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Overview

Legislation

What is the relevant legislation relating to tax administration and controversies? Other than legislation, are there other binding rules for taxpayers and the tax authority?

The relevant legislation is tax law, which is codified in the French Tax Code (FTC), which sets out the statutory rules applicable to the determination and filing of taxes, and the French Tax Procedure Code (FTPC), which sets out the rules governing tax-recovery procedures and tax controversies.

Tax law is enacted by parliament (mainly through yearly finance acts) and must comply with:

  • the French Constitution;
  • international treaties duly ratified or approved by parliament and in force;
  • the treaty on the functioning of the EU;
  • the European Convention on Human Rights; and
  • European directives issued by the EU.

Once the law is enacted, the French government and the French Tax Authorities (FTA) are in charge of stipulating the terms and conditions of the application of such rules, under the control of the courts.

For that purpose, the FTA regularly issues comments on provisions of law that are compiled in the French tax guidelines published on the Public Finances’ official bulletin website (bofip.impots.gouv.fr). Such guidelines may neither supplement nor detract from the law and are binding on the FTA. For information purposes, the FTA has also published (and regularly updates) a list of abusive practices.

Upon the request of a taxpayer, the FTA can also issue formal rulings on the assessment of a given situation with respect to a tax rule. Such rulings are binding on the FTA and, once published, may be invoked by third parties subject to certain conditions.

Relevant authority

What is the relevant tax authority and how is it organised?

The FTA is a part of the General Directorate of Public Finances (DGFiP) and is subject to the authority of the Ministry of Budget. The FTA is responsible for drafting laws to be enacted by parliament, drafting the regulations and guidelines with respect to tax matters and ensuring control of the tax basis, the monitoring of tax audits and the recovery of taxes. Finally, the DGFiP represents the Ministry of Budget for international negotiations in tax matters and assesses the requests for rulings.

The DGFiP is composed of general and specialised services located in Paris (some of these services have national competence and handle tax matters relating to, in particular:

  • large entities with an annual turnover that exceeds €400 million;
  • wealthy individuals;
  • non-resident entities and individuals; and
  • tax fraud) and of local services throughout French territory.

Enforcement

Compliance with tax laws

How does the tax authority verify compliance with the tax laws and ensure timely payment of taxes? What is the typical procedure for the tax authority to review a tax return and how long does the review last?

Tax is usually self-assessed by taxpayers, who have to file tax returns. The FTA periodically checks such tax returns, registered deeds or related documentation. For this purpose, the FTA may request justification or an explanation from taxpayers or third parties, as well as, for business entities, the communication of the accounting entry file (see question 5).

If such preliminary control is not satisfactory, such a review may trigger some adjustments, or may lead to the conduct of a tax audit.

The duration of tax audits conducted on individuals is limited to one year (with a possible extension to two years in certain cases) and the duration of tax audits on business entities is not generally limited (except for business entities whose annual turnover does not exceed certain thresholds and for which an audit may not last more than three months).

An audit may either result in the issuing of a notice stating that such audit is closed with no reassessment, or in the issuing of a tax reassessment notice.

Under certain specific circumstances, the FTA may also be allowed, upon authorisation of a judge, to carry out raids at the taxpayer’s premises and to seize material and documents.

Types of taxpayer

Are different types of taxpayers subjected to different reporting requirements? Can they be subjected to different types of review?

Business entities are required to file income tax returns in respect of each fiscal year, as well as additional returns in respect of all types of tax (local taxes, VAT, etc) and specific documentation. In particular, entities with a turnover or asset gross value equal to or higher than €50 million in a fiscal year, or that have an affiliate or a parent that has reached this threshold, are required to provide a simplified transfer pricing documentation within six months from the filing of the tax return; if the threshold mentioned is equal to or higher than €400 million in a fiscal year, entities are also required to prepare transfer pricing documentation, which must be provided to the FTA during a tax audit within 30 days upon first request. Business entities meeting certain criteria must also submit an annual country-by-country transfer pricing report in a dematerialised form.

Individuals are also required to file an income tax return, with respect to the household taxable income of a given calendar year, such filing generally being made online. The taxation at source for certain income categories is under implementation in France and should generally come into force as from 1 January 2019.

Under the French trust reporting rules, trustees are subject to annual and event-based reporting requirements in France in the event that:

  • either the trustee, the settlor or one of the beneficiaries of the trust, is a French tax resident; or
  • if any of the assets or rights placed in the trust are located in France.

The reported information is contained in a French Trust Register, which certain French administrative and judicial authorities can access.

Requesting information

What types of information may the tax authority request from taxpayers? Can the tax authority interview the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s employees? If so, are there any restrictions?

Business entities are generally required to provide copies of any document supporting the tax returns filed. Such documents include accounting documentation, business books and records, bank statements, transaction documents and invoices. They are also required to submit to the FTA a soft copy of all their accounting records in the form of an accounting entry file. Additionally, certain large business entities are required to report, as appropriate, their cost accounting and consolidated statements, and business entities subject to the transfer pricing requirements shall provide, upon request, their transfer pricing documentation (see question 4), including a copy of the rulings obtained from foreign tax authorities by their related parties.

An individual taxpayer will generally be required to provide the FTA with any document supporting the tax returns filed and, in particular, bank account documentation or justification regarding assets, debts or tax deductions or credits.

The FTA may, subject to specific provisions, request information from persons who are not bound by the obligation to provide such information, such as a taxpayer’s employees, but the latter are not legally required to respond. The FTA may, under certain conditions, interview persons - other than the taxpayer (employees, customers, providers, etc) - who are likely to provide information useful to challenge international tax evasion. Persons contacted by the FTA in this respect may refuse to be interviewed.

Available agency action

What actions may the agencies take if the taxpayer does not provide the required information?

If the taxpayer does not provide the required information or if the tax audit cannot take place due to the taxpayer’s behaviour (ie, opposition to a tax audit), the FTA is entitled, under certain conditions, to proceed to a discretionary adjustment of the taxpayer’s taxes and to claim for penalties (up to 100 per cent of the adjusted taxes), as well as late payment interest. Opposition to a tax audit may also incur criminal sanctions (see question 15).

Upon authorisation of the relevant court and for specific cases of fraud, the FTA is entitled to proceed to raids (see question 3) through which they may access certain other documents and information.

Protecting commercial information

How may taxpayers protect commercial information, including business secrets or professional advice, from disclosure? Is the tax authority subject to any restrictions concerning what it can do with the information disclosed?

Taxpayers cannot invoke professional secrecy to refuse to disclose information requested by the FTA. Correspondence between attorneys and their clients is, however, protected by legal professional privilege, in respect of which there is no exception and does not have to be disclosed to the FTA.

FTA officers are legally subject to professional secrecy with regard to information collected in the course of their duties. A violation of this obligation constitutes a punishable criminal offence. However, this rule allows for exceptions to the benefit of other French administrative and judicial authorities, as well as foreign competent authorities on the basis of an exchange of information agreement. Nevertheless, French law prohibits the FTA, in certain circumstances, from providing information that would disclose any business, industrial or professional secret to foreign tax authorities.

Limitation period for reviews

What limitation period applies to the review of tax returns?

As a general rule, the statute of limitations expires after the sixth year following the year during which the event triggering taxation occurred. However, a reduced three-year statute of limitations applies to most taxes, such as corporate and individual income tax, turnover taxes, certain local taxes, transfer taxes and real estate wealth tax. For transfer taxes and real estate wealth tax, however, a taxpayer cannot benefit from the reduced statute of limitations in the event that he or she failed to file a tax return or to register a deed and where further FTA investigations are necessary. A specific four-year statute of limitations applies to individual income tax for 2018, due to the implementation of the taxation at source in France.

The statute of limitations may be further extended, for example in the event that:

  • a criminal complaint is filed (up to two additional years);
  • a request for information from foreign tax authorities is made (up to three additional years); or
  • the taxpayer is involved in fraud or with respect to hidden activity (up to 10 years).

Finally, irrespective of the above-mentioned statute of limitations, the FTA is entitled to audit fiscal years during which tax losses carried forward were generated, even if such fiscal years are statute barred, to the extent that such tax losses are offset against taxable income generated during fiscal years that are not statute barred.

Alternative dispute resolution

Describe any alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or settlement options available?

On being issued a reassessment notice by the FTA, an administrative review phase takes place, during which the taxpayer interacts with the FTA.

First, the taxpayer either acquiesces to the adjustment or raises arguments in writing to the relevant tax inspector within 30 days of receiving the reassessment notice (this may be extended in certain circumstances). In the latter case, the taxpayer is informed in writing by the FTA whether they agree with the taxpayer’s arguments and, if not, is provided with the reason why. The FTA may respond with a new basis for its position.

Following this exchange of written comments, the taxpayer is entitled to meet the tax inspector’s direct manager to discuss the legal arguments and factual circumstances. If the disagreement persists, the taxpayer may ask for a meeting with the tax inspector’s general supervisor.

Under certain conditions, factual aspects of the case may also be submitted to an independent tax commission (either local or national) that will hear both the taxpayer and the FTA. However, its decision is not binding on the parties and does not reverse the burden of proof. Additional commissions may also be convened in specific circumstances (eg, in case of abuse of law, specific commission can be convened upon request of the FTA or the taxpayer, and its decision reverses the burden of proof).

During this administrative phase, no payment can be claimed from the taxpayer. If the FTA confirms the proposed reassessment, at the end of such phase, a tax-collection notice is issued that may be challenged by the taxpayer by introducing a contentious claim (see question 25).

The taxpayer may also introduce a claim for equitable relief with respect to taxes due (except for VAT) or penalties and the late payment interest.

Collecting overdue payments

How may the tax authority collect overdue tax payments following a tax review?

In the event that the taxpayer does not pay the taxes following a formal notice sent by the FTA and depending on the stage of the procedure, the FTA may take protective or executory measures in respect of the taxpayer’s assets. For example, the FTA can seize tangible properties, real estate or receivables held on third parties, such as employers (subject to a minimum amount required for subsistence).

The statute of limitations for the recovery of taxes is generally four years after the date on which the tax-collection notice is issued (extended to six years under certain circumstances). Such statute of limitations may be suspended in cases of taxpayer-requested payment deferral (see question 25). It may also be interrupted by certain events, such as a formal notice to pay, precautionary measures or certain legal proceedings.

Penalties

In what circumstances may the tax authority impose penalties?

Penalties are generally imposed if tax returns are inaccurate or incomplete, have not been filed or have been filed late, or if taxes have not been paid or paid late.

Penalties may also be imposed in certain other circumstances such as failure to comply with invoice requirements or reporting obligations.

In addition to such penalties (which are similar to sanctions), late payment interest is also generally due (see question 14).

How are penalties calculated?

Penalties are calculated as follows:

 

Type of penalty

Method of calculation

Penalties for inaccurate or incomplete tax returns

Penalties are assessed on the adjusted tax at the rate of:

  • 10 per cent if the error or omission is not deliberate and relates to personal income tax returns (unless exceptions apply);
  • 40 per cent if the error or omission is deliberate or constitutes an abuse of law in which the taxpayer is not the main instigator or the principal beneficiary of said abuse; and
  • up to 80 per cent if the error or omission is either fraudulent or constitutes an abuse of law in which the taxpayer is the main instigator or principal beneficiary of said abuse.

Type of penalty

Method of calculation

Penalties for failure to file tax returns on time

Penalties are assessed on the adjusted tax at the rate of:

  • 10 per cent if the filing is done before a formal notice is issued or before the expiry of a one-month period following a formal notice by the FTA, increased to 20 per cent for personal income tax returns filed before the expiry of a one-month period following a formal notice by the FTA;
  • 40 per cent if it is done after that period; and
  • 80 per cent if the taxpayer carries out an undisclosed activity.

Penalties for failure to pay taxes when due

Penalties are assessed at the rate of 5 per cent or 10 per cent, depending on the taxes involved.

Other penalties are assessed at fixed amounts (eg, fines for failure to provide documents required by the FTA), or at proportional rates on amounts required to be declared or reported on specific statements.

What defences are available if penalties are imposed?

The FTA must provide written justification for the penalties imposed and characterise, as appropriate, the omission or error.

Taxpayers are entitled to request the cancellation of penalties that are either not justified or insufficiently justified. In certain cases, a reduction of the penalties may automatically be granted as long as certain conditions are met. Discretionary reduction might also be contemplated in certain circumstances.

Collecting interest

In what circumstances may the tax authority collect interest and how is it calculated?

The FTA is entitled to collect late payment interest where the payment of taxes has been improperly deferred, or tax returns have not been properly or timely filed. Late payment interest is, however, not due in certain specific cases (eg, when penalties are substituted for the avoided tax, such as in the case of hidden distributions).

By way of exception, late payment interest may be reduced or may not be due, subject to certain conditions, for example where a taxpayer has made an explicit statement in the tax return or where legal tolerance may be applied (ie, if the amount of tax reassessed does not exceed: (i) one-twentieth for income tax; or (ii) one-tenth for transfer tax and real estate wealth tax of the declared tax base).

Late payment interest is assessed at the rate of 0.2 per cent per month (0.4 per cent per month until 31 December 2017) on the amount of tax reassessed, and generally starts accruing as from the month following the month in which the relevant tax should have been paid (for personal income tax, on 1 July of the year following the year pursuant to which the taxation is set) and ends on the last day of the month of notification of the reassessment notice.

Criminal consequences

Are there criminal consequences that can arise as a result of a tax review? Are these different for different types of taxpayers?

Opposition to tax audit may, in addition to discretionary reassessment, be criminally sanctioned by a fine, and, in the event of a repeated offence, by a prison sentence issued by the criminal court.

A taxpayer may be held criminally responsible for tax fraud if he or she has intentionally and fraudulently avoided, or tried to avoid, any tax liability. Prosecution for tax fraud is launched on the FTA’s initiative, subject to, under current applicable rules, prior consent of an independent tax commission responsible for criminal tax matters. Changes to this procedure are, however, currently being debated before the parliament.

Enforcement record

What is the recent enforcement record of the authorities?

According to the FTA’s enforcement survey with respect to 2017, reassessed taxes and associated penalties were estimated to €17.9 billion. More than 1.3 million audits have been carried out and tax audits resulted in the recovery of €9.4 billion (compared with €11.1 billion in 2016). Approximately 2.8 million contentious claims were filed in 2017 and an equivalent number of claims were dealt with in 2017. The number of court proceedings filed in 2017 (about 23,000) was lower than the number of court proceedings filed in 2016 (about 26,000). About 920 criminal claims for tax fraud were filed by the FTA in 2017.

Third parties and other authorities

Cooperation with other authorities

Can a tax authority involve or investigate third parties as part of the authority’s review of a taxpayer’s returns?

The FTA is entitled to request information on taxpayers from third parties, provided that such third party falls within the categories enumerated in the FTPC. In that case, the third party is required to respond to the FTA’s request and is subject to a fine if it fails to do so. Additionally, certain private entities, such as financial institutions, are required to disclose information to the FTA on their own initiative.

The FTA is not obliged to inform the taxpayer of a third-party investigation process. However, if the FTA relies on information and documents obtained through such investigations or through the interview procedure (see question 5) for the tax reassessment, it must inform the taxpayer of the content and origin of such documents or information.

Does the tax authority cooperate with other authorities within the country? Does the tax authority cooperate with the tax authorities in other countries?

The FTA cooperates with both French and foreign tax and non-tax authorities. Such cooperation may be either on demand or automatic (eg, social security authorities and judicial authorities are required to automatically transfer certain information annually).

With regard to cooperation with foreign authorities, the FTA can rely on the provisions of double tax treaties, as well as on the provisions of French law implementing the EU Directive 2011/16/EU (as amended) and on the protocol to the OECD convention. Such provisions enable the FTA to request information in order to control the tax basis of French resident individuals and entities, and request assistance in the recovery of taxes.

France has signed an intergovernmental agreement regarding FATCA with the US, pursuant to which French financial institutions are required to report information about their US clients’ accounts to the French government, which, in turn, will exchange that information with the US tax authorities. A reciprocity clause obliges the US tax authorities to transmit certain information about French residents holding US accounts. France has also implemented common reporting standards, pursuant to which financial institutions are required to carry out certain diligences to identify account holders and collect information (concerning tax residency and tax identification numbers notably) and to report certain information concerning accounts holders and accounts to the FTA.

Special procedures

Voluntary disclosure and amnesties

Do any special procedures apply in cases of financial or other hardship, for example when a taxpayer is bankrupt?

Taxpayers facing financial hardship may ask the FTA, under certain conditions, for payment deferral of the taxes due or, under exceptional circumstances, a write-off of all or part of the taxes.

Aside from such procedure (which applies on a case-by-case basis), there is no special recovery procedure in such cases. The FTA benefits from a preferential right over non-real estate assets and may obtain a mortgage over taxpayers’ real estate assets. French tax law also provides for joint liability that enables the FTA to recover amounts due from third parties under specific circumstances (eg, from directors who are responsible for fraud or repeated serious failures to fulfil tax obligations, which render the recovery of taxes and penalties due by the legal entity impossible).

Specific rules relating to the assessment of taxes may also apply to entities that are in financial hardship.

Are there any voluntary disclosure or amnesty programmes?

In the course of an audit, taxpayers may regularise any unintentional mistake or inaccuracy made in their tax returns (provided that such tax returns relate to taxes concerned with the audit). If relevant, such taxpayers may benefit from reduced late payment interest.

No amnesty programme has been introduced in France, but taxpayers may request the FTA’s leniency by introducing a claim for equitable relief.

Rights of taxpayers

Rules protecting taxpayers

What rules are in place to protect taxpayers?

French tax law provides for certain rights and guarantees for taxpayers both before and after an audit.

When initiating the audit, the FTA must provide the taxpayer with a tax-audit notice that explicitly states that the taxpayer has the right to be advised by counsel and outlines the scope of the review. Failure to mention such information generally results in the procedure being void.

A reminder of the procedure and rights of the taxpayer to ask, for example, for formal meetings or commissions (see question 9), is also made at each step of the procedure.

Additionally, a taxpayer bill of rights, which outlines the main applicable rules in case of a tax audit, must be provided to the taxpayer prior to an audit.

Once the tax audit is over, the FTA has to provide the taxpayer with the outcome of the verification and, as appropriate, with the amount of the adjustments and penalties applied. The taxpayer has the right to ask for a report. The FTA cannot proceed to a new verification for the same time period and for the same tax (other than in certain limited specific situations).

Requesting information

How can taxpayers obtain information from the tax authority? What information can taxpayers request?

The FTA must inform the taxpayers of the content and the origin of any information and documents obtained from third parties in respect of which it relies on in order to justify the reassessments. The FTA must transmit to the taxpayer, upon request and before the collection of the taxes, such documents, or a summary of their contents.

Furthermore, when the FTA implements raids, it must provide an inventory of all documents seized by the agents and return them within a certain time.

Tax authority governance

Is the tax authority subject to non-judicial oversight?

During the tax audit, the taxpayer may submit his or her case to various commissions composed of judges, practitioners, experts and so on (see question 9). Under current applicable rules, the FTA is also required to request the prior consent of the commission in charge of criminal tax matters before launching a prosecution for tax fraud (but also see question 15).

For complex cases, a national expert committee (composed of tax professionals who do not belong to the FTA) may be consulted by the FTA on legal aspects.

Under certain conditions, taxpayers may also request the intervention of the departmental tax conciliator or the tax ombudsman, in order to find solutions to conflicts between the FTA and a taxpayer in the event of a taxpayer complaint with regard to the way his or her request was dealt with by them.

Court actions (describe trial court actions in this section)

Competent courts

Which courts have jurisdiction to hear tax disputes?

Tax disputes are held before administrative courts and civil courts depending on the type of taxes involved. Each procedure generally involves three levels of jurisdiction: lower court, court of appeal and supreme court.

 

 

Administrative courts

Civil courts

Field of competence

  • Income taxes
  • Local taxes
  • Other direct taxes
  • VAT
  • Transfer taxes
  • Indirect taxes other than VAT
  • Real estate wealth tax

Specific questions (relating to the compliance of tax provision with the French Constitution) may be submitted by courts, upon a taxpayer’s request, to the Constitutional Council. Access to the Council can be requested at each level of jurisdiction, and requires that the three following conditions are met:

  • the provision that is challenged applies to the litigation or proceedings involved, or is the basis of such proceedings;
  • such provision has not previously been found to be constitutional by the Constitutional Council; and
  • the issue raised is a new one or is of a serious nature.

Preliminary rulings may also be sought by courts from the Court of Justice of the European Union regarding:

  • the interpretation of the EU treaties; and
  • the validity and interpretation of acts of the institutions or other EU bodies.

Lodging a claim

How can tax disputes be brought before the courts?

Any taxpayer may bring a tax dispute before the courts, subject to a prior claim before the FTA. A contentious claim of this nature must generally be introduced before the FTA before 31 December of the second year following the year during which the tax collection occurred, the tax collection notice was issued, the tax was paid or the event triggering the contentious claim occurred.

The FTA is not obliged to answer within a specific time frame. However, in the absence of an answer within a six-month period from the date of the contentious claim (which may be extended by an extra three months if requested by the FTA), such claim is deemed to be rejected.

The taxpayer can object to the FTA decision by bringing the issue before the court within a two-month period beginning from receipt of the letter informing the taxpayer of the refusal (or, according to current applicable rules, at any time after the end of the six-month period in the event of an implicit refusal).

There is no minimum threshold amount for claims.

Combination of claims

Can tax claims affecting multiple tax returns or taxpayers be brought together?

Whenever several contentious claims are brought separately before the judge but are similar in nature, the judge may decide to bring these claims together as one case. If such contentious claims are issued by two different taxpayers, the judge must inform them of his or her intention to consolidate the claims, and they may refuse this consolidation. The taxpayer may also ask for contentious claims relating to similar taxes to be dealt with as one case.

Contentious claims with respect to several taxes may be separated by the FTA through several contentious claim refusals if the proceedings are different. In that case, each refusal will be brought before the courts separately.

Pre-claim payments

Must the taxpayer pay the amounts in dispute into court before bringing a claim?

A taxpayer who receives a tax-collection notice is obliged to pay the whole amount of the adjusted taxes and then introduce a contentious claim (see question 25). However, he or she may request payment deferral, provided that he or she provides guarantees to the FTA (cash payment to a special treasury current account, pledge, etc). If the taxpayer either does not provide guarantees or provides unsatisfactory guarantees, the payment is still deferred, but the FTA may implement protective measures. Specific rules of procedure apply in such cases that allow the taxpayer to contest any decision of the FTA in relation with the guarantees, usually through emergency proceedings.

The deferral is effective until the decision of the lower court, or the end of the period during which the taxpayer could go before the court.

If the lower court decision is in favour of the FTA, the taxpayer must pay the taxes immediately (including penalties and late payment interest), as well as:

  • with regard to a sum due with respect to personal income tax and real estate wealth tax, a 10 per cent penalty and interest at a rate of 0.2 per cent per month (0.4 per cent per month until 31 December 2017) calculated from the first day of the thirteenth month following the month during which the payment was due, pursuant to the tax collection notice; and
  • with regard to a sum due with respect to other taxes, a 5 per cent penalty and interest at a rate of 0.2 per cent per month (0.4 per cent per month until 31 December 2017) calculated from the first day of the month following the month during which the payment was due.

If the decision is in favour of the taxpayer, the latter is automatically eligible to default interest on the amount of tax that he or she had already paid, and is reimbursed for the fees related to the provision of guarantees.

Cost recovery

To what extent can the costs of a dispute be recovered?

When the decision is favourable to the taxpayer, certain costs (such as costs for producing documents, registration fees (if any) or costs relating to expertise) are automatically reimbursed.

Other costs are borne by the losing party (for example, legal fees) to the extent requested by the other party and subject to the judge’s decision (usually the amount charged on the defeated party may not exceed €5,000).

Third-party funding

Are there any restrictions on or rules relating to third-party funding or insurance for the costs of a tax dispute, including bringing a tax claim to court?

According to the National Internal Regulations, a lawyer may only charge fees to his or her client, or one of his or her representatives. A third party can guarantee a taxpayer (individuals and companies) in the event of a request for a payment deferral.

In some instances, and under certain circumstances, third parties may buy potential tax receivables held by taxpayers over the FTA and offer to assist in a claim for reimbursement and bear the related costs, in exchange for part of the gain obtained.

Court decision maker

Who is the decision maker in the court? Is a jury trial available to hear tax disputes?

The number of judges in a court depends on the level of jurisdiction. At each level, such numbers may vary, especially depending on the gravity or importance of the case.

For administrative courts

 

Level of jurisdiction

Lower administrative court

Administrative court of appeal

Supreme Administrative Court

Number of judges

One to three

Three to five

Three to 17 - varies from case to case

For civil courts

Level of jurisdiction

Lower civil court

Civil court of appeal

Supreme Civil Court

Number of judges

Three

Three

Three to 19 - varies from case to case

Specific rules apply for emergency proceedings. There is no jury for tax matters.

Time frames

What are the usual time frames for tax trials?

The usual time frame for tax trials varies substantially depending on the level of jurisdiction and the situation. There are no mandatory time frames. In practice and on average, trials before lower courts and courts of appeal can take between one year and two-and-a-half years, and trials before Supreme Courts can take one to two years.

Disclosure requirements

What are the requirements concerning disclosure or a duty to present information for trial?

There is no discovery process before French tax courts. Briefs and supporting documents received by the court (see questions 33 and 37) from taxpayers are automatically transferred to the FTA, whereas such documents received from the FTA are transferred to taxpayers under certain conditions. In any case, the court can only base its decision on elements, even those received from foreign tax authorities, each party had the opportunity to discuss.

Permitted evidence

What evidence is permitted in a tax trial?

Tax trials are based on a written procedure under which the judge examines the factual circumstances and legal arguments described by each party in their briefs. Parties may make oral observations during the hearing. In addition, the judge may ask for expertise, although such procedure is rarely used by judges in practice.

Permitted representation

Who can represent taxpayers in a tax trial? Who represents the tax authority?

Legal representation of taxpayers is mandatory, except for the lower administrative court and generally the civil court (for tax cases).

The FTA may be represented by its own agents, even if in practice the FTA appoints lawyers in some instances. In rulings before the Supreme Civil Court, the FTA will be represented by a lawyer. In France, a specific category of lawyers represents parties before Supreme Courts.

Taxpayers who cannot afford legal representations may request, upon filing an application with the relevant justification, legal aid to finance in whole or part legal fees and expenses.

Publicity of proceedings

Are tax trial proceedings public?

Tax trial proceedings are public.

Burden of proof

Who has the burden of proof in a tax trial?

The burden of proof generally lies with the FTA, except in certain specific situations in which such burden of proof lies with the taxpayer, such as where:

  • the FTA has adjusted the taxpayer’s taxes unilaterally (in the course of discretionary reassessments);
  • the commission in charge of abuse-of-law matters has agreed with the FTA;
  • the taxpayer did not answer to a reassessment notice; or
  • the FTA has proved the existence and amount of a profit shift abroad (transfer pricing issues).

Case management process

Describe the case management process for a tax trial.

Under French tax law, during the trial, exchange of briefs is organised by the court, with the court acting as an intermediary. Each party only addresses their briefs to the court and the court communicates the brief to the other party, giving a time limit to reply.

Once briefs have been exchanged, the court issues an order for the conclusion of proceedings. Briefs that are produced after the order are generally not examined by the court, except for notes in support of pleadings, which may be addressed to the president of the formation of the court.

Appeal

Can a court decision be appealed? If so, on what basis?

Whenever the taxpayer or the FTA do not agree with the decision of lower courts, they may bring an appeal before the competent court of appeal and ultimately before the competent Supreme Court.

Appeal before

Procedure

The administrative or civil court of appeal

The taxpayer is given a two-month period to file the appeal, against a four-month period in practice for the FTA, beginning at the date of notification of the lower court decision.

The Supreme Administrative or Civil Court

The taxpayer is given a two-month period to file the appeal, beginning at the date of notification of the court of appeal decision.