The Cour des comptes is an emanation of the curia regis, the king’s court. In the Middle Ages, it was convened in the sovereign’s residence, on the Ile de la Cité, in Paris, a building which is now the law courts and Sainte-Chapelle.
In 1256, an order issued by saint-Louis required the “mayeurs et prud’hommes” (mayors) of Upper Normandy to draw up and send him their accounts each year.
In the fifteenth century, the Chambre des comptes was the second-largest institution of the monarchy after the Council. It was in charge of overseeing the preservation of the estate – the main source of royal revenue. It ruled on accounts and exercised prosecution,through fines and even corporal punishment. It became a distinct institution at the time of the separation between approving officers and accountants.
From the sixteenth century onwards, the Paris Chambre des comptes lost influence and its prestige waned. Extraordinary finance (taxes) was removed from its control; only the ability to judge accountants remained unscathed. The provincial Chambers were gradually attached to the crown and retained their corporate and individual advantages.
In the seventeenth century, regulation of the finance system returned to sole jurisdiction of the King and Council.
At the Revolution, the Paris and provincial Chambres des comptes were dissolved by the decree dated 17 september 1791. The Constitutive Meeting empowered the legislative bodies to govern the Nation’s accounts, with the support of the National Accounting Board (Bureau de Comptabilité nationale), a technical body. At the end of the revolutionary period, a national accounting commission replaced the Accounting Board. It did not have sufficient authority or resources to guarantee the proper the use of public funds.
In 1807, Napoleon decided to re-establish a financial court. The law of 16 september 1807 organised the present-day Cour des comptes. It was unique due to its centralised structure. It was set up as an authority and informed only the Emperor, with an extremely limited remit. Recovering the traditions of the old Regime, control was exercised using court-like procedures, with minuted hearings after which collective rulings were made.
Barbé-Marbois, the first First President of the Cour des comptes, from 1807 to 1834
In 1897, The Cour des comptes has new premises built in rue Cambon, and according to the law, it is set on the old convent site of the Dames de l’Assomption. Today, the only remains of this building is the chapel known as the Church of Notre-Dame de l’Assomption. In 1898, Constant Moyaux is the winner of a new competition for achitecture and is given the responsibility for the new buildings. He begins construction of the Archive Tower that is completed in 1900. This inner Archive Tower is not visible from the outside building. Later, un 2009, it is named « Tour Chicago » because of its architectural style and profile which is inspired by the skyscrapers of Chicago. In 1911, after the death of Constant Moyaux occured, the supervision of his work was taken over by his assistant Paul Guadet. Though construction had been slowed for financial reasons, the wings of the Cambon Palace have by now partially surrounded the Archive Tower and are soon to be completed.
Each year, the Palais Cambon holds an open day for visitors, hosted by the First President, magistrates and employees who explain the role, missions and work of each person at the Cour.
The Cour des comptes’ missions have been extended considerably over time. As well as ruling on the accounts of public accountants, the Cour ensures that public funds are used properly by controlling how they are managed.
The Constitutions of 1946 and 1958 expanded and enshrined its missions. It audits nationalised companies and social security bodies, later extended to include private organisations receiving public subsidies and bodies calling on public generosity.
In 1982, the Regional Chambers of Accounts were created, which audit local authorities. These do an increasing amount of work in common with the Cour.
In 2001, the Constitutional bylaw on finance acts (LoLF) gave the Cour the mission of certifying the accounts and evaluating the performance of the state’s budget programmes. From 2005 onwards, it has had the mission of certifying the accounts of the general social security system.
In 2008, the constitution revision (Art 47-2) specified and extended the missions of the Cour. It reinforced its assistance to Parliament for auditing of the Government’s action, notably through its mission of evaluating public policies.
In 2011, a number of laws reinforced the Cour des Comptes’ role in evaluating public policies and as a court.