regarding specifically civil proceedings, two Ordinances have been adopted:

  • Ordinance No. 2020-304 of March 25, 2020[3] on the adaptation of the rules applicable to the judicial courts ruling in non-criminal matters and matters related to homeowner association contracts (contrats de syndic de copropriété);
  • Ordinance No. 2020-306 of March 25, 2020[4] on the extension of deadlines expiring during the state of health emergency and on the adaptation of procedures during that same period.

This article focuses on the two abovementioned pieces of legislation which have a significant impact on applicable time-limits and the conduct of civil proceedings (1) and the operation of judicial courts ruling in non-criminal matters (2).

1. The adaptation of time-limits and civil proceedings

The most notable measure in this exceptional legislative package is undoubtedly the introduction of an extension of procedural deadlines, which are to be understood in a broad sense.

Article 2 of Ordinance No. 2020-304 of March 25, 2020 provides as follows:

Any act, appeal, legal action, formality, registration, declaration, notification or publication prescribed by law or regulation under penalty of nullity, sanction, lapse, foreclosure, limitations, unenforceability, inadmissibility, expiration, automatic withdrawal, application of a special regime, nullity or forfeiture of any right and which should have been performed/completed during the period mentioned in Article 1 shall be deemed to have been made in time if it has been made within a period which may not exceed, from the end of the aforementioned period, the period legally prescribed for taking action, within a maximum of two months.

The same shall apply to any payment prescribed by law or regulation with a view to the acquisition or retention of a right”.

This provision is applicable for the period from March 12, 2020 until the expiry of a one-month period from the end of the state of health emergency (Article 1 of the aforementioned Ordinance). As indicated above, the Emergency Law, applicable from March 24, 2020, declared health emergency for 2 months, i.e. until May 24, 2020.

Consequently, the reference period covered by the Ordinance currently runs from March 12, 2020 to June 24, 2020.

As such, any action that should have been taken within this period, but was not carried out until two months later, i.e. until August 24, 2020 (for the time being), will therefore be deemed to have been carried out on time.

Article 3 of Ordinance No. 2020-306 also provides for an automatic extension until the end of the two-month period following the end of the health emergency (i.e., for the time being, until August 24, 2020) of the following administrative or jurisdictional measures which would otherwise expire during that period:

“1° Interim, investigative, conciliation or mediation measures;

2° Prohibition or suspension measures that have not been pronounced as a sanction/penalty;

3° Authorizations, permits and approvals;

4° Measures to assist, help or support socially disadvantaged people;

5° Measures to assist in the management of the family budget”.

Some provisions have also been adopted to clarify contractual relationships.

As such, Article 4 of Ordinance No. 2020-306 provides that penalty payments, penalty clauses, termination clauses and forfeiture clauses intended to sanction the non-performance of an obligation may not take effect during the period from March 12 to June 24, 2020, but only from one month thereafter, i.e. from July 24, 2020. Penalty payments and other similar clauses which took effect before March 12, 2020 shall also be suspended from March 12 to June 24, 2020.

Article 5 of the same Ordinance specifies that concerning deadlines for terminating and withdrawing from contracts which are to expire within the period from March 12 to June 24, 2020, those deadlines are extended by two months from the end of that period, i.e. until August 24, 2020.

2. The adaptation of the operation of judicial courts ruling in non-criminal matters

Needless to say that the functioning of the French justice system is of course very much affected by the current situation: except for emergencies,