Tribunal correctionnel (France)

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Tribunal correctionnel de Paris, at 14 quai des Orfèvres

In France, the tribunal correctionnel is the first-instance tribunal (en première instance) that governs in penal matters[1] over offenses classified as misdemeanors[2][3] and committed by an adult.[4] In 2013, French correctional tribunals rendered 576,859 judgments on 'action publique, pronounced 501,171 verdicts and homologué 67,983 compositions pénales.[5]

Lesser offenses called contraventions are judged by the tribunal de police[6] or the juridiction de proximité.[7][8] More serious wrongdoing such as felonies (crimes) are judged by the cour d'assises.[9][10]

In terms of judicial organisation, the correctional tribunal is one of the chambers[11] of the tribunal de grande instance. At the largest of these tribunals, several chambers may hear penal matters. Such tribunals number the chambers to distinguish them, and they are referred to as the nth correctional chamber or the nth chamber of the correctional tribunal.

Jurisdiction of the correctional tribunal[edit]

The jurisdiction of a court such as the correctional tribunal is determined either by:

  • the matters it judges (ratione materiæ),
  • the persons it may judge (ratione personnæ)
  • the territorial scope of its purview (ratione loci).

Jurisdiction is the first question to be determined by the tribunal correctionnel when a matter commes before it, so that it knows whether to proceed. If it cannot, it must relever son incompétence file a finding of nul jurisdiction (exception d'incompétence).

Criteria of jurisdiction[edit]

Ratione materiæ[edit]

In France, the correctional tribunal is the penal jurisdiction of first instance, competent to judge misdemeanors (delits).[1] In premier ressort,[12] it judges matters that concern the commission of a criminal offence (infraction pénale) considered a délit, similar in severity to a misdemeanor.[13] In French law a misdemeanor is an offense punished by a prison sentence (peine d'emprisonnement) or by a fine of at least 3750 euros.[3] The law sets ten years as the maximum length of a prison sentence for a correctional infraction.[14][15]

Ratione personnæ[edit]

The correctional tribunal is not competent to judge:

  • offenses committed by minors (depending on their age and situation one of the juvenile courts would be competent or the correctional tribunals for juveniles);
  • a misdemeanor committed by the president of the Republic or a member of the government in the exercise of their functions (which would, respectivement, by tried by either the Haute Cour or the Cour de justice de la République, competent in such a case).

Beyond these, the correctional tribunal is competent to judge any other person who has reached the age of majority and has committed an offense. Its competence extends to co-authors and accomplices, assuming they too have also reached the age of majority.[16] So for example two thieves who acted in concert,[17] are co-authors of the theft, and any sponsor or silent partner is an accomplice by instigation.[18] The three would judged together by the same correctional tribunal assuming they were all adults. If one were a minor, his situation can only be determined by a juvenile court. Any proceedings that concern him will be severed from the correctional tribunal case and take place only within the framework of the juvenile courts. So in some cases a matter might be examined by two different tribunals.

Ratione loci[edit]

Territorial compétence is defined with respect to:

  • the location of the offense;
  • the location of the defendant's residence;
  • the place of arrest;
  • the place of detention (even if detained for some other reason);
  • the domicile or residence of the victim in cases of family abandonment.

At least one of these five locations must be located within the territorial limits of the tribunal de grande instance for the correctional tribunal to be competent to judge the relevant infraction.

Since its latest reform, (réforme), the French judicial map includes 177 correctional tribunals whose assigned territory is that of the tribunal de grande instance of première instance.

Exception of incompetence[edit]

If the correctional tribunal finds that at least one of the competence criteria is absent, it must declare its incompetence: this means that it must refuse to judge the matter. The exception of incompetence is an absolute of the public order, which means that even if all parties had agreed to "chose" the tribunal correctional despite the rules of competence the tribual has an obligation to declare itself incompetent.

If during a trial the correctional tribunal finds that the facts it is judging as a misdemeanor (délit) in fact amount to a crime, it must déclare itself incompétent[19] and the matter referred to a juge d'instruction, whose referral is mandatory in matters of crime.[20]

Exceptions do exist to the exception of incompetence rule: a normally incompetent tribunal correctional can be brought to need to judge a matter that arise in another jurisdiction. When a matter is judged outside of the territorial jurisdiction it is called dépaysement.

Finally, law has come to recognize a practice of correctional tribunals, by fixing conditions where an act that can be characterized as a crime, rape for example can be judged by the correctional tribunal as a lesser offense, such as sexual aggression rather than rape: this is called correctionnalisation.


In some cases, notably good administration of justice, the matter must be judged in another territorial jurisdiction than the one prescribed ratione loci rules.

For reasons of public safety, where there is a risk of serious disturbance of the peace if the trial were held in the competent jurisdiction, the criminal chamber of the court of cassation can refer the matter to a different correctional tribunal. This request can only be made by the procureur général of the Cour de cassation, after he is informed of the difficulty.

In the interest of good administration of justice the criminal chamber of the court of cassation can also order the referral of a case to another tribunal than the one that is competent ratione loci, either at the request of the public prosecutor of the Cour de cassation, or of the prosector-general of the Court of Appeal in the jurisdiction where the jurisdiction in question has its seat, either on his own initiative or at the request of the parties. For example, if:

  • A magistrate,
  • a lawyer,
  • a public or ministerial official,
  • a member of the gendarmerie nationale,
  • an employee of the national police, customs or penal administration
  • or any other person who holds a position of public authority or who is charged with a mission of public service public,
  • a person who is habitually, by his functions or his mission, in relation with the magistrates or officials of the tribunal correctionnel which has jurisdiction

the procureur of the Court of Appeal that has jurisdiction over the particular correctional tribunal may, d'office, at the request of the procureur of the tribunal correctionnel and at the application of interested parties, transfer the proceeding to the tribunal de grande instance closest to the jurisdiction of the court of appeal, which will then have jurisdiction in the case, par dérogation aux dispositions de compétence territoriale.

Cases exist of material impossibility to hold the trial before the competent correctional tribunal. A referral may be ordered by the criminal chamber if the court that would normally have jurisdiction cannot be legally assembled or if the course of justice finds itself otherwise interrupted. A request for referral may be presented, either by the procureur général before the Court of cassation, or by the established ministère public before the jurisdiction in question.

More often, especially in smaller jurisdictions, if the normally competent jurisdiction cannot be composed because the incompatibilities exist that the law has provided for, the first president of the cour d'appel can order the matter sent back to a neighboring jurisdiction situated in the scope of that court and designated by a special ordinance passed every year by the first president of the court of appeal indicating for each of its jurisdictions the jurisdiction to which procedures may be sent for this reason.


A lack of means in the cours d'assises in France allows some defendants to be judged by the correctional tribunal[21] after committing a crime. This is termed correctionnalisation.[22] While illegal,[23] the arrangement often suits both parties;[24] the prosecutor or examining magistrate increases the likelihood of a shorter and simpler trial, while the defendant sees his crime downgraded to a simple misdemeanor-like délit.

Composition of a tribunal correctionnel[edit]

A French correctional tribunal is composed of:[25]

For the tribunal to sit with one judge only, à juge unique, the possible penalty must be less than five years imprisonment and the matter must concern délits specified by the Code de procédure pénale as traffic offenses (driving while intoxicated for example), or violence resulting in more than eight days of inability to work (incapacité Totale de travail (I.T.T.)) with only one aggravating circumstance. These cases are provided by Article 398-1 of the Code de procédure pénale. Paragraphs 2 and 3 of the same article outline some exceptions having to do with provisional detention and procedure for immediate appearance. In cases of the wrong judge (? -t) article 398-2 provides for a return to the collegial formation because the jurisdictional rules are d'ordre public. Usually, it is the président de la formation collégiale who rules à juge unique.

Sometimes there may be more than three judges if the arguments are expected to be lengthy. One or more additional judges may then attend, because the rule holds that one can only be judged by judges who have heard the arguments. This may pose a problem if one of the judges becomes ill, for example. Only three judges will deliberate the matter, however, regardless of the number who heard it.

Procedure before the correctional tribunal[edit]

The arguments are normally held in public, in open court. If publicity would endanger the order and serenity of the arguments, the dignity of the person or the interests of a third party, the plaintiff or the procureur may at their option request a closed session. This decision will be publicly rendered. (verify:decision to close? )

The president of the tribunal may prohibit the presence of minors, or of certain minors. He can expel any person who disturbs the arguments, including the defendant.

The procedure before a correctional tribunal unfolds in the following order:

  • The president notes the identity of the defendant and oulines the action the tribunal will judge
  • If motions of nul jurisdiction have been filed ''in limine litis'' (la), before the facts of the case are put in evidence, the tribunal theoretically should delve into the incident in depth and deliberate simultaneously on the procedural questions and on the acts with which the defendant is reproached, except if the points raised before a defense is made might play on the outcome of the proceedings. A judgement will be rendered.
  • Interrogation of the defendant
  • Argument of the plaintiff
  • The ministère public asks for a sentence
  • Argument of the defendant's lawyer (if the defendant has chosen to hire a lawyer)
  • The last word goes to the defendant.

After the arguments the prosecutor presents the government's demand for a sentence (réquisitoire oral). He summarizes the elements of culpability and may advocate a penalty for the defendant. His proposal does not obligate the tribunal; it is an opinion in consultation, given the same weight as the argument of the defense attorney.



  • Individual who appears before the tribunal correctionnel as a defendant is called un prévenu.
  • Victims of a crime are parties civiles when they seek indemnification.

See also[edit]


Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Article L211-1 of the Code de l'organisation judiciaire
  2. ^ Article L221-9 of the Code de l'organisation judiciaire
  3. ^ a b Article 381 of the Code de procédure pénale
  4. ^ Article 1 paragraph 1 of the ordonnance no 45-174 du 2 février 1945, modifiée, relative à l'enfance délinquante
  5. ^ Les chiffres-clés de la Justice 2014
  6. ^ Article L121-10 of the Code de l'organisation judiciaire
  7. ^ Article 521 of the Code de procédure pénale
  8. ^ Article L231-6 of the Code de l'organisation judiciaire
  9. ^ Article 181 paragraph 1
  10. ^ Article 231 of the Code de procédure pénale
  11. ^ chambre, an administrative division of the magistrates at that site, or seat of a tribunal or cour
  12. ^ In criminal matters, a double degree of jurisdiction is the rule. In other words one may have a matter re-tried on appeal, after a first trial un premier procès.
  13. ^ article L221-9 of the Code de l'organisation judiciaire
  14. ^ The penalty provided by law is tha set for the offense in question, independently of all other rules that may result in harsher sentences for persons found guilty, such as the laws on recidivism.
  15. ^ article 131-4 of the Code pénal
  16. ^ [1]]]1045C49AB1D6B84673470A811909.tpdila11v_2?idArticle=LEGIARTI000006576389&cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006071154&dateTexte=20150226 article 383] of the Code de procédure pénale
  17. ^ article 311-4 1° of the Code pénal
  18. ^ article 121-7 of the Code pénal
  19. ^ article 469 du code de procédure pénale
  20. ^ article 79 du code de procédure pénale
  21. ^ "La correctionnalisation des crimes". 
  22. ^ "correctionnalisation : définition de correctionnalisation, citations, exemples et usage pour correctionnalisation dans le dictionnaire de français Littré adapté du grand dictionnaire de la langue française d'Emile Littré". 
  23. ^ "La correctionnalisation judiciaire". 
  24. ^ Eolas (14 February 2005). "Politiquement correctionnel". 
  25. ^ article 398 du code de procédure pénale