Henri Capitant Law Review (English)

Public Law, Private Law

Editorial - Y. Gaudemet and S. Gaudemet

Public law, private law. Nothing is more familiar to the jurist than this distinction often revisited which is expressed for each person according to their professional affiliation and field of practice. It is no less traditional to invoke Ulpianus here, who was the first – it is said (1)– to identify the distinction between public law and private law. We are familiar with the notion, reiterated in Justinian’s Digest (2) which could be freely translated as follows: “in this study, there are two aspects, that which relates to public matters and that which relates to private ones. Public law is that which pertains to the matters of the Roman state; private law deals with private matters. There are in fact things that are of public use and those that are of private use.”


However, this distinction that today appears so natural and so thoroughly self-evident is not original; and, as elaborated by Ulpianus, it is not exactly the same as the one that was later established in French law by our political and institutional history of the last three centuries.


Let us promptly resolve the first point. The distinction between public law and private law is not original; it does not emerge along with the law. It is in the ancient laws of the Code of Ur-Nammu, the Codex of Lipit-Ishtar and the Code of Hammurabi that western law is born; and it was born in the form of criminal law, driven by the wish to respect the Gods and order in the Citadel, mixed in with vengeance organized and private reparations. It was born, to paraphrase the words of Cardascia “from custom and practices,” “this legal ocean from which emerged, relatively late and sporadically, the laws.” (3) Even today the criminal law, if it is tied to the office of the judicial judge and allows in the French legal system the conjunction of civil and criminal actions, is willingly viewed as deriving from public law while the corresponding teaches are entrusted to the master of private law; it is known that these academic divisions play a role, often determining, in the distinction of public law from private law.


The distinction between public law and private law is thus a construct of legal ethnology and it was not established in the same fashion at all times and in all places. Undoubtedly it developed in tandem, to state it in broad terms, with the determination that the interests of the Citadel, those of the State, are distinct from those of private persons, assuming that one can transition from the one to the other without a break, by a sort of continuum and with mutual borrowings of substance and not just of vocabulary. On this broad loom, each epoch, each country has left its mark; and especially in France.


In fact, the existence of a public law distinct from the private law, understood as being a collection of specific rules applicable to the administration, as a special law, is a universal given, present in all legal systems, including those of the common law. The State’s actions, the action of the public administrations, is not conceived nowadays in our liberal democracies without their being framed by the law nor without the application of legal rules that, at least in part, cannot be those that govern the relations of private persons as between themselves. There stands the public law, as a universal given, with simply certain aspects of boundaries, of delimitation that can vary from one country to another.


However, and this is where the French law is distinguishable, a collection of derogations does not comprise a legal system and the French administrative law system is not reducible to being such a collection. It claims to be autonomous as a body of law, not only distinct from that of private persons, and moreover endowed with its own system of sources, from which emanate rules that align with respect to each other and are, applicable, to the exclusion of any other, at least a part of administrative action and sanctioned outside of the judicial power by internal control mechanisms that only gradually rise to the status of a court. Dating back to before the term even existed, it is an auto-regulatory system of the State and of the public administrations, a system that is basically a guild system expanded to fit the dimensions of the State, a system that is beyond any external regulation by the judge.


It was in fact the distinction between public law and private law that traveled through the medieval law and then the law of the modern monarchy that assumed in France, starting from the 17th century, a whole new policy meaning that was in turn systematized by the French Revolution followed by the Premier Empire (4). There then emerged, around the jurisdictional apparatus of the intendant and the King’s Council and then of the Council of State, the proceedings brought before Administrative Courts removed from the Judicial Courts which were the sovereign courts of the Kingdom under the Ancient Regime, and a body of substantive legal rules that were distinct and often different than those that govern the relations of one individual to another.


Public law was born by being subtracted from the jurisdiction of the judicial courts under the Old Law and acquired a self-regulatory system outside of the courts; it is the famous French adage that: “To judge the administration is still an administrative activity.” The Napoleonic codifications of the different branches of the private law reinforced this autonomy. And the Council of State, thereafter vested with jurisdictional functions as confirmed by the Law of 24 May 1872, affirmed thereafter the autonomy of the administrative law and the automatic non-applicability of private law to administrative matters. This evolution has recently found its ultimate articulation in the decision of the Constitutional Council that recognized “the Council of State and the Court of cassation [as having the attributes of each being] the highest court at the summit of each of the two court systems recognized by the Constitution” (Dec. No. 2009-595 DC of 3 December 2009).


The distinction between public law and private law is thus in French law, at least in part, a historical and political construct. The existence of a distinct public law does not derive only from the basic, and universal, reasons which, to reiterate the oft-cited quote from Montesquieu, “It is ridiculous to pretend to decide the rights of kingdoms, of nations, and of the whole globe, by the same maxims on which (to make use of an expression of Cicero) we should determine the right of a gutter between individuals.” (5)


This duality, public law/private law also stems from the purely political fact, according to which monarchic France – whose policy was inherited and adopted by the subsequent regimes – chose to endow itself with its own set of rules that are beyond the scope of civil legislation and to assure their enforcement within the administration, outside the scope of the regular courts, even though this internal self-regulation by the administration gradually adopted a more formal judicial-like form.


***


Today, what has become of this original policy construct of a legal dualism? It has become a type of paradox.


On the one hand, the field of public law has been expanding in parallel to the European legal construct and especially in the economic domain because it serves as the principal vector for introducing EU law into the internal domestic law; at the same time, the administrative system has found itself promoted as it were to a constitutional level through the Council of State which is its center of gravity. But on the other hand, and there again largely due to the effect of the law of the European Union and that of the European Convention on Human Rights, the substantive solutions found in private law and those of public law have undergone a rapprochement, a convergence, the notion of exorbitance being henceforth if not outright prohibited then at least increasingly limited in the latter. There has thus arisen complementarity, collaboration, in the relation between the public law and the private law as cross-influences of which we shall see several sectoral examples in the documents reproduced here below.


Distinction and collaboration, these are thus the chapter headings under which are grouped the documents and articles that are reproduced here below, which of necessity, given the very broad reach of this topic, is limited.


“Distinction,” because the difference between public law and private law, challenged at times, revisited continuously, remains due to the respective characteristics they have been vested with by the political and institutional history of France. It is the origins of this distinction that determine their criteria, characteristics and nature.



And also, increasingly, so does collaboration. Collaboration, because the relation between private law and public law is marked by comparison to each other, mutual influence, and reciprocal enrichment and even more so by cooperation in the determination of subjective situations or the organization of societal relations.


As a reflection of the nature of things, a contribution of our national history, the coexistence, generally harmonious, between public law and private law undoubtedly constitutes one of the riches of French law, which has moreover been able to serve as an inspiration to various foreign legal systems.


(1) In reality there already existed in Athens a distinction between public law from private law, “ the first aimed at defending the rules for the organization of the City the others covering criminal punishments and private interests”, L.-A. Barrière, Une approche historique de la summa divisio droit public droit privé [A historical view of the summa division between public law and private law], in De l'intérêt de la summa divisio droit public droit privé [Of the summa division between public law and private law], Dalloz, 2010, p. 7 and the references therein. Likewise, Cicero and the rhetoricians of the end of the Republican period readily subdivided into types of law and propose an entire series of classifications of the elements of the legal order with a hierarchy between “genus” and “species” ( J. Gaudemet, Tentatives de systematisation du droit à Rome [Attempts at systematization of the law in Rome], Arch. Phil. du droit 1986, p. 11 et seq.

(2) “Huius studii duae sunt positiones, publicum et privatum. Publicum est quod ad statu rei romanae spectat, privatum quod ad singulorum utilitatem: sunt enim quaedam publice utilia, quaedam privatim”. More than one third of the text of Justinian’s Digest was taken up by Ulpianus.

(3) G. Cardascia, Splendeurs et misères de l'assyriologie juridique [Splendors and miseries of the Assyrian legal system], reproduced in Hommage à Guillaume Cardascia [A Homage (3) to Guillaume Cardascia], Mediterranees, No. 3, cited by J. Gaudemet, Les naissances du droit, Montchrestien [The birth of Montchrestien’s law],4th edition, 2006, p. 28.

(4) Georges Chevier has demonstrated in an authoritative article, that the distinction between public law and private law, ritually taken from Roman law but somewhat effaced in its practical effects during the Middle Ages, did not acquire the cardinal importance and structuring function that is has today until the modern era: “the dichotomy between jus privatum and jus publicum did not become classic until relatively recent times, which is to say around the middle of the 17th century”, Remarques sur l'introduction et the vicissitudes de la distinction du jus privatum et du jus publicum dans the œuvres des anciens juristes français [Remarks on the introduction and the vicissitudes of the distinction between the jus privatum and the jus publicum in the works of early French jurists], Arch. Phil. du droit 1952, p. 49.

(5) De l'esprit des lois [The Spirit of the Laws], Part V, Book XXVI, Chapter. XVI, Edition Les belles lettres, Volume 3, p. 317.

Marie-Elodie ANCEL

  • Job: Professeur à l’UPEC, Université Paris-Est Créteil
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Paris-Est Créteil

Laurent AYNES

  • Job: Professeur à l’Ecole de droit de la Sorbonne, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I

Christine BIQUET

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université de Liège, Belgique
  • Country: Belgique
  • Address: Université de Liège, Belgique

Pascale BLOCH

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Paris 13 Nord
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Paris 13 Nord

Mircea BOB

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université de Cluj-Napoca, Roumanie
  • Country: Roumanie
  • Address: Université de Cluj-Napoca, Roumanie

Sami BOSTANJI

  • Job: Professeur à la Faculté de droit et des sciences politiques de Tunis, Tunisie
  • Country: Tunisie
  • Address: Faculté de droit et des sciences politiques de Tunis, Tunisie

Bruno CAPRILE BIERMANN

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université del Desarrollo, Chili
  • Country: Chili
  • Address: Université del Desarrollo, Chili

Philippe DELEBECQUE

  • Job: Professeur à l’Ecole de droit de la Sorbonne, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I

José Angelo ESTRELLA FARIA

  • Job: Secrétaire général Unidroit
  • Country: Italie
  • Address: Rome, Italie

Antonio GAMBARO

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université de Milan, Italie
  • Country: Italie
  • Address: Université de Milan, Italie

Yves GAUDEMET

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II

Judith GIBSON

  • Job: Juge, district court, Nouvelle Galles du Sud, Australie
  • Country: Australie
  • Address: Nouvelle Galles du Sud, Australie

Marie GORE

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II Présidente du Cercle des Lecteurs
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II

Michel GRIMALDI

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II

Ichiro KITAMURA

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université de Tokyo, Japon
  • Country: Japon
  • Address: Université de Tokyo, Japon

Elena LAUROBA

  • Job: Professeur à la Faculté de droit civil de l'Université de Barcelone, Espagne
  • Country: Espagne
  • Address: Université de Barcelone, Espagne

Paul LE CANNU

  • Job: Professeur à l’Ecole de droit de la Sorbonne, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I

Yves LEQUETTE

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II

Alain LEVASSEUR

  • Job: Professeur à la Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert, Louisianne
  • Country: États-Unis
  • Address: Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert, Louisianne

Philippe MALINVAUD

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II

Thibault MASSART

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université d’Orléans
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université d’Orléans

Igor MEDVEDEV

  • Job: Maître de conférences à l'Académie juridique de l'Etat de l'Oural, Russie
  • Country: Russie
  • Address: Académie juridique de l'Etat de l'Oural, Russie

Fernando MONTOYA

  • Job: Professeur à la Faculté de droit de l'Université Externado de Bogota, Colombie
  • Country: Colombie
  • Address: Université Externado de Bogota, Colombie

Benoît MOORE

  • Job: Professeur à la Faculté de droit de l'Université de Montréal, Canada
  • Country: Canada
  • Address: Faculté de droit de l'Université de Montréal, Canada

Ngoc Dien NGUYEN

  • Job: Professeur à la Faculté d'économie et de droit de l'Université nationale du Vietnam, Hô Chi Minh Ville, Vietnam
  • Country: Viétnam
  • Address: Université nationale du Vietnam, Hô Chi Minh Ville, Vietnam

Rozen NOGUELLOU

  • Job: Professeur à l’UPEC, Université Paris-Est Créteil
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Paris-Est Créteil

Soo-Gon PARK

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université de Kyung Hee
  • Country: Corée du Sud
  • Address: Université de Kyung Hee

Paul-Gérard POUGOUE

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université de Yaoundé, Cameroun
  • Country: Cameroun
  • Address: Université de Yaoundé, Cameroun

Frédéric ROLIN

  • Job: Professeur à l’Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense
  • Country: France
  • Address: Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense

Hans SCHULTE-NÖLKE

  • Job: Professeur à l'Université d'Osnabrück, Allemagne
  • Country: Allemagne
  • Address: Université d'Osnabrück, Allemagne

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