Open-data of court decisions: no alternative, will wait


About the EC decisions, May 5, 2021, M. B., req. nos. 434502 and 434503. 

The open data of court decisions (or how to hurry with slowness) – Rendered in the name of the French people, court decisions are not all accessible to them. If the code of the judicial organization and the code of administrative justice recognize to any third party a right to the communication of the court[1] decisions, this right is nevertheless exerted subject to “the abusive requests, in particular by their number or by their repetitive or systematic character”[2].

The legislator has certainly promised, since the adoption of the law n° 2016-1321 of October 7, 2016 for a digital Republic, a free online availability of these decisions (“open data”), but this has been slow to materialize, the Council of State having even been forced to enjoin the Minister of Justice to take the decree fixing its implementation schedule[3].

And the decree finally adopted will not accelerate the process: with the exception of the decisions rendered by the Council of State and the Court of Cassation, which will have to be accessible online by September 30, 2021 at the latest – and most of them already are -, the availability of court decisions will be staggered from 2022 to 2025[4] . Moreover, the open data of court decisions will only concern those rendered after the planned deadlines, thus leaving aside the existing “stock”[5].

The vain attempts to circumvent – Determined not to wait for the advent of the open data of all court decisions, – a digital platform of legal information providing its subscribers with access to court decisions – has multiplied its attempts to access these decisions[6].

The one we are dealing with here consisted in requesting, as early as 2016, from the registry of the Paris Judicial Court and from the Paris archives the communication of civil judgments rendered by this court.  

These requests were refused, despite favorable opinions from the Commission for Access to Administrative Documents (CADA[7], and were confirmed by two judgments of the Administrative Court of Paris[8].  .   

It is against these judgments that the founders of vainly appealed to the Council of State.

The Conseil d’Etat recalls above all that “documents, whatever their nature, which are related to the jurisdictional function, and in particular the judgments of the judicial courts, do not have the character of administrative documents” within the meaning of the code of relations between the public and the administration[9]  and therefore do not fall within the scope of the right of access provided for b the latter.  This was to be expected, as case law has long been established in this area[10].

As was aware of this, it devised two ways of getting around it, neither of which convinced the Conseil d’Etat.

On the one hand, tried to argue that the right to re-use information contained in judgments resulting from article L. 321-1 of the Code of relations between the public and the administration necessarily implied, upstream, a right of access to this same information.

The Council of State rejected the argument on the grounds that the “provisions relating to the right to re-use public information contained in documents communicated or published by the administrations have no impact on the scope of the right to communication of administrative documents resulting from the code of relations between the public and the administration”[11].

As the public rapporteur, Mr. Laurent Domingo, points out in his conclusions, it is advisable not to “reverse the order of the factors: it is not because the accessible civil judgments contain public information that can be reused in principle that these judgments become communicable documents”.

                On the other hand, tried to take advantage of the legislation relating to archives, which provides for the automatic disclosure of public archives[12], subject to the expiry of a certain period of time[13].especially for court decisions. There again, in vain.

The Council of State considers indeed that, for the civil judgments rendered publicly, the request based on the legislation relating to the archives was devoid of object[14], a specific and thus derogatory provision providing for the right of any third party to receive communication of it[15].

For civil judgments that were not rendered publicly, the Conseil d’Etat considers that does not justify an interest “of such a nature as to justify access to the archival documents requested, without excessive infringement of the interests protected by law, in particular the secrecy relating to cases brought before the courts and the protection of the private lives of the individuals mentioned in the judgments”[16].

[1]              V. art. L. 111-14 of the Code of Judicial Organization and L. 10-1 of the Code of Administrative Justice, as created by Act No. 2019-222 of March 23, 2019, on Programming 2018-2022 and Reform for Justice.

[2]              Same.

[3]              CE, January 21, 2021, Association ” Ouvre-Boite “, req. n° 429956.

[4]              Order of April 28, 2021 taken in application of article 9 of the decree n° 2020-797 of June 29, 2020 relating to the availability of the decisions of the judicial and administrative jurisdictions to the public.

[5]              See Article 5 of the aforementioned Order of April 28, 2021.

[6]              Some have been contested, with the National Council of Bars and the Paris Bar Association stating that they have filed a complaint with the Paris Public Prosecutor for acts such as usurpation of the title of lawyer, fraud, simple theft and fraudulent access to and maintenance of a computer system, while the main publishers of legal information have initiated legal proceedings for unfair competition with the Paris Commercial Court. Other, more traditional, actions, which consisted in particular in requesting access to the civil minutes of the judicial court and in contesting the refusal of the clerk’s office before the president of the court and then the Court of Appeal, have not yet been successful (see lastly CA Paris, June 25, 2019, n° 19/04407, appealed).

[7]              V. CADA, September 7, 2017, Opinion No. 20171247 and CADA, December 14, 2017, Opinion No. 20174865.

[8]              V. TA Paris, July 10, 2019, M. D., req. nos. 1717801/5-3 and 1806468/5-3.

[9]              V. CE, May 5, 2021, M. B., req. n° 434502, recital n° 4.

[10]             See in particular. CE, July 27, 1984, Association SOS Défense, req. n° 30590.

[11]             V. CE, May 5, 2021, M. B., req. n° 434502, recital n° 5.

[12]             V. art. L. 213-1 of the heritage code.

[13]             V. art. L. 213-2 of the heritage code.

[14]             V. CE, May 5, 2021, M. B., req. n° 434503, recital n° 11.

[15]             See art. 11-3 of the law n° 72-626 of July 5, 1972 instituting an enforcement judge and relating to the reform of civil procedure.

[16]             V. CE, May 5, 2021, M. B., req. n° 434503, recital n° 12.