The later legislation. – Legislative activity in the field of civil law was very limited in France until the middle of the 19th century.
According to physicscat, the most interesting is to point out the law of May 8, 1816 by which the government of the Restoration abrogated divorce and that of June 30, 1838, which ensured the protection of unauthorized persons. Under the Second Republic and the Second Empire the laws of pure civil law are still very few: we mention only the law of 23 March 1855 which re-establishes the transcription of real estate transfers on the model of revolutionary legislation and that of 14 July 1866 on literary property and artistic. But it is from that time the appearance of social legislation which, in favor of the workers, intervenes to regulate professional activity: such as the law of 9 September 1848 on the duration of work and that of 25 May 1864 on the right to strike.
With the Third Republic the legislative movement intensifies extraordinarily. The reasons for this phenomenon are manifold.
In the first place, a powerful factor in the modification of civil laws are economic transformations. France is no longer just an agricultural country; commercial and industrial enterprises have developed considerably and require new legislation, including civil legislation. Thus, the law of February 26, 1880 ensures the protection of securities in the assets of the incapable.
Secondly, universal suffrage results in the development of social legislation already begun under previous regimes. The law of 21 March 1884 allows the formation of professional unions, that of 9 April 1898 settles the liability of employers in cases of accidents at work and the law of 28 December 1910 promulgates the first books of the labor code. At the same time, the individualistic conceptions of the revolution tend to disappear and the need arises to authorize associations, subjecting them to regulation (law of 1 July 1901).
Furthermore, the new political and economic trends profoundly modify the organism of the family: divorce is re-established (law of 27 July 1884); the conditions required for marriage are gradually mitigated, especially with regard to parental consent (read 21 June 1907, 27 June 1917, 2 February 1933); the law of March 25, 1896 broadens the inheritance rights of natural children and that of November 16, 1912 allows the search for natural paternity; the condition of married women exercising a trade has improved considerably with the law of 13 July 1907.
These trends take hold even more sharply after the World War, while the number of civil laws is steadily increasing. Numerous provisions organize the protection of tenants, introducing a notion of revision of contracts into French law, which is in absolute contrast to the old trends. The laws of April 5, 1928 and April 30, 1930 organize a comprehensive social insurance scheme which is in direct opposition to the individualism of the previous century. The insurance contract is governed by the law of 13 July 1930.
Over the last few years, social legislation has developed even more under the pressure of the workers’ forces who have voted the law of 24 June 1936, on collective labor agreements, the law of 31 December 1936 on compulsory arbitration in collective labor disputes..
The law of February 18, 1938 suppressed the incapacity of married women, but since the provisions of the civil code on the matrimonial regime have not yet been modified, only in the case of obtained separation of assets will women enjoy this capacity and the assets of the others, living under the community of property regime, she will remain subject to her husband’s administration for the time being.
Finally, the return of Alsace and Lorraine to France necessitates an effort to adapt French civil legislation: the law of June 1, 1924 re-enacts the civil code in the departments that have been repurchased, while leaving some institutions of the German regime to exist, such as protection and land books.
Faced with the multiplication of these civil laws, it seems to some that the entire Code civil would need to be modernized; but the French public opinion is hostile to this general reform of a text that has made its tests. At the most, the Union législative des peuples alliés has drawn up a draft of a code of obligations which would be common to France and Italy, and which has not yet been discussed by parliament.
The interpretation of civil laws. – If the law constitutes, in France, the only source of law, it happens however that, through its interpretation, new rules are introduced into juridical life every day, without any intervention by the legislator.
This interpretation is primarily the work of practice, especially notary: notaries and lawyers make use of all legal resources to meet the needs of business life. But their efforts are not crowned with success until the courts ratify their solutions.
Therefore, jurisprudence is the main agent of the interpretation of laws. It represented a first-rate part throughout the century. XIX, first to establish the meaning of the articles of the civil code, then to adapt its provisions to the new needs, which gave rise to the economic changes. From this effort of jurisprudence various civil institutions were born, such as the tacit mandate of the married woman and the inalienability of the movable dowry.
Doctrine also has a first-rate function in the interpretation of civil laws. Immediately after the civil code, French doctrine was content with a strict exegesis of the texts (Malleville, Toullier, Delvincourt, Troplong); then the method was transformed by Aubry and Rau (Cours de droit civil français, 1st ed., 1838-47) whose work, often republished, constitutes a rational and critical construction, by Demolombe (Cours de Code Napoléon, 1844 ff., vol. 31, incomplete, work by now very aged) and by the Laurent (Principes du droit civil français, 1st ed. 1869, vols. 33) whose too rigid solutions have often alienated the minds of practitioners. During the last quarter of the century. XIX two new elements were introduced into the doctrine: the study of jurisprudence, which is expressed in the notes published by the collections of sentences, and the study of comparative law (especially by R. Saleilles). Revived by these elements, French doctrine has produced in the last thirty years a series of complete works for the teaching and practice of law.