Case C-658/17 WB is one of the first in which the annoying new rule on anonymisation at the CJEU kicks in. At issue is the characterisation of notaries as ‘court’ under the EU succession Regulation 650/2012.
Particularly with regard to succession law, notaries in the Member States carry out tasks which can be considered ‘judicial’. In some jurisdictions (especially in the Anglo-Saxon world) a court is involved in transferring the estate from the deceased to those inheriting. This is not the case in most Member States with a so-called ‘Latin’ office of notary. A private international law regulation concerning inheritance can therefore not solely be aimed at courts in the traditional sense of the word. In particular, notaries and registry offices, but also testamentary executors entrusted with judicial authority, need to be integrated.
The rules with regard to jurisdiction and applicable law included in the Regulation have to be complied with by all above-mentioned legal professions, though only to the extent that they exercise judicial functions. The Regulation therefore adopts, in Article 3(2), a functional approach of a ‘court’:
For the purposes of this Regulation, the term ‘court’ means any judicial authority and all other authorities and legal professionals with competence in matters of succession which exercise judicial functions or act pursuant to a delegation of power by a judicial authority or act under the control of a judicial authority, provided that such other authorities and legal professionals offer guarantees with regard to impartiality and the right of all parties to be heard and provided that their decisions under the law of the Member State in which they operate:
(a) may be made the subject of an appeal to or review by a judicial authority; and
(b) have a similar force and effect as a decision of a judicial authority on the same matter.
The Member States shall notify the Commission of the other authorities and legal professionals referred to in the first subparagraph in accordance with Article 79.
Outside of the exercise of judicial functions, notaries are not bound by the rules on jurisdiction, and the authentic instruments they issue circulate in accordance with the provisions on authentic instruments rather than ‘judgments’.
In accordance with Article 79 of the Regulation, the Commission (on the basis of notifications by the Member States) has established a list of the authorities and legal professions which need to be considered as ‘courts’ in accordance with this functional determination. This list will also be particularly interesting for internal national use.
However I have always emphasised to Member States compiling their lists, that unlike in the Insolvency Regulation, where the extent of cover of national proceedings is entirely in the hands of the Member States, for the Succession Regulation it is an autonomous EU definition which drives cover by the Regulation.
Bot AG agrees (Opinion of 28 February; not available in English). whether or not a particular office and /or function is included in the national notification is not determinant. An EU definition of Court kicks in. He refers in particular to his overview in C-484/15 Zulfikarpašić. Reference is also made to Pula Parking. Applied to the case at issue, Polish notaries by virtue of Polish law may only issue the Polish (not: EU) certificate of succession if there is consensus among the parties and no disagreement e.g. re jurisdiction. No judicial functions therefore and the certificate travels as an authentic instrument, not a judgment.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.