In the case of Levages Prestations Services v. France (1),

        The European Court of Human Rights, sitting, in accordance with
Article 43 (art. 43) of the Convention for the Protection of
Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention") and the
relevant provisions of Rules of Court A (2), as a Chamber composed of
the following judges:

        Mr  R. Bernhardt, President,
        Mr  F. Matscher,
        Mr  L.-E. Pettiti,
        Mr  N. Valticos,
        Mr  R. Pekkanen,
        Sir John Freeland,
        Mr  J. Makarczyk,
        Mr  D. Gotchev,
        Mr  K. Jungwiert,

and also of Mr H. Petzold, Registrar, and Mr P.J. Mahoney, Deputy
Registrar,

        Having deliberated in private on 24 May and 23 September 1996,

        Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the
last-mentioned date:
_______________
Notes by the Registrar

1.  The case is numbered 51/1995/557/643.  The first number is the
case's position on the list of cases referred to the Court in the
relevant year (second number).  The last two numbers indicate the
case's position on the list of cases referred to the Court since its
creation and on the list of the corresponding originating applications
to the Commission.

2.  Rules A apply to all cases referred to the Court before the entry
into force of Protocol No. 9 (P9) (1 October 1994) and thereafter only
to cases concerning States not bound by that Protocol (P9).  They
correspond to the Rules that came into force on 1 January 1983, as
amended several times subsequently.
_______________

PROCEDURE

1.      The case was referred to the Court by the European Commission
of Human Rights ("the Commission") on 22 May 1995, within the
three-month period laid down by Article 32 para. 1 and Article 47 of
the Convention (art. 32-1, art. 47).  It originated in an application
(no. 21920/93) against the French Republic lodged with the Commission
under Article 25 (art. 25) by Levages Prestations Services, a
private company incorporated under French law, on 1 April 1993.

        The Commission's request referred to Articles 44 and 48
(art. 44, art. 48) and to the declaration whereby France recognised the
compulsory jurisdiction of the Court (Article 46) (art. 46).  The
object of the request was to obtain a decision as to whether the facts
of the case disclosed a breach by the respondent State of its
obligations under Article 6 para. 1 of the Convention (art. 6-1).

2.      In response to the enquiry made in accordance with
Rule 33 para. 3 (d) of Rules of Court A, the applicant company stated
that it wished to take part in the proceedings and designated the
lawyer who would represent it (Rule 30).

3.      The Chamber to be constituted included ex officio
Mr L.-E. Pettiti, the elected judge of French nationality (Article 43
of the Convention) (art. 43), and Mr R. Bernhardt, the Vice-President
of the Court (Rule 21 para. 4 (b)).  On 8 June 1995, in the presence
of the Registrar, the President of the Court, Mr R. Ryssdal, drew by
lot the names of the other seven members, namely Mr F. Matscher,
Mr N. Valticos, Mr S.K. Martens, Sir John Freeland, Mr J. Makarczyk,
Mr D. Gotchev and Mr K. Jungwiert (Article 43 in fine of the Convention
and Rule 21 para. 5) (art. 43).  Subsequently, Mr R. Pekkanen,
substitute judge, replaced Mr Martens, who was unable to take part in
the further consideration of the case (Rules 22 para. 1 and 24
para. 1).

4.      As President of the Chamber (Rule 21 para. 6), Mr Bernhardt,
acting through the Registrar, consulted the Agent of the
French Government ("the Government"), the applicant company's lawyer
and the Delegate of the Commission on the organisation of the
proceedings (Rules 37 para. 1 and 38).  Pursuant to the order made in
consequence, the Registrar received the applicant company's memorial
on 21 February 1996 and the Government's memorial on 4 March 1996.  On
18 March 1996 the Secretary to the Commission indicated that the
Delegate did not wish to reply in writing.

        On 15 March 1996 the Commission produced the file on the
proceedings before it, as requested by the Registrar on the President's
instructions.

5.      In accordance with the President's decision, the hearing took
place in public in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on
22 May 1996.  The Court had held a preparatory meeting beforehand.

        There appeared before the Court:

(a)  for the Government

     Mr B. Nedelec, magistrat, on secondment to
            the Legal Affairs Department, Ministry of
            Foreign Affairs,                                   Agent,
     Miss   C. Marchi Uhel, magistrat, on secondment to
            the Legal Affairs Department, Ministry of
            Foreign Affairs,
     Mr G. Bitti, member of the Human Rights Office,
            European and International Affairs Department,
            Ministry of Justice,                             Counsel;

(b)  for the Commission

     Mr L. Loucaides,                                       Delegate;

(c)  for the applicant company

     Mr J.-A. Blanc, of the Conseil d'Etat and Court of
            Cassation Bar,                                   Counsel.

        The Court heard addresses by Mr Loucaides, Mr Blanc and
Mr Nedelec.

AS TO THE FACTS

I.      The circumstances of the case

6.      The Levages Prestations Services company carries on the
business of leasing lifting gear and providing related services.  In
May 1983 it had recourse to an employment agency for temporary staff,
with which it signed five contracts for the provision of manual labour.
Subsequently, it refused to pay four of five invoices, initially
because it disagreed with the number of hours charged and then on the
ground that they were unsigned and did not bear the company stamp.

        On 18 September 1984 the Paris Commercial Court ordered it to
pay the agency the sum of 29,808.01 French francs (FRF) under the
contracts.

7.      The applicant company lodged a criminal complaint against a
person or persons unknown for forgery of commercial instruments, and
against the employment agency for aiding and abetting and for making
use of forged instruments.

8.       It appealed to the Paris Court of Appeal against the
Commercial Court's judgment and made an application for the appeal to
be stayed pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings instituted
after it had lodged its complaint.

9.      On 1 October 1986 the Court of Appeal made an interlocutory
order staying the appeal.  The relevant part of the judgment read as
follows:

        "... the [Levages Prestations Services] company produced the
        text of the complaint it had lodged with the senior
        investigating judge in Paris and evidence of payment on
        28 October 1985 of the sum of 3,000 francs, being the amount
        of the deposit requested on 16 October 1985;

        ...

        That complaint concerns not only the identity of the person
        who signed some of the time sheets but also the number of
        hours invoiced;

        Thus it is the actual documents on which [the employment
        agency] bases its claim that are alleged to be forgeries;

        Pursuant to the rule that civil proceedings arising from a
        criminal offence must await the decision of the criminal
        court, the present proceedings must be stayed."

10.     On 24 December 1987 the investigating judge ruled that there
was no case to answer in respect of the two criminal complaints.

11.     The appeal proceedings resumed in the Paris Court of Appeal,
which upheld the Commercial Court's judgment on 28 September 1989.

        In its judgment on the merits, following its interlocutory
judgment of 1 October 1986, the Court of Appeal referred "for an
account of the facts of the case and the claims of the parties to that
judgment [of 1 October 1986] and the judgment of the court below ...".
It ordered the applicant company, which had continued to argue that the
documents were forgeries, to pay FRF 15,000 in damages for having
entered an appeal that was designed to gain time and was vexatious to
the agency.

12.     On 1 December 1989 Levages Prestations Services appealed on
points of law to the Court of Cassation against the judgment of
28 September 1989.  On 27 April 1990 it filed its pleadings, in which
it made no mention of either the criminal proceedings or the
Paris Court of Appeal's interlocutory judgment.  It annexed a copy of
the Paris Commercial Court's judgment of 18 September 1984, of its
pleadings of 10 March 1986 on appeal and of the Paris Court of Appeal's
judgment of 28 September 1989, against which it was appealing.

        In the proceedings in the Court of Cassation the applicant
company was represented by a member of the Conseil d'Etat and
Court of Cassation Bar, as required by law.

13.     On 1 December 1992 the Court of Cassation (Commercial Division)
held that the appeal was inadmissible in a judgment which read as
follows:

        "Having regard to the first paragraph of Article 979 of the
        New Code of Civil Procedure;

        On 1 December 1989 the Levages Prestations Services company
        appealed on points of law against a judgment delivered on
        28 September 1989 by the Paris Court of Appeal which expressly
        refers to a previous judgment of 1 October 1986 for an account
        of the facts of the case and the claims of the parties.  That
        judgment of 1 October 1986 thus forms an integral part of the
        judgment under appeal, but no copy or execution copy of it has
        been produced.  It follows that the appeal on points of law is
        inadmissible."

II.     Relevant domestic law and practice

    A.  Civil procedure in general

14.     The New Code of Civil Procedure ("NCCP") contains the following
provisions of a general nature:

                               Article 2

        "The parties shall conduct the proceedings in accordance with
        the responsibilities incumbent on them.  They shall carry out
        the steps in the proceedings in accordance with the prescribed
        formal requirements and the time-limits."

                               Article 3

        "The court shall ensure the proper conduct of the proceedings;
        it shall be empowered to lay down time-limits and order
        necessary measures."

                              Article 455

        "The claims of the parties and the grounds on which they rely
        shall be set out succinctly in the judgment, which shall be
        reasoned."

        The judgment shall set out the decision in the form of
        operative provisions.

                              Article 729

        "On appeal or if a case is remitted by the Court of Cassation,
        the registrar shall forward the case file to the relevant
        court either within fifteen days of being requested so to do
        or within such other time as may be laid down in special
        provisions.

        The registrar shall, if appropriate, make copies of the
        documents necessary for the proceedings to continue."

                              Article 968

        "The case file of the court of first instance, which the
        registrar shall request as soon as an appeal to the
        Court of Appeal is entered, shall be added to the
        Court of Appeal's case file."

    B.  Civil Procedure in the Court of Cassation

15.     The procedure for appeals to the Court of Cassation, a special
form of appeal, is written and relatively straightforward.  However,
strict time-limits apply.  Appeals on points of law, which are brought
against a decision and not against a party, are in principle presented
by members of the Conseil d'Etat and Court of Cassation Bar.  Members
of the Conseil d'Etat and Court of Cassation Bar enjoy a monopoly in
representing parties in those courts and have a dual role as their
representatives and as officers of the court.  Thus, for example, they
receive full particulars from the Court of Cassation as to the progress
being made in the consideration of the case (such as the appointment
of a reporting judge, the lodging of his report, the appointment of an
advocate-general and the setting down of the appeal for hearing) and
it is then their responsibility to forward this information to their
client.

        Unlike members of the ordinary Bar, members of the
Conseil d'Etat and Court of Cassation Bar enjoy the status of
officiers ministériels (State-appointed officers); their number is
irrevocably kept at sixty, pursuant to an ordinance of
10 September 1947.  They are appointed by the Government after a
reasoned opinion has been submitted by the Council of the
Conseil d'Etat and Court of Cassation Bar, the President of the
Court of Cassation and the Vice-President of the Conseil d'Etat.

        Representation by a member of the Conseil d'Etat and Court of
Cassation Bar is usually compulsory and any party receiving legal aid
is entitled to counsel of his own choosing.  However, in certain types
of litigation (such as cases concerning parental authority,
industrial relations, immigration and political or
occupational elections) the parties are exempted by law from having to
retain a member of the Conseil d'Etat and Court of Cassation Bar and
the procedure is simpler and less formal.

        1. Procedure where representation is compulsory

16.     The procedure is set out in Articles 974 to 982 NCCP and is the
one usually followed in appeals to the Court of Cassation.

            (a) Notice of appeal

17.     The notice of appeal, by which the proceedings are commenced,
is lodged with and registered by the Court of Cassation registry.  It
is signed by counsel and contains, in particular, details of the
decision appealed against.  The registrar forwards it to the respondent
"immediately" (Article 977, first paragraph) and must at the same time
"request the registry of the court which gave the impugned decision to
forward the case file to him" (Article 977, second paragraph).

            (b) Pleadings

18.     The appellant must lodge his pleading and serve it on the
respondent within five months, failing which he will be debarred from
proceeding with the appeal.  That pleading must contain the points of
law on which he relies in his appeal, failing which the appeal will
automatically be declared inadmissible without its being necessary for
the Court of Cassation to inform the parties beforehand
(Court of Cassation, First Civil Division, 28 April 1981,
Bulletin civil (Bull. civ.) I, no. 134; 19 May 1981, Bull. civ. I,
no. 166).

            (c) Production of the decision appealed against and of the
                documents

19.     Lastly, the pleading must be accompanied by the decisions and
documents referred to in Article 979 NCCP, which provides:

        "The appellant must file at the registry a copy of the
        decision appealed against served either on a party or on a
        lawyer (avoué or avocat) or an execution copy of that
        decision, together with a copy of any decision upheld or
        reversed in the decision appealed against, within the time
        allowed for lodging the pleading, failing which the appeal
        will automatically be declared inadmissible.

        The appellant must also annex any documents relied on in
        support of the appeal."

        More generally, in accordance with long-established case-law,
the appellant must supply any document that it is necessary to read for
the purposes of understanding and justifying a ground of appeal put
forward, failing which that ground may be declared inadmissible
(Court of Cassation judgments of 29 November 1852, Dalloz 1853, 1, 301;
6 December 1871, Dalloz 1872, 1, 192; and 16 December 1891,
Dalloz 1892, 1, 67).

        The production required in the first paragraph of Article 979
if the appeal is not to be automatically declared inadmissible has
given rise to a considerable amount of litigation, and the courts have
clarified the scope of this formal requirement.

20.     As early as 1962 (Court of Cassation, Third Civil Division,
12 February 1962, Barbezat and Others v. Swietek, Bulletin des arrêts
de la Cour de cassation no. 93) the Court of Cassation held that the
obligation to annex a copy of the decision appealed against "has to be
understood as applying not only to the decision appealed against, but
also to decisions that are its necessary complement".

        It added subsequently that the filing of the judgment at
first instance required by Article 979 was essential because that
judgment formed a single unit with the decision on appeal:

        "It follows from Articles 954 and 955 of the NCCP that the
        judgment at first instance forms a single unit with the
        judgment of the court of appeal as regards both its reasoning
        and the statement of the parties' claims and arguments;
        production of the judgment at first instance is accordingly a
        formal requirement that is mandatory as a matter of public
        policy.  Any failure to comply with it, which must be raised
        by the Court of Cassation of its own motion since the Court is
        under an obligation to verify that appeals to it have been
        properly made, will result in the appeal on points of law
        being declared inadmissible.

        Since the appellant failed to produce a copy of the judgment
        at first instance as required, the appeal on points of law is
        inadmissible." (Court of Cassation, Third Civil Division,
        19 November 1986, Desmoulins v. Delambre, Bull. civ. no. 161)

        The Court of Cassation has further held, firstly, that where
conflicting decisions have been given, the appellant must produce the
impugned decision of the court of appeal and a copy of the decisions
which conflict with each other (requêtes, 14 February 1837,
Jurisprudence générale Cassation, no. 869); secondly, that in the event
of an appeal on points of law against a judgment of a court of appeal
dismissing a third-party application to set aside a judgment, the
appellant must produce a copy of the judgment which gave rise to the
application by the third party (Court of Cassation, Civil Division,
6 April 1987, Bull. civ. II, no. 83); and, thirdly, that in the event
of an appeal on points of law against a decision given on appeal from
a judgment of a court of first instance upholding part of a judgment
in default on an application to set that judgment aside, the appellant
must produce, in addition to the court of appeal's decision, the
default judgment and the ruling on the application to set it aside, so
as to enable the Court of Cassation to have a complete understanding
of the impugned decision (Court of Cassation, Commercial Division,
12 February 1962, Bull. civ. III, no. 93).

21.     The issue of inadmissibility was often raised where a copy of
the judgment at first instance was included in the case file of the
proceedings that was sent by the registry of the court which had
delivered the judgment.  The Third Civil Division of the
Court of Cassation held on this point that it could raise the mandatory
objection of inadmissibility without informing the parties beforehand
(19 November 1986, Consorts Ceresa, Bull. civ. no. 162).  For the legal
writers who approved this decision, it was not for the
Court of Cassation to warn parties, who were represented by counsel,
of the risk that this appeal would be declared inadmissible if they did
not produce the documents in time.  The Court of Cassation's only
obligation in law is to "inform the parties of any grounds of appeal
on points of law which could be raised by the Court of its own motion
and invite them to make observations within a time it shall set"
(Article 1015 NCCP).

        2. Procedure where representation is not compulsory

22.     Regulated by Articles 983 to 995 NCCP, proceedings in which
representation is not compulsory are unusual, although many special
exemptions are granted.  Formalities are kept to a strict minimum.

            (a) Notice of appeal

23.     Notice of appeal may be given merely orally.  Notice is given
to the court which delivered the decision appealed against, but may
also be given in accordance with the procedural rules applying to
appeals for which representation is compulsory and be lodged with the
Court of Cassation.  The registrar registers the appeal and issues a
receipt that reproduces the content of those Articles of the NCCP in
which the appellant's obligations are set out.  He informs the
respondent in a notice containing the text of the Articles relating to
the respondent's obligations.

            (b) Sending of the case file to the Court of Cassation's
                registry

24.     Article 988 NCCP provides:

        "The registrar shall send the case file to the
        Court of Cassation's registry without delay together with:

        (i)     a copy of the notice of appeal;
        (ii)    a copy of the receipt for the notice of appeal;
        (iii)   a copy of the decision appealed against; and
        (iv)    a copy of the judgment at first instance and any
        pleadings filed at first instance or on appeal.

        He shall immediately send to the Court of Cassation's registry
        any document which he receives subsequently."

        If the court finds that a document is missing, it stays the
proceedings and orders "reconstitution of the case file at the registry
of the local court concerned for the purposes of curing the procedural
defect" (Court of Cassation, Second Civil Division, 18 January 1957,
Bull. civ. II, no. 63).

            (c) Production of the decision appealed against

25.     The requirement laid down in Article 979 NCCP for proceedings
in which legal representation is compulsory - namely, that a copy of
the impugned decision must be produced within the time allowed for
lodging the pleading - does not apply to proceedings in which the
parties do not have to be represented (Court of Cassation,
Social Division, 27 January 1993, Bull. civ. V, no. 27) and an appeal
will not be invalidated by a failure to comply with the formal
requirements for giving notice of appeal.

            (d) The penalty for failing to comply with the rules

26.     An appeal on points of law may be declared inadmissible where
a failure to carry out a formal requirement prevents the appeal
proceeding (for instance, a failure to identify the respondent or the
decision being appealed against).  The court will of its own motion
declare an appeal inadmissible where the appellant has not stated the
grounds of his appeal, at least in summary form, in his notice of
appeal and fails to state them within three months of lodging it.

        Filing a pleading is optional in proceedings in which
representation is not compulsory.  If, as a result of an error not
attributable to the appellant, a pleading lodged within the prescribed
time was not included in the court file with the result that the appeal
was declared inadmissible, that decision must be set aside and the
appeal declared admissible (Court of Cassation, Social Division,
25 March 1985, Bull. civ. V, no. 205).  In general, the
Court of Cassation is less strict in cases in which representation is
not compulsory, where the grounds of appeal may be stated in summary
form.

PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE COMMISSION

27.     Levages Prestations Services made its application to the
Commission on 1 April 1993.  Relying on Article 6 para. 1 of the
Convention (art. 6-1), it alleged that its right to a fair hearing had
been infringed when the Court of Cassation of its own motion ruled that
the company's appeal on points of law was inadmissible.

28.     The Commission declared the application (no. 21920/93)
admissible on 12 October 1994.  In its report of 5 April 1995
(Article 31) (art. 31), it expressed the unanimous opinion that there
had been a violation of Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1).  The full text
of the Commission's opinion is reproduced as an annex to this
judgment (1).
_______________
Note by the Registrar

1.  For practical reasons this annex will appear only with the printed
version of the judgment (in Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1996-V),
but a copy of the Commission's report is obtainable from the registry.
_______________

FINAL SUBMISSIONS TO THE COURT

29.     In their memorial the Government asked the Court to "dismiss
the Levages Prestations Services company's application".

30.     The applicant company asked the Court to find that there had
been a violation of Article 6 para. 1 of the Convention (art. 6-1).

AS TO THE LAW

ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 PARA. 1 OF THE CONVENTION (art. 6-1)

31.     The applicant company complained that it had not had a fair
hearing within the meaning of Article 6 para. 1 of the Convention
(art. 6-1), because its appeal on points of law had been declared
inadmissible by the Court of Cassation of its own motion.  The relevant
part of Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1) provides:

        "In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ...,
        everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing ... by [a] ...
        tribunal ..."

    A.  Applicability of Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1)

32.     As before the Commission, the Government's primary submission
was that the application was incompatible ratione materiae with the
provisions of the Convention as the Court of Cassation had not ruled
on the merits, but only on a question of interpretation of Article 979
of the New Code of Civil Procedure ("NCCP"); it had therefore not
formally determined a dispute (contestation) over civil rights and
obligations.

33.     The applicant company, relying on the de Geouffre de la
Pradelle v. France judgment (16 December 1992, Series A no. 253-B),
argued that Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1) applied as in that judgment
the Court had held that the Conseil d'Etat had determined a dispute
over civil rights and obligations although it had declared an appeal
inadmissible on procedural grounds.

34.     The Commission expressed the opinion that the proceedings
concerned had come within the scope of Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1) as
they had concerned rights to receive payment and had been brought with
a view to determining a dispute over civil rights and obligations.

35.     The Court takes as agreed a point which was not the subject of
argument, namely that the proceedings in the civil courts of
first instance and appeal concerned a dispute over civil rights and
obligations.

36.     In its judgment of 17 January 1970 in the case of Delcourt v.
Belgium the Court, in reaching the decision that Article 6 para. 1
(art. 6-1) was applicable, noted that "[a] judgment of the
Court of Cassation ... may rebound in different degrees on the position
of the person concerned" (Series A no. 11, pp. 13-14, para. 25).  It
has reiterated that view on several occasions (see, as the most recent
authorities, the Lobo Machado v. Portugal judgment of 20 February 1996,
Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1996-I, p. 206, para. 30, and the
Vermeulen v. Belgium judgment of 20 February 1996, Reports 1996-I,
pp. 233-34, para. 32).  The present case is no different, because the
outcome of the appeal could have had a bearing on
Levages Prestations Services' debt.

        Consequently, Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1) is applicable.

    B.  Compliance with Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1)

37.     The applicant company submitted that the Court of Cassation,
in requiring the Court of Appeal's interlocutory judgment of
1 October 1986 to be produced in support of the appeal on points of
law, had applied Article 979 NCCP in a questionable and unforeseeable
way.  There had been no appeal against that judgment, which was of no
assistance in understanding the dispute and should, in accordance with
Article 977 NCCP, have been in the Court of Cassation's case file.  In
any event, the Court of Cassation should have asked the applicant
company to produce it before declaring the appeal inadmissible in a
decision that established a precedent.

        The use of the singular in the wording of Article 979 led
appellants to consider "the decision appealed against" to be a
single document and not a combination of several documents; the
alternative would be a source of uncertainty for the appellant and
could lead to arbitrariness on the part of the court.

38.     The Commission, which agreed with the applicant company's
submissions, expressed the view that the Court of Cassation's decision
was not foreseeable and that production of an interlocutory judgment
was not required either by the language of Article 979 NCCP or under
case-law.  Furthermore, the main findings of fact were set out in the
judgment at first instance and the registrar of the Court of Cassation
was required by Article 977 to request the case file from the registry
of the court that had delivered the decision being appealed against.

39.     The Government disagreed.  The appeal on points of law had been
declared inadmissible solely because of the failure to comply with the
rules of civil procedure.  The applicant company had confused the
notion of "decision" in the first paragraph of Article 979 NCCP with
that of "documents" in the second paragraph, which concerned all
documents of assistance in the case that it was necessary to read in
order to understand and justify the ground of appeal.

        In the present case the impugned decision comprised
two complementary and indissociable parts; the first - the
interlocutory judgment of 1 October 1986 relating to the facts, the
procedure and the parties' claims - formed a single unit with the
second, the judgment of 28 September 1989, which dealt with the legal
arguments and included the legal analysis.

        Far from establishing a new precedent, the decision of
1 December 1992 was entirely consistent with the Court of Cassation's
settled case-law, which was reported and fully accessible to the
applicant company's lawyer, who was, moreover, a member of the
Conseil d'Etat and Court of Cassation Bar.

        Under no circumstances could the Court of Cassation invite an
appellant to rectify a defect in his appeal, still less correct any
procedural omissions of the parties, short of simply disregarding the
plain language of Article 979 NCCP by removing all possibility of
declaring an appeal inadmissible on that ground, and of altering its
own function.

        Lastly, the obligation imposed by Article 1015 NCCP only
related to examining a possible ground for quashing the decision
appealed against and not to the inadmissibility of an appeal on points
of law on account of a procedural defect.

        In the instant case the Court of Cassation was precluded from
considering the grounds of appeal because the appeal was, the
Government submitted, vitiated by an incurable procedural defect and
the court's obligation to remain impartial prevented it from advising
the parties.  It was for the parties, especially when assisted by a
member of the Conseil d'Etat and Court of Cassation Bar, to be diligent
and vigilant when bringing appeals, particularly in the
Court of Cassation.  The court was under no obligation to warn them
when they had made an error.

40.     The Court reiterates that the "right to a tribunal", of which
the right of access is one aspect (see the Golder v. the United Kingdom
judgment of 21 February 1975, Series A no. 18, p. 18, para. 36), is not
absolute; it is subject to limitations permitted by implication, in
particular where the conditions of admissibility of an appeal are
concerned, since by its very nature it calls for regulation by the
State, which enjoys a certain margin of appreciation in this regard
(see the Ashingdane v. the United Kingdom judgment of 28 May 1985,
Series A no. 93, pp. 24-25, para. 57).  However, these limitations must
not restrict or reduce a person's access in such a way or to such an
extent that the very essence of the right is impaired; lastly, such
limitations will not be compatible with Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1)
if they do not pursue a legitimate aim or if there is not a reasonable
relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the aim
sought to be achieved (see, among other authorities, the following
judgments: Fayed v. the United Kingdom, 21 September 1994, Series A
no. 294-B, pp. 49-50, para. 65; Tolstoy Miloslavsky
v. the United Kingdom, 13 July 1995, Series A no. 316-B, pp. 78-79,
para. 59; and Bellet v. France, 4 December 1995, Series A no. 333-B,
p. 41, para. 31).

41.     The Court notes that the applicant company's appeal on points
of law was declared inadmissible on the basis of Article 979 NCCP for
failure to produce the documents referred to in that Article.
Levages Prestations Services had not annexed to its appeal the
interlocutory judgment of 1 October 1986 to which the Court of Appeal
had referred "for an account of the facts of the case and the claims
of the parties" (see paragraphs 11 and 13 above); nor had it mentioned
that judgment in its pleading (see paragraph 12 above).

42.     In order to satisfy itself that the very essence of the
applicant company's "right to a tribunal" was not impaired by the
declaration that the appeal was inadmissible, the Court will firstly
examine whether the procedure to be followed for an appeal on points
of law, in particular with respect to the production of documents,
could be regarded as foreseeable from the point of view of a litigant
and whether, therefore, the penalty for failing to follow that
procedure did not infringe the proportionality principle.

        Article 979 NCCP expressly requires only the production of the
decision appealed against, but that expression, under the
Court of Cassation's case-law, "has to be understood as applying not
only to the decision appealed against, but also to decisions that are
its necessary complement" (see paragraphs 19 and 20 above).  There can
be no doubt that this case-law, which is old and readily accessible,
was available to a member of the Conseil d'Etat and
Court of Cassation Bar.

        The applicant company's counsel was thus in a position to
ascertain what steps he had to take to bring an appeal on points of
law, both from the wording of Article 979 NCCP and, if necessary, with
the aid of the case-law, which was sufficiently clear and coherent
(see, the de Geouffre de la Pradelle judgment previously cited, p. 43,
para. 34).

43.     It remains for the Court to determine whether, in the light of
the circumstances of the instant case, the Court of Cassation's
declaration of its own motion, that the appeal was inadmissible for
failure to produce a decision - even though it was foreseeable - did
not impair Levages Prestations Services' right of access to a court,
in particular by reason of its nature or consequences.

44.     In this regard the Court reiterates that Article 6 of the
Convention (art. 6) does not compel the Contracting States to set up
courts of appeal or of cassation (see the Delcourt judgment previously
cited, pp. 14-15, paras. 25-26).  Where such courts do exist, the
guarantees of Article 6 (art. 6) must be complied with, for instance
in that it guarantees to litigants an effective right of access to the
courts for the determination of their "civil rights and obligations"
(see the Airey v. Ireland judgment of 9 October 1979, Series A no. 32,
p. 15, para. 26).

45.     However, the manner in which Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1)
applies to courts of appeal or of cassation must clearly depend on the
special features of the proceedings concerned and account must be taken
of the entirety of the proceedings conducted in the domestic legal
order and the court of cassation's role in them (see, in particular,
the following judgments: Delcourt, previously cited, pp. 14-15,
paras. 25-26; Monnell and Morris v. the United Kingdom, 2 March 1987,
Series A no. 115, p. 22, para. 56; and Helmers v. Sweden,
29 October 1991, Series A no. 212-A, p. 15, para. 31); the conditions
of admissibility of an appeal on points of law may be stricter than for
an ordinary appeal.

46.     Lastly, in its case-law on Article 6 (art. 6) the Court has
accepted that the requirements inherent in the concept of
"fair hearing" are not necessarily the same in cases concerning the
determination of civil rights and obligations as in cases concerning
the determination of a criminal charge: "the Contracting States have
greater latitude when dealing with civil cases concerning civil rights
and obligations than they have when dealing with criminal cases"
(see the Dombo Beheer B.V. v. the Netherlands judgment of
27 October 1993, Series A no. 274, p. 19, para. 32).

47.     The Court notes that in civil cases the procedure for gaining
access to the Court of Cassation varies according to whether exemption
from legal representation is available for the type of proceedings
concerned or not (see paragraphs 15 to 25 above).  If it is,
Article 988 NCCP lays down that the appellate court's registry must
send the case file and a copy of the decision appealed against to the
Court of Cassation's registry without delay.  On the other hand, in
proceedings for which legal representation by a member of the
Conseil d'Etat and Court of Cassation Bar is compulsory, the rules are
stricter for the parties - who are represented - and the
court registries have fewer obligations; Article 977 NCCP requires only
that the registrar of the Court of Cassation request the case file and,
under the Court of Cassation's case-law, the court has no obligation
to inform the parties of any failure to comply with the rules of
procedure.

48.     Given the special nature of the Court of Cassation's role,
which is limited to reviewing whether the law has been correctly
applied, the Court is able to accept that the procedure followed in the
Court of Cassation may be more formal, especially as in proceedings
with compulsory representation the parties will be represented by a
member of the Conseil d'Etat and Court of Cassation Bar
(see, mutatis mutandis, the Melin v. France judgment of 22 June 1993,
Series A no. 261-A, p. 12, para. 24).  Moreover, the appeal to the
Court of Cassation was made in the instant case after the applicant
company's claims had been heard by both a commercial court and a
court of appeal, each of which had full jurisdiction.

49.     In conclusion, regard being had to all the proceedings in the
domestic courts, Levages Prestations Services' right of access to a
court as guaranteed by Article 6 para. 1 of the Convention (art. 6-1)
was not infringed by reason of the conditions which it had to satisfy
for its appeal on points of law to be admissible.

50.     Consequently, there has been no violation of that provision
(art. 6-1).

FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT

1.      Holds unanimously that Article 6 para. 1 of the Convention
        (art. 6-1) applies in the instant case;

2.      Holds by six votes to three that there has been no breach of
        it (art. 6-1).

        Done in English and in French, and delivered at a public
hearing in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on 23 October 1996.

Signed: Rudolf BERNHARDT
        President

Signed: Herbert PETZOLD
        Registrar

        In accordance with Article 51 para. 2 of the Convention
(art. 51-2) and Rule 53 para. 2 of Rules of Court A, the joint
dissenting opinion of Mr Valticos, Mr Pekkanen and Sir John Freeland
is annexed to this judgment.

Initialled: R. B.

Initialled: H. P.

             JOINT DISSENTING OPINION OF JUDGES VALTICOS,
                    PEKKANEN AND Sir John FREELAND

1.      In this case an appeal to the Court of Cassation on a point of
law which had been lodged by the applicant company on 1 December 1989
was declared inadmissible on 1 December 1992, with reference to
Article 979 NCCP, on the ground that neither an ordinary copy nor an
office copy of an interlocutory judgment given by the Paris Court of
Appeal at an earlier stage of the proceedings had been filed.  It is
to be assumed that, by virtue of the requirements of Article 977 NCCP,
a copy of that judgment would, in any event, have formed part of the
case file forwarded to the registrar of the Court of Cassation from the
registry of the Court of Appeal, so that its absence from the material
annexed with the pleadings lodged by the applicant company would have
been readily apparent.  No prior intimation of the omission to file
such a copy or of the potential consequences was given by the
Court of Cassation or its registry to the applicant company or its
counsel, nor was any request made for the omission to be repaired.

2.      We are not wholly satisfied that on the basis of the terms of
Article 979 NCCP and the case-law of the Court of Cassation it should
have been foreseeable by the applicant company's counsel, even though
he was a member of the specialised Conseil d'Etat and
Court of Cassation Bar, that the interlocutory judgment in question was
of a kind which was required to be produced with the appeal to that
court and that failure to produce it would lead to the appeal's being
declared inadmissible.  Even, however, if this should have been
foreseeable, the question remains whether the limitation on the right
of access to a court represented by Article 979 NCCP and the way in
which that Article was applied in the present case restricts that right
to an impermissible extent, having regard to the requirements of
Article 6 para. 1 of the Convention (art. 6-1) as interpreted by the
Court.

3.      We of course accept that, as is well recognised in the case-law
of the Court, where courts of appeal or of cassation are set up by
Contracting States those States enjoy a wide latitude as regards the
conditions for access to those courts, particularly in cases (like the
present) concerning civil rights and obligations, provided always that
the very essence of the right of access is not impaired.  We also
accept that, as the Court has been informed, the rules of
French civil procedure governing access to the Court of Cassation are
traditionally, and well understood by practitioners to be, of a
formalistic character.

4.      It has nevertheless to be asked whether there was a reasonable
relationship of proportionality between the limitation applied in this
case and the aim sought to be achieved (which we take to be the clearly
legitimate aim of ensuring that the Court of Cassation has available
to it all the material necessary to enable it to adjudicate properly
upon an appeal).  For a court of final jurisdiction to be in a position
to declare, of its own motion and three years to the day after the
appeal was lodged, that an appeal on a point of law is inadmissible
because a party has failed to produce a document which is required to
be among those available in any event in that court's own registry, and
which could also be obtained by a simple request to that party, in our
view goes beyond reasonable proportionality.  Rules of procedure and
their observance are, of course, generally necessary for the
administration of justice; but the dismissal of an appeal on so minor
a matter of form, and the consequent removal of the possibility of an
adjudication on the merits, without the appellant's having been given
an opportunity to remedy an omission which could so easily have been
repaired, seems to us to be excessive.

5.      For these reasons we would have found that there had been a
violation of Article 6 para. 1 of the Convention (art. 6-1).