Feb. 1, 2024


🎤Compliance et responsabilité civile : comprendre et raison garder (Compliance and Civil Liability: understanding and keeping our heads), in 🧮Droit de la compliance

by Marie-Anne Frison-Roche

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► Full ReferenceM.-A. Frison-Roche, "Compliance et Responsabilité civile : comprendre et raison garder" ("Compliance and Civil Liability: understanding and keeping our heads"), in Droit de la compliance (Compliance Law)École nationale de la magistrature - ENM (French National School for the Judiciary) in collaboration with the Ã‰cole de Formation professionnelle des Barreaux du ressort de la cour d'appel de Paris - EFB (Paris Bar School), Paris, February 1, 2024.


► This conference is given in French.


🧮see the full programme of this event (in French)


🌐consult on LinkedIn a general presentation of this event, which links to a presentation of each speech (in French)


🧱consult the scientific direction sheet of this event, which gives an account of the various speeches made


🔲see the slides used to support the presentation (in French)


📝This conference and the Working Paper on which it is based are to be linked with the article to be published in the book📘Compliance Obligation 


🎤see a presentation of the conference "Droit de la Compliance : tour d'horizon" ("Compliance Law: overview"), given at the same symposium


► Presentation of the conference : It is difficult, even artificial, to separate the presentation of the relationship between Compliance Law and Civil Liability from the consideration given in Compliance to Criminal Liability, sanctions and the whole contractual organisation. But, if only for reasons of time, this will be done.

The chosen method consists of using decisions handed down either under Compliance Law, an emerging branch of Law of which an overview has been given before📎!footnote-3362, or under Special Liability Laws, such as Company Law (but here too the field of analysis is huge), or under Ordinary Civil Liability Law. The latter is often the preferred approach.

It always seems that civil liability and Compliance Law are both intimate and have a difficult relationship. To understand them, before embarking on crusades in one direction or another, it is technically necessary to look at the liabilities attached to the application of "compliance regulations" imposed on economic operators, who contractualise the resulting legal obligations and whose third parties may also rely on breaches on the grounds of civil liability. This is the first stage of the analysis. Much is made of the Vigilance technique. Even if this is the advances point of Compliance, we also need to look at the GDPR, the French co-called "Sapin 2" law, Anti-Corruption, etc.

However, civil liability is not the same depending on whether the obligation, legal and/or contractual, in relation to which it arises as a cause of action, gives rise, depending on the case, the text and the person, to an obligation of means or an obligation of result. If there is one principle to bear in mind, particularly in the mind of the judge, it is that, unless a text or clause provides otherwise, an obligation is an obligation of means.

This essential question raises the need to better define the "Compliance Obligation", which consists of prevention and detection, with the economic operator making his "best efforts" with regard to the monumental goals to which the various regulations (thus finding their unity) are normatively anchored. The Ex Ante evidential dimension thus comes to the fore.

In the second part of the analysis, which continues to be based on court decisions, we need to measure the "points of contact" between these "special compliance responsibilities" and the Ordinary Law of Civil Liability. Indeed, because this is a profound movement that runs through the entire legal system, expressing a social demand that distinguishes Western law from the rest of the world, Ordinary Liability Law has long had a preventive dimension and targets operators in a different way, not only because of their power, but also because of their "mission". This is expressly stated in the case law, and these points of contact do not justify opposing the two branches. It would only be if Compliance Law were confused with its instrument, "conformity", and if new principles were invented in an Ordinary Law, that clashes could arise.

In the third stage of the analysis, which can be applied to the principles at stake today, it should be remembered that while there is no general Compliance Obligation under Ordinary Law, which implies detecting and preventing for oneself and for others any breach of any applicable regulation likely to harm others, there is a principle of freedom, as the Conseil constitutionnel (French Constitutional Council) regularly reminds us. Unless we change the legal system so that people become nothing more than subjects who obey all regulations and let it be seen that they do so, with the judge's role being limited to punishing them for not doing so. Indeed, the principle of freedom remains the foundation both of the Ordinary Civil Liability Law (and not of repression, as in Chinese Law) and of the Special Law of Compliance (and not of conformity, as in Chinese law).

In conclusion, it appears that the evolution of Civil Liability, in particular due to the spirit of a Compliance Law that is articulated with it, is leading to a twofold movement: from Ex Post liability to Ex Ante responsibility📎!footnote-3363, and from Liability to Accountability.

To accompany this movement, alliances are being forged and must be fostered, which brings Compliance Law face to face with Competition Law, alliances often forged by contract and for which the role of the judge is being renewed, particularly through mediation techniques.


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