In addition to procedural time limits, French law also provides for limitation and prescription periods.
The prescription period (“délai de prescription”) is the period at the end of which either a person may acquire an actual right (known in that case as the “acquisitive/positive prescription period”) or the owner of a right, having failed to make use of it, may lose the right (“extinctive/negative prescription”). The prescription period may be suspended or interrupted.
The limitation period (“délai de forclusion”) limits the duration of the right of action. It corresponds to the common law concept of “limitation of action”. Limitation periods may not be suspended. They may not normally be interrupted. However, under Article 2244 of the French Civil Code they can be interrupted by certain acts, such as a service of process, an order to pay or a seizure.
Procedural time limits are those which apply to acts of the court, once the court has become involved. They are laid down by law or imposed by the court. Unlike limitation periods, they do not extinguish the action. These time limits can be neither interrupted nor suspended.
Under the texts in force, the following are non-working days:
Public holidays have been introduced in a number of French departments and "collectivités territoriales” to commemorate the abolition of slavery: 27 May in Guadeloupe, 10 June in Guyana, 22 May in Martinique, 20 December in Réunion and 27 April in Mayotte.
In the departments of Alsace-Moselle, Boxing Day and Good Friday are public holidays.
In ordinary law, under Article 2262 of the Civil Code, the prescription period is thirty years. However, there are a large number of exceptions to this principle, notably non-contractual civil liability claims, for which the prescription period is ten years from the occurrence or aggravation of the damage/injury.
However, a reform of the law on prescription in civil matters is currently under way. Under the terms of a bill adopted by the Senate (but not yet by the National Assembly) the extinctive/negative prescription period would be reduced to five years.
Limitation periods and procedural time limits vary according to the case and procedure.
In the case of procedural time limits, under Article 640 of the new Code of Civil Procedure, where an act or a formality must be carried out before the expiry of a time limit, this time limit begins on the date of the act, event, decision or notification which sets it running.
For limitation and prescription periods, this rule also applies subject to special provisions. Thus, pursuant to Article 2270-1 of the Civil Code, non-contractual civil liability claims are barred after a period of ten years from the occurrence or aggravation of the damage/injury.
Under Article 653 of the new Code of Civil Procedure, when notification is served by a bailiff the date of notification is that on which notification is served on a person, at his or her domicile or residence, or the date on which the report is drawn up in which the bailiff sets out the procedures followed to locate the person to whom the act is addressed.
Under Articles 668 and 669 of the new Code of Civil Procedure, the date of notification by post, as far as the person taking the action is concerned, is the date of dispatch; for the person being served it is the date of receipt. The date of dispatch of a notification by post is the date on the postmark of the office of dispatch. The date of delivery is the date on the receipt or the date of initialling. The date of receipt of a notification by registered letter with advice of delivery is the date on which the letter is stamped by the postal service when it is delivered to the addressee.
By way of derogation from these provisions, Article 647-1 of the new Code of Civil Procedure provides that the date of notification of an act in a “collectivité d'outre-mer” (overseas community), New Caledonia or abroad is, as far as the person taking the action is concerned, the date of dispatch of the act by the bailiff or the registry, otherwise it is the date on which it is received by the competent Public Prosecutor's Office.
Under Article 641 of the new Code of Civil Procedure, where a time limit is expressed in days, the day of the act, the event or the decision, or of the notification which sets it running is not counted.
The point at which the time limit begins is not affected by the form of the notification. However, where the act has not been delivered to a person, certain provisions make it possible for the point at which the time limit starts to run to be deferred until the date of service of documents to a person or the date on which enforcement measures are taken on the basis of the act.
For example, if a person must act or is served a document on Monday 4 April 2005 and he or she is requested to answer within 14 days from service, does this mean that he or she shall answer before:
Under Article 642 of the new Code of Civil Procedure, a time limit which would normally expire on a Saturday, Sunday or public or other holiday is extended to the first following working day.
Consequently, the time limit continues to run on Sundays and public holidays but is extended where it would normally end on a Saturday, Sunday or public or other holiday.
Under Article 641 of the new Code of Civil Procedure, where the time limit is expressed in months or years it will expire on the day of the last month or year which bears the same number as the day of the process, event, decision or notification that causes the time limit to run. Where the relevant month has no day with the same number, the time limit expires on the last day of the month.
Where a time limit is expressed in months and in days, the months will be counted first, then the days.
The rule laid down in Article 642 of the new Code of Civil Procedure (cf. previous question) applies to any time limit, whether it is expressed in days, in months or in years.
As explained above, under Article 642 of the new Code of Civil Procedure, all time limits expire at midnight on the last day, unless extended in cases where the limit would normally end on a Saturday, Sunday or public or other holiday.
As stated above, all time limits begin on the date of the act, event, decision or notification which sets it running.
As stated above, a time limit which would normally expire on a Saturday, Sunday or public or other holiday is extended until the first following working day.
The starting point of a time limit must be fixed or be able to be fixed. If necessary it may be examined by the court. Consequently, the extension of a time limit to the next following working day applies to all cases and in all procedures.
Under Article 643 of the new Code of Civil Procedure, where an action is brought before a court sitting in metropolitan France, the time limits relating to appearances, lodging an appeal, a motion to set aside, a motion for revision and an appeal in cassation will be extended by:
Under Article 644 of the new Code of Civil Procedure, where an action is brought before a court sitting in an overseas department, the time limits relating to appearances, lodging an appeal, a motion to set aside, and a motion for revision will be extended by:
In theory, under Article 538 of the new Code of Civil Procedure, the time limit for an appeal is one month in contentious matters and fifteen days in non-contentious matters. However, a number of texts derogate from this principle. For example, the time limit for appeal is 15 days in the case of interim injunctions, decisions of the court of enforcement, orders of a family court, decisions of judges in juvenile courts in cases of educational assistance, etc.
In an emergency, judges can shorten appearance time limits and allow a specific date to be fixed. Conversely, judges may defer examination of a case to a later date so that the parties are able to appear.
Under Article 647 of the new Code of Civil Procedure, where a process addressed to a party residing in a place where he would benefit from an extended time limit is served on him in person in a place where those who reside there would not benefit from such extended time limit, the notification will comprise only the time limits granted to the latter.
The end of the prescription or expiry of a limitation period terminates the existence of the right of action and is sanctioned by a finding of non-admissibility, the effect of which is to have the application declared inadmissible without an examination on its merits.
The penalties attached to failure to comply with a procedural time limit laid down by law or imposed by the court vary according to the purpose of the time limit and the nature of the act to be performed. Failure to comply with an appearance time limit nullifies a judgment delivered before the time limit expired if the defendant has not appeared. Failure by the parties to show due diligence is usually penalised by removal from the list. Failure to complete procedural formalities is sanctioned by nullity.
There are no provisions for reversing the extinction of the right of action before the courts, which is a legal effect of the completion of a prescription or limitation period.
However, where a legal instrument so provides, the judge may relieve a party from the time bar resulting from the expiry of a time limit. Thus, Article 540 of the new Code of Civil Procedure provides for the possibility of relieving a party from the time bar resulting from the expiry of a time limit for lodging an appeal against a judgment rendered by default or deemed to be adversarial where the party, through no fault of his own, was not aware of the judgment in time to bring a review action or if he was unable to act.
A judge’s decision declaring a procedural act statute-barred may be the subject of an appeal or of an application for revocation. Nullity terminates the process but leaves open the right to bring an action. A new application can therefore be made provided that no grounds have been shown for extinction of the action, notably prescription.
An appeal cannot be lodged against a decision to remove a case from the list. However, the cause of action still subsists following removal from the list. As a result, the interruption of the prescription or limitation introduced by the writ remains. Completion of a formality, an application for restoration of the case on the list, is sufficient to halt the stay of proceedings resulting from removal.Top
Last update: 19-12-2008