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The Legal Process
Assistance for Victims of Crimes in France

The Legal Process

Reporting a Crime

  • If you report a crime and file a formal complaint with the police, an investigating judge (“juge d’instruction”) is appointed to the case.  The judge will rule on whether or not to conduct an investigation and prosecute the crime.
  • If you did not report the crime to the police at the time of the assault, you may write to the procureur’s office and file a formal complaint and claim for civil damages (“plainte avec constitution de partie civile”).  This type of complaint allows victims to immediately indicate a claim for compensation and a desire to be actively involved in the legal process (partie civile status may be claimed at any time during a trial).  The complaint will be forwarded directly to the juge d’instruction.  {A sample letter is attached here.} (PDF -135KB)

Right to a lawyer – The victim may seek the assistance of a lawyer.  The victim may benefit from financial assistance to cover some or all legal fees through legal aide (“aide juridictionelle”).  The lawyer can be present at all confrontations between the victim and the alleged attacker;at all of the victim’s hearings.

Evidence – Apart from DNA traces and possible injuries, any evidence gathered by the victim may be examined by the courts: testimonies; records of text messages and emails; recordings of conversations, even without the author’s knowledge; clothing, etc.

Filing a claim for civil damages (“Constitution de partie civile”)

The victim is responsible for reporting the crime, filing a formal complaint, and filing a claim for civil damages (that is, identifying himself/herself as the partie civile in the case – see details below).  A lawyer is recommended in order to ensure compliance with the correct procedures.

What is “Partie Civile”?

    • It is the victim’s formal attachment to a criminal case. The partie civile has privileges such as being informed of developments in the case, being able to contest certain court decisions, being able to present additional evidence in the case, and testifying in court.
    • Whether or not a complaint proceeds to litigation is decided by the French prosecutor (procureur) who reviews the case and decides whether there is sufficient proof to proceed against a suspect. The procureur may forward the case to a judge (juge d’instruction or examining magistrate) for further investigation and review, may dismiss the case due to insufficient evidence, or may negotiate a settlement.
    • If the case is forwarded for further investigation, the juge d’instruction may then either dismiss the case due to insufficient evidence, or forward it to the appropriate jurisdiction for trial.

Timeframe – Depending on the severity and complexity of the crime, it may take several weeks or months before the court processes a case to completion.  For misdemeanor-type cases, however, the procureur may negotiate a more immediate settlement between the victim and the offender.  In most cases, a French lawyer representing your case may pursue the case while you are abroad, although you may be required to be present as a witness during the trial.