Court updates from France and Spain



As of midday 17th March 2020 the French government imposed a nationwide confinement upon the entire population of France. This “lockdown” has an initial duration of two weeks, although it could well be extended.

One of the effects of this emergency law is that all non-essential work is now restricted to being undertaken remotely, ie from home. Furthermore, public offices, and places such as the French tribunals, are closed.

What therefore is the effect upon proceedings already underway in France, and will it be possible to commence proceedings during the lockdown?

For proceedings already underway 

All proceedings underway will be automatically adjourned, irrespective of the type of matter or the stage of the claim. All decisions due to be rendered within this period will also be adjourned. This will not prevent parties from exchanging submissions and documents through their lawyers.

Certain elements of French procedure are still to be considered by the ministry of justice. For example all rules relating to time limits. For example that of “péremption” (the rule requiring the parties to pursue their claims or defences expediently) but also other important time limits such as that relating to an appeal or limitation of actions.

We are expecting the Ministry of Justice to suspend the running of péremption time limits and perhaps other time limits too. We will provide further guidance as and when this is announced.

As matters stand, all time limits must continue to be respected. For the avoidance of doubt this includes limitation of action time limits.

Preparation and service of WRITS (head claims and third party claims)

During this period of lockdown we are still able to prepare and serve writs before certain courts.

However, before some jurisdictions in France it is necessary to insert a “first hearing date” within the writ. Certain courts are no longer providing such dates which means that it is impossible to validly issue and serve a writ. We are expecting the Ministry of Justice to issue guidance.

For those courts that continue to provide dates for the first hearing then writs can be issued and served, although it will be prudent to elect a first hearing date sufficiently far ahead.

Under French procedure it is the “service of the act” that protects any time limit and not (as in England and Wales) the issuing a claim before the court. In France therefore we rely on our “huissiers” (court bailiffs) to undertake service and the majority of the “huissiers” with whom we work have confirmed that where the matter is urgent (limitation/time bar issues for example) then they can continue to effect service for us and this irrespective of the rules relating to the “lockdown”. Where translations are also required, our usual translating service providers have also confirmed that they can continue to undertake urgent work. The filing of the writ (placing it on the court role) will also continue, although this will be achieved via an internet platform with the courts.

Where a judgment has recently been rendered, then the time limits for appeal will continue to apply, unless and until the Ministry of Justice suspends such time limits.

Writs served upon you

If you are served with a French writ of summons which contains a first hearing date within the present lockdown time frame (ie between 17th and 31st March 2020) the first hearing date will be adjourned until further notice.  

Ancillary and Enforcement action

The court bailiffs will be able if necessary to continue with enforcement measures during the lockdown period. However, given the physical closure of the courts, no ancillary or conservative applications can be made (such measures requiring the intervention of the judge). The Ministry of Justice should also address this issue in the coming days and we will provide further updates as necessary.

The above information is based upon verified information available as at time of sending. The situation is likely to evolve rapidly and we will continue to provide updates where necessary.

Contact our Paris team



In Spain, Royal Decree 463/2020, of 14 March, with the aim of containing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Spain, declared the State of Alarm. It has a validity of 15 days (although it may, and will likely be, extended) and it limits almost all movements of persons and most commercial activity.

The Royal Decree provides the suspension, during the term of the State of Alarm, of the terms and procedural deadlines for all jurisdictional orders. Such suspension will be lifted once the State of Alarm (or any agreed extension) is raised.

The general rule of suspension of terms and deadlines have, however, some exceptions. In relation to criminal proceedings, the suspension will not apply to (i) habeas corpus proceedings, (ii) actions entrusted to services on duty, (iii) actions with detainees, (iv) protection orders, (v) urgent actions linked to prison surveillance and (vi) precautionary measures regarding violence against women or minors. Those proceedings which are under the investigation phase may continue, following the Judge decision, limited to the practice of those actions that, due to their urgent nature, cannot be postponed.

Other exceptions to the general rule of suspension, in other jurisdictional orders, are (i) the procedures for the protection of the fundamental rights or the processing of the planned judicial authorizations or ratifications, (ii) the procedures for collective conflicts and for the protection of fundamental rights and public liberties, (iii) the authorization for the non-voluntary internment due to mental disorder and (iv) the adoption of measures or provisions for the protection of minors.

In addition, Courts and Tribunals may agree to the practice of any judicial actions that may be necessary to avoid irreparable damage to the rights and legitimate interests of the parties in the process.

In relation to administrative terms, the Royal Decree (i) suspended the terms and deadlines for processing procedures linked to public sector entities (unless those are related to situations closely linked to the facts justifying the State of Alarm). As an exception to the latter, the relevant administrative body may agree to the measures of organisation and instruction strictly necessary to avoid serious damage to the rights and interests of the affected parties in the procedure.

Lastly, the statute of limitations and expiration of any actions and rights will be suspended during the term of the State of Alarm and its hypothetical extensions.