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The legal expert
by Françoise Nativelle


The legal expert is an occasional collaborator of justice and he cannot make this function his profession.

He is appointed to provide his specialist assistance and to enlighten the judge in his decision. 

He is recognised by the courts in his speciality; he cannot be a generalist and embrace several specialities. 

How does one become a legal expert?

The future expert submits a file to the Court of Appeal on which he depends, containing:

  • the diplomas obtained (legal, artistic and others)
  • the various expert reports he has already carried out
  • his experience in the speciality requested
  • his criminal record
  • certificates of recognition from his peers. 

A commission of the Court of Appeal meets every year to study the candidates' files.

If the expert's file is accepted, the expert will be registered on the list of the Court of Appeal after having taken the oath. A decision of refusal by the Court of Appeal does not have to be motivated by the Commission.

Every year, the expert will renew his application indicating the different expertises carried out during the year, and every five years he will file a new application.

Qualities required of the expert:

  • independence of the expert who must refuse a mission where there would be a conflict of interest
  • impartiality
  • respect for deadlines
  • respect for the adversarial process.

In which cases does the legal expert intervene?

In the case of a dispute brought before the judge.

For example :

  • deception on a substantial quality of the thing sold
  • fraud (sales of forgeries or concealments, etc.)
  • in the case of restoration of works of art: inadequate restoration, without respect for the rules of art specific to this restoration.

Who chooses the expert?

The judge chooses the judicial expert registered on the list of the Court of Appeal, but it is always possible for the judge to appoint an expert not registered on this list. The judge appoints the judicial expert and specifies his mission. This mission is precise and the expert must confine himself to the technical questions asked by the judge. Only the judge says the law.

The course of his mission:

The judge indicates to the expert the time he has to submit his report; on average the expert has three months. The judge can ask for a preliminary report which must be submitted within three months and to which the parties can respond with statements. Once the mission has been accepted by the expert, the expert must respect a strict procedure. Failure to do so may result in the annulment of the expertise.

Thus the expert summons by registered letter the different parties and their lawyers to a date and place fixed by him; this is intended to ensure that the fundamental rule of the adversarial process which allows the different parties to be heard is respected.

  • The expert can be entrusted during this meeting with all the documents, photos, invoices, etc. that he considers necessary for his mission.
  • During the expert's meeting, the expert can be assisted, without the judge's authorisation, by a "sapiteur", i.e. a person with knowledge who can help him on a more precise technical point.
  • The expert may, with the parties' authorisation, have all or part of an object entrusted to him in order to subject it to the necessary and appropriate scientific examinations (e.g. laboratory examination of a precious stone).
  • The expert can reconcile the parties.
  • The expert can also ask the judge for extensions of his mission if the judge has restricted it too much. He can then ask the judge for an extension of time to submit his report.

The rules specific to French legal experts are sometimes different from the rules applied by other European countries. Harmonisation of French legislation and European law is gradually being established.

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