History and heritage of the Jurisdiction

Created in 1790, under the name Tribunal de cassation, the highest jurisdiction in the judicial order is renamed Cour de cassation by Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1804.

In the XIX Century, the Cour de cassation was granted a setting worthy of the greatness of its task. Architecture, sculptures, paintings... Everything here reminds the visitor of the major role played by the Cour in our society : ensuring a uniform application of the Law.

Located at 5 quai de l'Horloge, on the Ile de la Cité, the Cour de cassation occupies the north wing of the Palace of Justice of Paris.

A 2,000 years old legacy

Justice has been dispensed for more than 2,000 years on the Ile de la Cité.

It is here on the Ile de la Cité, for example, that in the IVth Century, the Roman Emperor Julian introduced the presumption of innocence, a key concept in today’s justice system.

From the Vth Century onwards, the palace, built by the kings of France, has been the beating heart of the French justice system.

At the origins of the cassation

In the XIIIth Century, King Louis IX, known as Saint-Louis, sets the basis for the French justice system. He decided that Justice would no longer be solely a prerogative of spiritual authorities, but that of the sovereign.

As justice is now dispensed by men (rather than God) it becomes fallible and requires the correct application of the Law to be overseen.

This mission is entrusted to the Conseil des parties (part of the King's Council), the ancestor of the Cour de cassation.

Saint Louis radically reformed the justice system by promulgating the Grand Ordinance in 1256. This highly innovative general text emphasized the importance of the presumption of innocence. "No one is to be deprived of his rights without a recognised fault and without a trial", it stated. The sovereign addressed this decree to the authorities around the kingdom, in order to ensure its global application. Upon dying, he bequeathed his son a text, a vade mecum, in which he reminded him that "the royal power must verify that the cities enforce justice properly".

Built at the request of Saint Louis and at the same time as the Sainte-Chapelle, the Bonbec Tower, with its distinctive crennels and chimneys, hosted criminal trials until the Revolution. 

It was the jail of Ravaillac, the famous murderer of King Henry IV. 

It has been occupied by the Cour de cassation since the XIXth Century.

The first floor, a historic setting

In1861, architects Lenormand and Duc oversaw the construction of the building dedicated specifically to the Cour de cassation, on the exact site of the former royal gardens, adjacent to the existing Palace of Justice. 

The iridescent shades of the stained-glass windows in the Saint-Louis arcade absorb the sunbeams and cast their light onto the criminal chamber and its richly decorated ceiling.

In 1871, the Cour de cassation is one of the seats of power burned down by the Paris Commune. The courtroom which hosts today the Commercial chamber escaped from the flames totally unharmed: incredibly, its original decor,in the style of Napoléon III, remains intact. 

The ceiling of the deliberation room the First civil chamber n displays the shining Tablets of Stone in its center: a reminder that we find ourselves in a Temple of the Law. 

Athena, the Greek goddess of Wisdom who replaced Vengeance with Justice, watches over the deliberations from the grand marble mantle.  

The Grand'chambre, jewel of the Court

This elaborate courtroom typically hosts the hearings of the First civil chamber. But it is also where the court’s most solemn formation takes place: the plenary hearing (or Full Court), reserved for the matters of greatest significance for case law and the nation.

Every year in January, the Cour de cassation welcomes representatives and members of the legislative and executive branches, as well as national and foreign dignitaries who gather for a solemn hearing which marks the beginning of the Judicial Year in France.

Baudry's "The Glorification Of The Law" has adorned the ceiling of the Grand'chambre since 1888, representing allegories of law, jurisprudence, justice, equity, and a harmonious society. It also serves as a reminder to all those who sit below it that Lex Imperat-the law commands.

At each corner of the courtroom, the great law-making rulers (Justinien, Charlemagne, Saint-Louis and Napoleon Bonaparte) watch over the Grand'chambre, a room that has been theater to great trials that have shaken French society and history. For example, in 1906, when the Cour de cassation reinstated Captain Alfred Dreyfus at the end of a trial that captivated and divided the French nation.

The Cour de cassation also has a marvelous library and associated archives.

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