There is a key distinction among the members of the Cour de cassation (Court of cassation), and more generally in the French judicial system, between members of the Bench and members of the Prosecutor-General’s Office. The role of the members of the bench is to judge, while the members of the prosecution are responsible for ensuring that the law is properly applied.
The judges of the bench include the First President, the presidents of chambers, the judges and the judge -referees (conseillers and conseillers référendaires) and the judge-auditors (auditeurs).
The First President has both judicial and administrative responsibilities. He or she presides over the full court formation and joint benches of the Court, as well as over one of the chamber whenever he or she considers it desirable.
The First President decides on the requests for urgency submitted by the parties to the appeal and, if necessary, may reduce the time limits for the filing of pleadings.
He or she decides on the relevance of requests for authorization to enter a plea of forgery lodged by the parties against a document produced before the Cour de cassation (Court of cassation).
He or she notes the lapse of an appeal for failure to file a pleading within the time limit or its inadmissibility as well as withdrawals.
He or she rules on requests for the withdrawal of cases from the cases-list.
He or she hears decisions of the Legal Aid Office, which may be referred to him or her.
He or she assigns the judges, judge-referees and registrars to each of the Court’s six chambers.
Finally, the First president chairs the Bureau and has authority over the director of the Registry for administrative matters.
In addition to his jurisdictional and administrative responsibilities within the Court, the First president has external activities. He or she chairs the High Council of the Judiciary, both in disciplinary matters and for the appointment of judges since the reform adopted by the Act of 23 July 2008, the Commission for the Advancement of Judges, as well as the Board of Directors of the National School for the Judiciary.
As the highest-ranking judge in France, the First president is a privileged interlocutor of the State authorities and frequently represents the judiciary at national and international levels. In particular, he or she is consulted on draft laws and decrees concerning the Court of Cassation, but also on major reforms affecting the judiciary. Owing to the independence of its function and its inherent authority, the legislator also makes the First President responsible for appointing personalities to chair or participate in various national bodies.
For several years now, the First President has been holding an annual meeting with all the first presidents of the courts of appeal, in the presence of representatives of the chambers of the Court and representatives of the Ministry of Justice, to discuss new legal issues emerging from the first instance courts and courts of appeal. These exchanges continue through regular contacts between the courts of appeal and the Cour de cassation (Court of cassation). They are a valuable tool for strengthening the links between the various levels of the judicial system and enable the Court to identify priorities in its mission to rule on the law in the cases it has to deal with.
There are six presiding judges of chambers - the seventh is the director of the Documentation, Studies and Report Department. They preside over the hearings of their respective chamber. In their absence, the hearing is presided over by the elder judge or, if unable to attend by the most senior judge present.
The conseillers are the judges of the Court. They are appointed by decree of the President of the Republic on the proposal of the High Council of the Judiciary. They are appointed among the judges of the judicial order. Professors of law or lawyers at the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State) and the Cour de cassation (Court of cassation) may also be considered. Among the judges, there are conseillers en service extraordinaire (councillors in extraordinary service), who are appointed for ten years, based on their expertise and experiences.
The judges may also be called upon to sit on committees and institutions to which they are appointed, generally by designation or on the proposal of the First President.
In each chamber of the Court, the elder judge (doyen) has a supervisory role over all cases.
The conseillers référendaires (judge -referees) are junior judges. They are appointed among the judges of first instance courts, for a maximum period of ten years. They have only an advisory vote during deliberations, except in cases for which they are rapporteurs, in which case their vote is deliberative.
The auditeurs (judge-auditors) are judges in charge of research and decision support, mainly in the Documentation, Studies and Report Department.
The Prosecutor General’s Office
The Prosecutor General’s Office is headed by the Prosecutor-General, assisted by six first advocates-general. It also comprises forty-two advocate-generals and seven advocate-general referees.
The members of the Prosecutor General’s Office are assigned by the Prosecutor-General to the Court’s chambers according to need and their expertise.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office has a specific role and powers. The Prosecutor-General’s Office of the Cour de cassation (Court of cassation) differs from other public prosecutor’s offices as it is neither hierarchical, nor is it in charge of the public prosecution. The Prosecutor-General and the advocate-generals are thus independent from the Minister of Justice, and the advocate-generals are not subordinate to the Prosecutor-General, who cannot give them instructions.
According to Article L. 432-1 of the Judicial Code, the Prosecutor-General’ Office « gives opinions in the interest of the law and the common good. It informs the Court on the scope of the decision to be taken. » In this sense, the Prosecutor-General is the defender of the law and acts as the intermediary between the Court and civil society.
In addition, the Prosecutor-General refers to the Cour de cassation (Court of cassation) appeals for revision, requests for referral to another court on grounds of legitimate suspicion or for the proper administration of justice, requests for settlement of judges, requests for registration of a plea of forgery or requests for recusal.
The Prosecutor-General also performs the functions of the Prosecutor -General’s Office at the Court of Justice of the Republic (Cour de justice de la République), where he or she is assisted for this purpose by an advocate-general.
The Prosecutor -General’s Office also intervenes in various commissions or committees close to the Court of cassation, as well as in the commission ruling on appeals lodged by judicial police officers who have been suspended or had their authorization withdrawn.
Finally, the Prosecutor-General is called upon to intervene in the management of the judiciary and its discipline. Thus, he is a member of the Advancement Commission of Judges and the Board of Directors of the National School of Judiciary. In addition, since the reform of the High Council of the Judiciary introduced by the Act of 23 July 2008, he chairs the High Council of the Judiciary panel responsible for disciplining prosecutors.