Articles

Are Criminal Sanctions Always Appropriate in Business Law? The French Example of Combining Civil and Criminal Law

N. STOLOWY

Journal of Business Law

2016, vol. 7, pp.607-623

Départements : Droit et fiscalité, GREGHEC (CNRS)

Mots clés : Commercial law; Corporate liability; Criminal liability; France; Offences; Penalties; White collar crime


Developments in business law have shown a general trend towards autonomy or indeed particularism.French commercial law is not homogeneous in substance, although several laws have been combined and the codification has been unified.1France’s Commercial Code comprises a number of different branches that each claims their own particularism.This codification is an administrative resource. It provides a formal presentation of a discipline, without interfering with its content. In some instances the codification improves the accessibility of information, but the major divisions of commercial law remain, and this does not contribute to overall coherence.The criminal sanctions applicable in business law fall into the scope of a specific criminal law. The groupings have been so artificial that is it sometimes very difficult for these disciplines to display their particularism. For example, different criminal laws have developed in such diverse areas as criminal labour law, criminal consumer law, criminal planning and environment law, criminal tax law which completes criminal company law, and criminal business law which is a counterpart to (and sometimes difficult to distinguish from) criminal economic law.These different branches show up boundaries that are often vague, and relative specificities.3 They are best justified on the level of criminal sociology, since they concern clearly identified actors in the various activities involving exposure to certain risks. General or special classifications have had to be found for those risks.These disciplines have the merit of imposing a constructed coherence on the study of criminal offence classifications relating to the major sectors of economic and corporate activity, in order to secure and moralise those activities.Criminal business law occupies a prominent position owing to the company law logic, to which it claims to be a response, but also owing to the difficulty of clearly determining its legal purpose. Its scope varies depending on the author, and the sociological than a legal reality. It is easier to understand that the aim of criminal sanctions is to bring morality into the world of business when they have a repressive dimension or are imposed by the court to ensure compliance. In this perspective they act as a sword of Damocles, and are more effective than court orders or injunctions, which remain civil law sanctions that have few consequences for the individual, and more importantly can be covered by insurance.Criminal law as applied to business is simply a reflection of the complexity of social relations and the difficulty, not to say impossibility, of finding a dividing line between the human, social and economic activities. The economic activity criterion is doubtless the most relevant. Criminal business law acts as a combined law.After an analysis of the appropriateness or otherwise of the decriminalisation of business law, we study its most typical criminal sanctions.


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