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Home > French Bar Another Milestone for PHC's Dr. Montgomery

French Bar Another Milestone for PHC's Dr. Montgomery

September 3rd, 2009

By Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 338-8727

Dr. John Warwick Montgomery is sworn in for French bar

The study of French and English law can offer much of value to American law students, according to Patrick Henry College’s Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. The College’s Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and Christian Thought should know. Already an English barrister admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States, Dr. Montgomery this summer passed examinations to be admitted to the Paris bar after two years of studying French law in the French language.

This milestone stands as yet another highlight in a formidable body of achievement for Dr. Montgomery, who holds ten earned degrees, including three earned doctorates in History, Theology, and Law, and who is the author of more than fifty books in four languages. He undertook the French bar, he says, for the simple reason that he resides half of each year in Strasbourg, France, where he runs the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights.

“Since [my wife and I] live in France and England,” he says, “it was important that I be able to function as a lawyer in both these countries. Each legal system has something particular to offer in the area of evidence law—tying in as it does with Christian apologetics.” 

In other words, when seeking to defend the Christian faith, it is crucial to know what kinds of evidence are admissible.

Having successfully argued cases before the European Court of Human Rights, Dr. Montgomery is in general able to approach the study of law with an unusually global perspective. He has discovered that the European legal system has its own peculiar strengths.

 “There is an unfortunate tendency among American evangelicals to think that American law is always better than foreign law or international law,” he says. “This is simply not true. . . . We need to critique each legal idea (whether American or foreign) by Holy Scripture, and not infrequently the foreign law comes out ahead of American law.”

French law, for example, renders it a criminal offense for a child not to support incapacitated parents, or for a citizen not to provide personal help for someone who is in danger.

“These principles are directly justified by the biblical commands to honor father and mother and to be responsible for the neighbor’s welfare,” explains Dr. Montgomery.

Dr. John Warwick Montgomery is congratulated on passing the French bar

England’s legal profession, likewise, makes an interesting distinction between solicitors (general practitioners) and barristers (specialists), freeing up barristers from the day-to-day business of a general law firm. Barristers, on the other hand, belong to societies, or “guilds,” which are closely tied to the church and, in subtle ways, to Christian principles and practices.

“The Temple Church in London is a ‘barristers’ church’” he says. “It is managed by two of the four societies or guilds of barristers, Inner and Middle Temple. When one reads for the English bar, for example, one must attend a number of dinners at one’s Inn of Court, and these all begin and end with Trinitarian prayer.”

In order to pass the French bar, Dr. Montgomery was required to receive a cumulative passing average on four difficult tests—a four-hour written examination and three oral examinations before three-person juries. He passed the bar on the first attempt, having completed his written test in French Criminal Law and his three orals in French Administrative Law, French Commercial Law, and “Déontologie” (legal practice and ethics).

“After two years of study of the intricacies of French criminal law,” he says, “—murder, hate crimes, personal injuries, defamation, etc.—I was confronted on the day of the written examination with ‘The Risk of Criminal Sanctions Faced by Corporations in France’!”

As challenging as that test proved, he said, “There is nothing like bar examinations to encourage reliance on the Lord.   One never knows what questions one will have to answer—or, in the case of the French orals, who will be on the jury and what their expectations (and idiosyncrasies!) may be.   Not long before my exams, a pastor in Strasbourg gave me a sheet of paper with the outline of an open hand on it--as a reminder that whatever the believer does is "in His hands" (Ps 98:1, Acts 11:21).  I needed that."

The admission ceremony took place at the Court of Appeals in the Paris Palais de Justice, a magnificent structure where collaborationist Maréchal Pétain was judged at the end of the Second World War.  It joins onto the medieval Sainte Chapelle, displaying some of the finest biblically-themed stained glass in the world.

For most others, passing the French bar would stand as an impressive lifetime achievement. Yet added to Dr. Montgomery’s mounting list of credentials, this milestone only increases his efficacy in the international arena.