Vol. 7.1 March 2003


Eva Steiner, French Legal Method (Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press, 2002), xii + 241 pp. incl. index, ISBN 1-84-174185-X, 24.99 (paperback).

This book is an excellent contribution to the common lawyer's grasp of French law. Other English-language works deal with substantive law, covering, for instance, sources, constitutional and administrative law, and some aspects of private law. But they have little to say about the all-pervasive assumptions and attitudes of French law students, teachers, attorneys, judges and legislators. Indeed, even the standard French-language works rather take these matters for granted, presumably because they are so obvious to their authors as not to call for exposition. An experienced French lawyer, tried and tested in the Channel Tunnel project, Maitre Philippe Noel, has given a wry account of the difficulties experienced by each team of lawyers as they faced the other: their most difficult task, he found, was 'to reconcile states of mind' (see 24 International Business Lawyer 25, 1996). This book would surely have helped the British team.

Drawing on her 20 years' experience, first at Paris I-Panthéon-Sorbonne and then at King's College, London, Ms Steiner gives the reader a patient, lucid, and penetrating account of the particular features of the French legal method. Her emphasis, as she says, is on legal processes, techniques and skills, rather than on legal rules and institutions. Yet one striking feature of the book is the fact that these techniques are illustrated by reproductions of some vivid basic materials - lois, décrets, réponses ministerielles, and several examples of different styles of judicial decision.

The first part of the work covers the law-making process, including legislation, codification, the role of the Médiateur de la République, case law and law reform. It contains much practical and very useful information on drafting, layout, law reports, annual reports of the highest courts, and electronic resources. In her treatment of these matters, the author goes beyond mere description and provides helpful evaluation for the foreign reader, offering, where appropriate, a reasoned critique of the French approach. The second part turns to the work of the judiciary, explaining their recruitment and training and its effect on their approach to their tasks. She deals, at some length, with the 'judicial syllogism' giving an explanation of the standard French understanding, adding illustrations, and setting out the limits of that method. Her chapter on judicial style is especially helpful, explaining its terminology, form and structure, and illustrating these features with entire judgments in both the old and the new styles of presentation. At pp. 230-1 she gives a striking example by reproducing two decisions of the Cour de cassation on the same problem - the damages to be awarded to cyclists whose collision with a motor vehicle led to their state of permanent unconsciousness. In one the lower court's decision is quashed, in the other it is left to stand, but the highest court's reasoning, if laconic, is entirely self-consistent.

All this information and material is put to good use in the third and final part dealing with legal education and legal exercises. It is there that one learns what is expected of a French student confronted with a cas pratique or an essay, and one begins to sense the importance of the Plan and the sanctity of the dyadic method: tertium nunquam datur.

Ms Steiner deserves the thanks of all comparative lawyers. Her work will be extremely helpful to the growing number of Anglophone students who venture across the Channel, since it will alert them to a number of tenacious practices which are often unremarked by the locals because to them (but not the visitor) they are so obvious. It will also help any scholar invited to teach in France. Every group of students in a law school has certain assumptions and expectations about what to expect from a course of lectures, feelings which are often the more powerful for being so rarely made articulate. It is good for the professor - especially the foreigner - to have some sense of these expectations. If this elderly reviewer had been able to read Eva Steiner's book forty years ago, he would have been a better teacher.

Bernard Rudden,
emeritus Professor of Comparative Law, Fellow of Brasenose College and Fellow of the British Academy,
Penzance, UK



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