Va Savoir! - The Adage "Jura Novit Curia" in Contemporary France


The Civilian adage jura novit curia – the court knows the law – for all that it is well recognised in France does not receive much scrutiny. This is unusual first because some claim it expresses a fundamental principle of French law and secondly because rules and practices associated with jura novit curia are controversial. The paper remedies the scholarly deficit, scrutinising seven definitions of jura novit curia to catalogue for the first time the divergent meanings associated with the adage and to analyse their status in French law and legal culture. While many meanings are attributed to jura novit curia, no single definition attempts to capture its diversity. The black-letter and ideological controversies that can be discerned in close readings of the adage are consistent with an enduring debate in France about the respective rights and duties of courts and parties in litigation and the role of the judge in French society. The controversies of jura novit curia in France moreover are framed in the technical language of the processueliste, while the adage itself is avoided. In this light, jura novit curia is not, as it might first appear, a self-justifying principle that speaks to an overarching judicial power. Rather, jura novit curia speaks to prerogatives and duties that both empower and constrain the French judge. An adequate account of jura novit curia therefore must account for the principles, rules and adages by which it is constrained.


Comparative and Foreign Law

Date of this Version

October 2005