How to Prove your Claim in a French Court?

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4 min.

When conducting business in France, it is common for commercial transactions to be based on personal or spontaneous relations between two or more parties. Because of this, the use of a formal contract or signed order with customers is not always used.  This means that very often there is no proof when things go wrong.

However, the absence of proof does not make your claim non-existent or less valid, but it does make using legal means, to force your customers to pay, much harder.

In the very unfortunate, but not so rare case, that a customer simply refuses to acknowledge the existence of the debt, there is normally no other option but to go to Court. But how can you prove your claim? The following information can help you navigate your way to recovering your debt.

French Courts

In France, the commercial court is entirely separate from the ordinary civil courts. The judges are professionals rather than career judges. Representation by a lawyer is not mandatory and almost anything may serve as proof of your claim, even oral proof.

Proof in a Commercial Court

There are limits to this though. We have experienced a European Order for Payment procedure (undisputed claim) where clients could only provide a copy of the invoices. This was insufficient for the French Courts.

In cases like this, where you don’t have the necessary proof, you can always turn the situation around and provide evidence that the debtor is not denying or contesting your claim.

Courts are not very strict. Often a POD or CMR, together with invoices and valid demand letters, are enough to prove there is a genuine claim. However, the use of either a POD or a CMR is rarely necessary.

The Use of a “Huissier de Justice” (Bailiff)

An official action carried out by a “Huissier” (bailiff) can also be a useful route for creating your own proof.

We can ask this public official to visit the debtor and draft a special document that can (sometimes) prove your debtor recognizes the existence of this debt.

If there is a dispute, however, you will always be better off preparing your file with the necessary documents. French courts accept translations by a lawyer to a certain extent, but it is better to keep correspondence in French where possible.

Recognition of Debt

In France, using registered post is essential. Without it, your demand letters are not valid as proof of your claim. Recognition of the existence of the debt by presenting email exchanges is effective however.  You do not need a formal agreement signed by the debtor; an exchange of emails will already be a good beginning to persuade the judges, depending on how they are written.

Applicability of Terms and Conditions

In order for your general terms and conditions to be applicable, it is always better to have them signed as a contract. However in practice, they are only really considered applicable if:

  • They are printed on the back of an invoice, which has at least partially been paid by the debtor
  • The debtor accepted their applicability when placing the order

Easiest way to prove your commercial claim? Have standard evidence and complete formalities with your clients.  In the absence of these however, there may still be an alternative solution as additional means of proof are permitted in a commercial Court.

If you have any questions relating to the above information or have an unpaid invoice, get in touch and we will happily assist you.