Official website of Notaires de France

Civil Law Notaries and Written Law model


Law is a key factor in any culture and deeply affects societies and the behaviour of the individuals who belong to them. It also supports and acts as a driving force for any political, economic and social changes.

The world's legal systems broadly fall into two categories: our model of written law, on which the civil law notary is based, and the system found in the English-speaking world.

Today, 86­ countries, representing more than 2/3rds of the world population, are familiar with the civil law notary. In the European Union, notaries operate in 22 of the 28 Member States­.

  • Our model of written law

    • Under this system, the civil law notaries draw up instruments that cannot be challenged. Civil Law Notaries are legal professionals and public officers who are appointed by the State to authenticate agreements reached between parties and to give them unbiased advice.

    • The system is based on laws which lay down frameworks governing contractual relations. Proof is based on the supremacy of written documents. Written laws are the fountainhead of the legal system. The State appoints a qualified professional, a Civil Law Notary, to ensure the security and certainty of contracts and to authenticate the documents they draw up.

    • The formalism protects the individual's wish and guarantees his free consent.

    • Law "consumers" are therefore fully informed about the undertakings they enter into. An unbiased advice from a qualified professional appointed by the State to authenticate contracts and ensure legal certainty protects the interests of people entering into a contract.

  • Legal system in the English-speaking world

    • Under this system, case-law is an essential source of private law.

    • Individual cases judged by the courts become precedents which, unless legislation is passed to the contrary, become rules of law.

    • There is no tradition of codification. Contracts express the wishes of the contracting parties once their respective lawyers have completed negotiations. In the event of a dispute, judges most frequently rule by referring to the precedents that may apply to the dispute.

  • Drawbacks

    • Contracts are bulky because they have to cover every eventuality, leaving no room for oversights or bad faith.

    • Coming to a contractual agreement is often more of a power-struggle between the parties and their lawyers than an attempt to reach a fair, balanced solution. The most experienced, competent or wealthiest party is often the best able to impose his/her viewpoint on the other.

    • The legal service is seen and treated as a commodity that is subject to market rules with which legal professionals have to comply. Lawyers are then quite naturally tempted to put winning new market share above ensuring that the contracts they draw up are fair and balanced.

    • Such a system only goes to increase the number of disputes and their cost cripples corporate budgets resulting in long, drawn-out legal proceedings and astronomical legal costs.

    • The insurance companies are also harmed by the size of the sums they have to pay out. In the long run it is the consumers who suffer because their insurance premiums escalate. Knowledge of the law is the result of the precedents to which the courts decide to refer and because these are not necessarily the same for everybody, there are disparities between legal decisions.

  • The 28th International Congress of notaries will take place in Paris

See also


French property market report / N°31


European Certificate of Inheritance


Participate in the 28th Congress of the International Union of Notaries in Paris!