On November 25, 2020, the French Supreme Court ruled that attorney-client communications could not be seized during dawn raids provided they are related to the exercise of the client’s rights of defence.
On April 24, 2018, the Directorate-General for Competition, Consumer Affairs, and Prevention of Fraud (the “DGCCRF”) launched an antitrust investigation and conducted dawn raids at the premises of Au Vieux Campeur, a French sport and leisure goods retailer. The DGCCRF seized a number of files, including Au Vieux Campeur’s email exchanges with its outside legal counsel. Au Vieux Campeur successfully challenged the validity of the raid before the Chambéry Court of Appeals on legal privilege grounds, and had this correspondence removed from the DGCCRF’s file. The DGCCRF challenged the Court of Appeals’ decision before the French Supreme Court.
The French Supreme Court’s decision
First, the French Supreme Court stressed that attorney-client communications are always confidential because they are covered by legal privilege under French law. The Court however noted that, in the context of dawn raids, such communications may be seized so long as they do not regard the exercise of the rights of defence. Specifically, the Court considered that the Court of Appeals could order the removal of emails between an attorney and its client from the seized files on confidentiality grounds, but observed that Au Vieux Campeur had adduced no evidence showing that the emails in question concerned the exercise of its rights of defence. The Court concluded that the Court of Appeals should have assessed whether the communications in dispute related specifically to the exercise of the rights of defence. Therefore, the Court quashed the Chambéry Court of Appeals’ decision and the case was remanded to the Grenoble Court of Appeals.
In practice, this means that attorney-client communications which are not directly related to the investigation at stake are not protected, and can be seized during a dawn raid.
 Article 66-5 of Law No. 71-1130 of December 31, 1971.
 The Court relied on article L. 450-4 of the French Commercial Code.
 French Supreme Court, November 25, 2020, Judgment n°19-84-304, para. 7.