The gradual de-confinement began on Monday, May 11. At the same time, the French government has decided to extend the state of health emergency, which has repercussions in the field of the Judicial.

The modalities of de-confinement

First of all, it should be noted that France is split in two parts according to the health situation between “green” and “red” counties ( “départements”), which have differentiated measures in regard with the end of confinement. The red zone corresponds to the regions of the North and East of France, including also Paris and the suburban area, most affected by the crisis. Territories in the green zone will benefit from a wider de-confinement. In Mayotte, an overseas territory with a particular situation, confinement is maintained.

Free movement is again permitted within a radius of 100 kilometers. Beyond 100 kilometers, only business trips and trips for compelling family reasons are allowed, with a certificate only. The wearing of masks is made compulsory on public transport for passengers aged 11 and over, on penalty of a fine of 135 euros. In the Paris city and suburbia, access to public transport is at peak hours limited to people who provide for a certificate of their employer or who have a compelling reason ( doctor’s appointment or judicial summon).

Restrictions at France’s borders with European Union countries (European Union, Schengen, United Kingdom) will be extended until at least 15 June and borders with non-European countries will remain closed until further notice. With European countries, the free movement of cross-border workers will be preserved. In addition, the quarantine measures for any French or foreign person entering France will not be applied within the European area.

Moreover, a subject that has been much debated in French public opinion, schools are gradually reopening depending on the territory and the level of study. This reopening allows many working parents to return to work.

According to Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy and Finance, 400,000 companies reopened on 11 May, representing 875,000 employees back to work. He also confirmed the extension until the end of May of the solidarity fund for small businesses and the self-employed, as well as the three-month exemption from social security contributions for small businesses that had had to close by administrative decision.

Bookstores, small museums and media libraries were able to reopen, as were shopping centers covering more than 40 000 square meters in agreement with the regional governors ( “préfets”), all of this except for Paris and its suburbia.

On the other hand, movie theaters and concert halls remain closed and no event with more than 5,000 people will be able to take place before September.

Good news for the tourism sector, which has been very hard hit by the current situation and which represents 7% of GDP and 2 million jobs, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced on 14 May that the French will be able to go on holiday in mainland France and the French Overseas Territories.

The next stage of de-confinement is expected to be initiated in many regions in early June. Until then there will be regular evaluations of the health situation in the whole territory as well as a regular update of the chart that divides France in “red” and “green” zones. Finally, it has been announced that bars and restaurants can reopen on 2 June in the green zone areas only.

The extension of the state of health emergency

In the face of the Covid-19 epidemic that continues in France, the French Parliament has decided to extend the state of health emergency, initially planned to last until 24 May, to 10 July 2020.

The purpose is to adapt the regulations on movement, transport and the opening of establishments open to the public and meeting places after de-confinement, to specify the quarantine and isolation regimes for infected persons, to extend the list of persons authorised to record breaches of the measures of the state of health emergency and, finally, to create, in order to combat the Covid-19 epidemic, an information system bringing together data relating to persons affected by this virus and persons who have been in contact with them.

On Monday, 11 May, the Constitutional Court issued an opinion and validated the essence of the law extending the state of health emergency. However, it censured the provisions concerning the quarantine or isolation of persons entering the national territory, arriving from Corsica or an overseas territory, without the control of a judge, deeming that this constituted “measures depriving them of their liberty”. It also refused access to data from the information system for the “tracing” of persons affected by Covid-19, made to be available to the institutions responsible for social support.

In other words, the state of health emergency provides a legal basis for the containment measures put in place in France and authorizes the French government to take a series of measures by government Acts to contain the Covid-19 epidemic. In addition, the law extending the state of public health emergency supplements the measures that may be taken by the Prime Minister with a view to de-confinement. The text provides, amongst others, for the following :

  • The limitation of individual liberties set by the Prime Minister. Among them: “the freedom to come and go, the freedom of enterprise and the freedom of assembly”.
  • The conditions of quarantine and isolation of persons infected with Covid-19, as well as the conditions of duration, place, health monitoring in which these measures are prescribed and exit restrictions.
  • Details concerning the regulation of movements, transport and the opening of establishments receiving the public and meeting places, with a view to de-confinement
  • The introduction of measures to support businesses.

Resumption of judicial activity

Since 11 May, judicial activity has also gradually resumed. The rule is that each Court will be able to adapt the pace and scope of the resumption of activity to the regional health situation and the situation of the personnel of the concerned Court. Each Court must seek the fairest balance that reconciles the health requirements of staff, judges, lawyers and litigants, by enforcing the rules of physical distance and hygiene, and the accomplishment of judicial missions.

Also, the period of judicial sessions may be reduced and, in the context of local consultation, judicial activity may continue to function at a reduced rhythm until 10 July, or even until 17 July, if the situation justifies it.

The repercussions of the extension of the state of public health emergency on the time limits for agreements and procedures

The extension of the state of public health emergency to 10 July 2020, which was initially planned until 24 May, has repercussions on the provisions of the Ordinance of 25 March 2020 on the extension of time limits during the period of public health emergency and the adaptation of procedures during the same period.

In this context of confinement and shutting down of the jurisdictional system, with the exception of cases involving a real or even vital emergency, the Government has put in place measures making it possible, not to abolish the requirement to carry out any act or formality whose term expires within the period in question, but simply to consider as not being late an act carried out within a new time limit, the duration of which will depend on the development of the health emergency situation.

The acts concerned are listed in Article 2 of the Ordinance:

“Any act, appeal, legal action, formality, registration, declaration, notification or publication prescribed by law or regulation shall be subject to nullity, sanction, foreclosure, prescription, inopposability, inadmissibility, lapse, automatic withdrawal, application of a special regime, nullity or forfeiture of any right whatsoever and which should have been accomplished during the period mentioned in Article 1 shall be deemed to have been done in time if it has been done within a period which may not exceed, as from the end of that period, the time legally prescribed for taking action, within a limit of two months.

The same shall apply to any payment prescribed by law or regulation for the acquisition or retention of a right”.

The order does not interrupt or suspend the time limits but merely extends their term. In other words, it extends the time given to complete certain procedural formalities, i.e. the postponement of the term of limitation initially provided for, with the exact duration of the state of health emergency as the reference period.

The extension of time limits shall apply to Courts of law ruling in non-criminal matters and excluding acts provided for by contractual stipulations, during the period between 12 March 2020 and the expiry of a period of one month from the date of ending of the state of public health emergency.

In this context, it is therefore appropriate to refer to the date on which the state of emergency ceases in order to calculate the date on which the end of the period is postponed.

Thus, if the state of public health emergency was initially to continue until 24 May 2020 and it was necessary to refer to that date in order to run the one-month period provided for in the order to calculate the extension of the deadlines, i.e. initially until 24 June 2020, it is now necessary to refer to the date of 10 July 2020.

Ultimately, the acts and formalities concerned by the provisions of the Order are those whose term expired between 12 March and 10 August.

Elisabeth HEIL, in collaboration with François POURAY, Master student, University Paris II Panthéon Assas