Decision

Decision no. 2009-595 DC of December 3, 2009

Institutional Act pertaining to the Application of Article 61-1 of the Constitution.

On November 21st 2009, the Constitution Council received a referral from the Prime Minister, pursuant to paragraph 5 of Article 46 and paragraph 1 of Article 61 of the Constitution, with regard to the Institutional Act pertaining to the application of Article 61-1 of the Constitution.

THE CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCIL

Having regard to the Constitution as worded pursuant to Constitutional Act n° 2008-724 of July 23rd 2008 modernising the Institutions of the 5th Republic

Having regard to Ordinance n° 58-1067 of November 7th 1958 as amended (Institutional Act on the Constitutional Council);

Having regard to Institutional Act n° 99-209 of March 19th 1999 as amended pertaining to New Caledonia;

Having regard to the Code of Administrative Justice;

Having regard to the Code of Courts of Audit;

Having regard to the Code of Judicial Institutions;

Having regard to the Code of Criminal Procedure;

Having heard the Rapporteur;

ON THE FOLLOWING GROUNDS

  1. The Institutional Act submitted for review by the Constitutional Council was enacted under Article 61-1 of the Constitution and passed in compliance with the rules of procedure provided for by the first three paragraphs of Article 46 of the Constitution

WITH RESPECT TO THE NORMS OF REFERENCE :

  1. Article 29 of the Constitutional Act of July 23rd 2008 referred to above has inserted into the Constitution Article 61-1 which provides: "When during proceedings before a Court of Law, it is claimed that a statutory provision infringes the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, a referral may be made to the Constitutional Council by the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation, and the Constitutional Council shall give its ruling within a specified time. - An Institutional Act shall determine the conditions governing the application hereof. Article 30 of said Constitutional Act has inserted a second paragraph into Article 62 of the Constitution whereby " A provision held to be unconstitutional on the basis of Article 61-1 shall be repealed as from the publication of the decision of the Constitutional Council or at a subsequent date as specified by said decision. The Constitutional Council shall determine the conditions in and extent to which the effects of the challenged decision shall be liable to be called into question".

  2. Firstly, the Constituent power has thus acknowledged the right for each citizen subjected to the jurisdiction of the courts to argue in support of his claim that a statutory provision infringes the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Secondly, it vests the Conseil d'Etat and the Cour de cassation, the courts at the pinnacle of the two systems of law recognized by the Constitution, with power to decide whether this issue of constitutionality should be referred to the Constitutional Council. Lastly it vests in the Constitutional Council jurisdiction to rule on such issues and, if need be, to hold that a statutory provision is unconstitutional.

  3. The good administration of justice is an objective of constitutional status deriving from Articles 12,15 and 16 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789. It is up to Parliament, competent, when enacting Institutional Acts, to determine the conditions of application of Article 61-1 of the Constitution, to ensure the attainment of this objective without disregarding the right to make a referral for a preliminary ruling as to the constitutionality of any statutory provision.

WITH RESPECT TO SECTION 1:

  1. Section 1 of the Institutional Act inserts into the Ordinance of November 7th 1958 referred to hereinabove a Chapter II bis entitled " On preliminary rulings as to constitutionality". This Chapter comprises three parts devoted to the provisions applicable respectively before the courts coming under the supervisory jurisdiction of the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation, or before the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation and lastly, before the Constitutional Council.

As regards the provisions applicable before courts under the supervisory jurisdiction of the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation:

  1. Part 1 of Chapter II bis referred to above comprises sections 23-1 to 23-3 pertaining to the provisions applicable to courts coming under the supervisory jurisdiction of the Conseil d'Etat and the Cour de cassation;

As regards Section 23-1 :

  1. Under section 23-1 : "Before Courts coming under the supervisory jurisdiction of the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation, the argument that a statutory provision infringes the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution shall, on pain of inadmissibility, be raised in writing and accompanied by a reasoned justification of this plea. Such an argument may be raised for the first time before a Court of Appeal. It cannot be raised by the court proprio motu..

"Before a Court coming under the supervisory jurisdiction of the Cour de cassation, when the Public Prosecutor is not a party to these proceedings, the matter shall be brought to his attention once the argument has been raised so that he may make his opinion known.

"If such an argument is raised during a preliminary investigation into a criminal offence, the matter shall be brought before the relevant appellate court.

"Such an argument may not be raised before a Cour d'assises. In the event of appeal against a decision handed down at first instance by a Cour d'assises, it may be raised in writing in a document accompanying the notice of appeal. This document shall be immediately transmitted to the Cour de cassation".

  1. Firstly, when requiring that the argument based on the infringement by a statutory provision of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution be made in writing in a separate document accompanied by a reasoned justification of this plea, Parliament, when passing the Institutional Act, intended to facilitate the handling of the referral for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality and enable the court before which the issue is raised to rule in the shortest possible time so as not to delay proceedings, if this matter is to be transmitted to the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation.

  2. Secondly, the provisions of Article 61-1 of the Constitution required Parliament, when passing the Institutional Act, to reserve for the sole parties to the proceedings the right to contend that a statutory provision infringes the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Consequently the final phrase of paragraph 1 of Section 23-1, which forbids the court to which the matter is referred to raise proprio motu the issue of a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality , does not fail to comply with the Constitution.

  3. Thirdly, paragraph 4 of Section 23-1 forbids the raising of the issue of a preliminary ruling before the Cour d'assises. Such a matter may be raised during the preliminary criminal investigation which precedes the trial of the offender. It may also be raised on the lodging of notice of appeal against a decision handed down by a Cour d'assises at first instance or the lodging of an appeal on a point of law with the Cour de cassation against a decision of a Cour d'assises sitting in appellate jurisdiction and shall be transmitted immediately to the Cour de cassation. Parliament, when passing the Institutional Act, intended to take into account, in the interests of the good administration of justice, the specific nature of the organisation of the Cour d'assises and trial proceedings in this court. In these conditions, forbidding the raising of the issue of a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality before the Cour d'assises does not fail to comply with the right recognised by Article 61-1 of the Constitution.

  4. In view of the foregoing, section 23-1 of the statute referred for review is not unconstitutional.

As regards Section 23-2

  1. Under section 23-2 : "The Court shall rule without delay, giving reasons for its ruling, as to the transmission to the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation of the application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality. Such transmission shall require that the following conditions be met :

" 1° The challenged provision is applicable to the litigation or proceedings underway, or is the grounds for said proceedings;
" 2° Said provision has not already been found to be constitutional in the holding of a decision of the Constitutional Council, except in the event of a change of circumstances
" 3° The matter is of a serious nature

"In all events, the court involved must, when confronted firstly with arguments challenging the conformity of a statutory provision with the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and secondly with the international commitments entered into by France, rule in priority on the matter of the transmission of the application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality to the Conseil d'Etat or Cour de cassation.

"The decision to transmit the application shall be sent to the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation within eight days of the handing down of said decision together with the submissions of the parties. Refusal to transmit the application may only be challenged upon appeal against the decision settling all or part of the litigation involved".

  1. Firstly, the three conditions governing the transmission of the application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality do not fail to comply with Article 61-1 of the Constitution. The condition provided for by 2° of Section 23-2 complies with Article 62 of the Constitution which provides that "No appeal shall lie from the decisions of the Constitutional Council. They shall be binding on public authorities and on all administrative bodies and all courts". By reserving the case of a "change of circumstances" this condition makes it possible for a statutory provision found to be constitutional in the grounds and holding of a decision of the Constitutional Council to be examined anew when this fresh examination is justified by changes which have taken place since the previous decision in the applicable norms of constitutionality or in the circumstances, whether of fact or law, affecting the scope of the challenged statutory provision.

  2. Secondly, when requiring that arguments of unconstitutionality be examined in priority before those based on the failure of a statutory provision to comply with international commitments entered into by France, Parliament, when enacting the Institutional Act, intended to ensure compliance with the Constitution and reiterate the place of the latter at the summit of the national legal system. This priority merely results in specifying the order in which the arguments raised before the court to which the matter is referred be examined. It does not restrict the jurisdiction of said court, once the provisions pertaining to the preliminary ruling as to constitutionality have been complied with, to ensure the superiority over national laws of legally ratified or approved treaties or agreements and norms of the European Union. It thus does not fail to comply with either Article 55 of the Constitution or Article 88-1 thereof whereby " The Republic shall participate in the European Union constituted by States which have freely chosen to exercise some of their powers in common by virtue of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, as worded pursuant to the Treaty signed in Lisbon on December 13th 2007".

  3. Section 23-2 is thus not unconstitutional.

As regards Section 23-3 :

  1. Section 23-3 provides : "When the application for a preliminary ruling is transmitted, the court shall stay its ruling until receipt of the decision of the Conseil d'Etat ou Cour de cassation or, if the matter has been referred to it, the Constitutional Council. The preliminary investigation underway shall not be suspended and the court may order any necessary temporary measures or measures of conservation.

" However there shall be no stay of ruling when the person involved is in custody due to the proceedings underway, nor when the purpose of such proceedings is to discharge a custodial measure.

"The court may also rule without waiting for the decision on the preliminary ruling as to constitutionality if statute law or regulations provide that it should give its ruling within a specified time or as a matter of urgency. If the court of first instance rules without waiting for said decision on the preliminary ruling and its decision is appealed against, the appellate court shall stay its ruling. It may however not stay its ruling if it is itself required to rule on issues which must be dealt with forthwith.

"Furthermore, if staying the ruling would lead to irremediable or patently excessive consequences as regards the rights of one of the parties, the court deciding to transmit the application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality may rule on those issues which need to be dealt with forthwith.

"If an appeal on a point of law has been made to the Cour de cassation and the trial judges have handed down their decision without waiting for the decision of the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation or the Constitutional Council, if the matter has been referred to the latter, the Cour de cassation shall stay its ruling on said appeal pending a ruling on the application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality. This shall not however be the case when the applicant is deprived of his freedom because of the proceedings underway and statute law provides that the Cour de cassation shall give its ruling within a specified time."

  1. These provisions require the court hearing the case to stay its ruling until the decision of the Conseil d'Etat or Cour de cassation or the Constitutional Council, if the matter has been referred to the latter, while reserving those cases where, due to urgency, the nature or circumstances of the case, such a stay of ruling is not possible. In the event of a court ruling on the merits without waiting for the decision of the Conseil d'Etat or Cour de cassation or the Constitutional Council, if the matter has been referred to the latter, the court called upon to hear an appeal or an appeal on a point of law should in principle stay its ruling. Thus to the extent that they preserve the practical effectiveness for the applicant of the application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality, these provisions, which contribute to the good administration of justice, do not fail to comply with the right recognised in Article 61-1 of the Constitution.

  2. However, the last phrase of the last paragraph of section 23-3 may lead to a final decision being handed down in a case concerning which an application has been made to the Constitutional Council for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality before the latter has in fact ruled on this application. In such a case, neither this provision nor the principle of res judicata should be allowed to preclude the person involved in these proceedings from bringing fresh proceedings in order for the decision of the Constitutional Court to be taken into account. With this qualification, section 23-3 is not unconstitutional.

As regards the provisions applicable before the Conseil d'Etat and the Cour de cassation.

  1. Part 2 of Chapter II bis referred to above comprises sections 23-4 to 23-7 pertaining to the provisions applicable before the Conseil d'Etat and the Cour de cassation

As to sections 23-4 and 23-5

  1. Section 23-4 provides : "Within three months of receipt of the transmission provided for in section 23-2 or in the final paragraph of section 23-1, the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation shall rule on the referral of the application made to the Constitutional Council for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality. This referral shall be made when the conditions provided for in 1° and 2° of Article 23-2 have been met and the issue raised is new or of a serious nature." Section 23-2 provides " The argument based on the infringement by a statutory provision of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution may be raised, including for the first time before the Cour de cassation, when a case is being heard by the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation. Said argument shall be presented, on pain of being inadmissible, in separate and reasoned submissions. It cannot be raised by the court proprio motu.

"In all events the Conseil d'Etat or Cour de cassation must, when asked to rule on arguments claiming firstly that a provision infringes the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, and secondly that it runs counter to the international commitments entered into by France, rule in priority on the transmitting to the Constitutional Council of the application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality.

"The Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation shall have a period of three months as from the formal raising of the argument to hand down their decision. The Constitutional Council shall be asked to rule on the application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality once the conditions provided for in 1° and 2° of section 23-2 have been met and the issue raised is new and of a serious nature.

"When the matter has been referred to the Constitutional Council, the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation shall stay their ruling until the Constitutional Council has given its decision. This shall not however be the case when the applicant is deprived of his freedom because of the proceedings underway and statute law provides that the Cour de cassation shall give its ruling within a specified time. If the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation is required to rule in a matter of urgency, there can be no stay of ruling".

  1. Firstly the last phrase of paragraph 1 of Article 23-4 and the last phrase of paragraph 3 of section 23-5 provide that the Constitutional Council shall be asked to rule on the application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality if "the issue raised is new". By adding this criterion Parliament intended to require that the Constitutional Council be asked to rule on the interpretation of any constitutional provision which it had not yet been asked to rule on. In the other cases, Parliament intended to allow the Conseil d'Etat and the Cour de cassation to determine whether the issue raised was of sufficient interest to warrant referring the application to the Constitutional Council on these grounds. Therefore, an issue raised in an application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality cannot be new within the meaning of these provisions on the sole grounds that the challenged statutory provision has not yet been examined by the Constitutional Council. This provision is not unconstitutional.

  2. Secondly, paragraph 2 of section 23-5 requires that, when an issue of constitutionality is raised for the first time before the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation, or when the latter examine an appeal brought against a decision handed down in proceedings where a request for the transmission of an application for a preliminary ruling was refused, the arguments as to the constitutionality of the impugned provision be examined in priority to those based on failure of a statutory provision to comply with the international commitments of France. On the grounds identical to those set forth in paragraph 14 hereinabove, this provision is not unconstitutional.

  3. Thirdly, the two last phrases of the final paragraph of section 23-5 make it possible for a final decision to be handed down in proceedings where the Constitutional Council has been petitioned to make a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality without waiting for the ruling of the latter. With the same qualifications as those set forth in paragraph 18 hereinabove, these provisions are not unconstitutional.

  4. Fourthly, on grounds identical to those set forth in paragraphs 8,9 13 and 17 hereinabove, the remaining provisions of sections 23-4 and 23-5 are not unconstitutional.

As regards section 23-6

  1. Under section 23-6 : "The First President of the Cour de cassation shall receive applications transmitted to the Cour de cassation as provided for in section 23-2 and in the last paragraph of section 23-1. The submissions mentioned in section 23-5, presented with applications addressed to the Cour de cassation, shall also be transmitted to the same.

"The First President shall immediately inform the Chief Public Prosecutor.

"The Cour de cassation shall rule with a Bench presided by the First President and the Presidents of the Chambers and two Judges from each of the Chambers specifically concerned by the application.

"However the First President may, should the situation so require, refer this matter to a Bench composed of himself, the President of the Chamber specifically concerned and a further Judge from the latter

"For the application of the two foregoing paragraphs, the First President may be replaced by a delegate appointed by him from among the Presidents of the various Chambers of the Cour de cassation. Said Presidents may also be replaced by delegates appointed by them from among judges sitting in said Chambers".

  1.   These provisions, pertaining to the rules governing the composition of the trial Benches of the Cour de cassation for the examination of  those applications for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality transmitted to it or raised before it, are of an institutional nature. They do not fail to comply with any rule or principle of a constitutional nature.  
    

As regards section 23-7 :

  1. Section 23-7 provides that the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation shall refer applications to the Constitutional Council by a reasoned decision accompanied by the submissions of the parties. Since the Constitutional Council has no jurisdiction concerning the proceedings at the origin of the making of the application, only the application in writing or the "separate and reasoned" memorandum and the submissions pertaining solely to this application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality are to be transmitted to the Council. This section also requires that the Constitutional Council be provided with a copy of the reasoned decision at the basis of the refusal of the Conseil d'Etat or Cour de cassation to refer the application to it. When also providing for the automatic transmission of the application to the Constitutional Court in the event of failure by the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation to rule within the allotted three month period, Parliament, when passing the Institutional Act, implemented the provisions of Article 61-1 of the Constitution which provide that the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation "shall give its ruling within a specified time". These provisions thus comply with the Constitution.

  2. The provisions of sections 23-4 to 23-7 should be interpreted as prescribing before the Conseil d'Etat or the Cour de cassation the implementation of rules of procedure conforming to the requirements of the right to a fair trial, completed, if need be, by methods of application set down by regulations making it possible for these courts to examine the application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality in the manner provided for in section 4 of the Institutional Act. Subject to this qualification Parliament when passing the Institutional Act did not fail to exercise its powers to the full.

As regards the provisions applicable before the Constitutional Council:

  1. Part 3 of Chapter II bis referred to hereinabove comprises sections 23-8 to 23-12 pertaining to the examination by the Constitutional Council of applications for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality.

  2. Section 23-8 lists the authorities informed of the referral to the Constitutional Council. Section 23-10 requires the latter to give its ruling within three months and provides for there to be a full hearing of all parties before the Council in addition to the principle that hearings be held in public. Section 23-11 provides that reasons be given for the decisions of the Council and lists the authorities to which notice of said decisions be given. Lastly, section 23-12 provides for an increase in the State contribution to the remuneration of the officers of the court under the system of legal aid when the Constitutional Council is asked to rule on a referral for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality. These provisions do not fail to comply with any constitutional requirement.

  3. Section 23-9 provides : " When the Constitutional Council has been asked to rule on an application for a preliminary ruling, the termination for any reason whatsoever of the proceedings in which this issue was raised shall have no effect on the examination of this issue." By thus disconnecting, as from the moment when the matter is referred to the Constitutional Council, the application for a preliminary ruling from the proceedings which have given rise to this application, Parliament intended to draw the inferences of the effect of decisions of the Constitutional Council, firstly under paragraph 2 of Article 62 of the Constitution and secondly under 2° of section 23-2 of the Institutional Act. This section does not fail to comply with any other constitutional requirement.

  4. As is shown by the foregoing, subject to the qualifications set forth in paragraphs 18,23 and 28 hereinabove, section 1 is not unconstitutional.

WITH RESPECT TO SECTION 3 :

  1. Section 3 inserts after the first paragraph of section 107 of the Institutional Act of March 19th 1999 referred to above a paragraph whereby : "The provisions of a law of the land may be the object of an application for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality which complies with the rules set out in Articles 23-1 to 23-12 of Ordinance n° 58-1067 of November 7th 1958 pertaining to the Institutional Act on the Constitutional Council".

  2. Article 77 of the Constitution provides that "certain kinds of decisions taken by the Deliberative Assembly of New Caledonia may be referred to the Constitutional Council for review before publication". Section 99 of the Institutional Act of March 19th 1999 referred to hereinabove has defined the field covered by "laws of the land" of New Caledonia and section 107 has conferred upon them "statutory force" in this field. Section 3 referred to hereinabove thus conforms to Article 61-1 of the Constitution which provides that applications for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality shall apply to statutory provisions.

WITH RESPECT TO THE OTHER PROVISIONS:

  1. Section 2 which inserts into the Code of Administrative Justice, the Code of Judicial Institutions, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Courts of Audit provisions designed to ensure coordination with the provisions of section 1, does not fail to comply with any constitutional requirement.

  2. Section 4 provides that the manner of application of section 1 is to be determined in the conditions provided for by Articles 55 and 56 of the Institutional Ordinance of November 7th 1958 referred to hereinabove and also specifies that the internal rules of procedure of the Constitutional Council shall determine the rules of procedure applicable "before it". This reference to a Decree of the Council of Ministers, after consultation of the Constitutional Council and taking the opinion of the Council of State, is not unconstitutional.

  3. Section 5 fixes the date of the coming into force of the Institutional Act on the first day of the third month after the promulgation thereof. The Institutional Act shall therefore apply to proceedings underway on the date on which it comes into force. However only those applications for a preliminary ruling as to constitutionality made as from this date in writing or separate and reasoned submissions shall be admissible. This section does not fail to comply with any constitutional requirement.

  4. As is show by the foregoing, with the qualifications set out in paragraphs 18, 23 and 28, the Institutional Act pertaining to the application of Article 61-1 of the Constitution is not unconstitutional.

HELD

Article 1 - With the qualifications set out in paragraphs 18, 23 and 28, the Institutional Act pertaining to the application of Article 61-1 of the Constitution is not unconstitutional

Article 2 - This decision shall be published in the Journal officiel of the French Republic

Deliberated by the Constitutional Council sitting on December 3rd 2009 and composed of Messrs Jean-Louis DEBRE, President, Guy CANIVET, Jacques CHIRAC, Renaud DENOIX de SAINT MARC and Olivier DUTHEILLET de LAMOTHE, Mrs Jacqueline de GUILLENCHMIDT, Mr Jean-Louis PEZANT, Mrs Dominique SCHNAPPER and Mr Pierre STEINMETZ.