LexInter | February 22, 2002 | 0 Comments


The Penal Code and the criminal liability of legal persons

French criminal law, such as English, American, Belgian or Dutch law, among others, recognizes the criminal liability of legal persons.

The article 121-2  of the Penal Code

Legal persons, excluding the State, are criminally liable, according to the distinctions in Articles 121-4 to 121-7, for offenses committed on their behalf, by their organs or representatives.
However, local authorities and their groups are only criminally liable for offenses committed in the exercise of activities likely to be the subject of public service delegation agreements.
The criminal liability of legal persons does not exclude that of natural persons who are authors or accomplices of the same acts, subject to the provisions of the fourth paragraph of article 121-3.

The principle of cumulation is set out in article 121-2, paragraph 3, which provides

the criminal liability of legal persons does not exclude that of natural persons who are the authors or accomplices of the same acts

The liability of legal persons is a special liability and therefore requires an express provision of the criminalization law. In fact, since the Criminal Code provided for the liability of legal persons, most of the criminalization laws passed since 1992 contain provisions providing for this liability. On the other hand, previous laws have often not been updated. Thus, false advertising, fraud or construction without a permit do not constitute sources of criminal liability.

The liability of the legal person was considered not to be an independent liability. It was the consequence of a liability of the natural person who is the manager and the Court of Cassation, in a judgment dated December 2, 1998, affirmed with regard to false attestations that the company can only be sued if the offense is characterized in all its elements by the director general of the company (Cass. Crim. 2 Dec. 1998, JCP 1998.II.10223). She also stated that for the legal person to be engaged, the offenses must have been committed by an organ or a representative of the company (and not engineers or local officials in the case of SNCF) and on its behalf. and the body or representative must be clearly identified (Cass.crim.Bull.crim. n ° 28 ).

This situation must be considered (Gabriel Roujou de Boubée, Responsibility for legal persons, Rev. de J. Com. Nov. 2001, p. 14) as modified by the law of July 10, 2000. This decriminalization law benefits natural persons but not to legal persons. The liability of natural persons is only engaged to the extent that they have committed a qualified fault: manifestly willful fault or serious fault. The Court of Cassation by judgment dated October 24, 2000 (Cass. Crim. 2000. Bull. N ° 308) decided not to extend the mitigation of liability to legal persons

It results from art. 121-2, 121-3 and 222-19 of the Penal Code, both in their wording prior to the law of July 10, 2000 and in that resulting from this law, that legal persons are criminally responsible for any unintentional fault of their bodies or representatives having resulted in an attack on physical integrity constituting the offense of involuntary injury, even though in the absence of willful or characterized fault within the meaning of new article 123-3 paragraph 4, the liability of natural persons is not could be searched

Charging an offense against a corporation

Case law

Cass Crim, March 21, 2000, n ° 2095 PF, Rapid Bulletin of Business Law (BRDA), n ° 14,            07/31/2000, p.4



Avatar of LexInter


Lexinter Law, with a team of dedicated authors who strive to provide you with all the relevant and actionable tips on the legal aspect of your life. Our goal is to educate you so that you can make legal action with ease, or find the right person who can help you with your unique personal legal dilemma. Take care!