Posts Tagged Belgium
I was at the Belgian Parliament yesterday for a hearing on the BIBC, following publication of the Government’s draft bill. For those of you who read Dutch, my notes are attached. We were limited to two pages of comments – the note is succinct.
An important change vis-a-vis the initial version (on which I commented here) is that the Court will now be subject to Belgian private international law (including primacy of EU instruments) for choice of law, rather than being able to pick the most appropriate law (arbitration panel style). That brings the court firmly within Brussels I. Also note my view and references on the Court being able to refer to the CJEU for preliminary review.
Unstunned slaughter and EU law. CJEU suggests total ban would be unjustified. Also keep an eye on tomorrow’s case re organic labelling and unstunned slaughter.
Wahl AG advised late November and the Court held late May in C-426/16 – see my post on his Opinion at the time and my previous posts on the issue. A European Regulation (1099/2009) provides for an unclear, and conditional, exemption from a requirement of stunning animals for religious slaughter.
The CJEU as readers will know practices judicial economy. On the face of it, the case only deals with the Flemish decision no longer to authorise, from 2015 onwards, the ritual (sic; why the EU institutions stubbornly refuse to name the practice by its proper name of religious slaughter is beyond me) slaughter of animals without stunning in temporary slaughterhouses in the that region during the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha).
Readers best consult the text of the judgment for it is as concise as it is complete. As the Court points out at 56, the derogation authorised by Article 4(4) of Regulation 1099/2009 does not lay down any prohibition on the practice of religious slaughter in the EU but, on the contrary, gives expression to the positive commitment of the EU legislature to allow such slaughter of animals without prior stunning in order to ensure effective observance of the freedom of religion, in particular of practising Muslims during the Feast of Sacrifice. That is a clear indication of the CJEU being against a total ban (or at the least giving expression to the reality of the EU legislator not approving of such a ban).
That technical framework, the CJEU holds, is not in itself of such a nature as to place a restriction on the right to freedom of religion of practising Muslims. Whether the specific circumstances in Flanders, including the investment needed to convert temporary spaces into licensed abattoirs, in effect hinder Muslims’ practice of their faith in forum externum (at 44), is neither here nor there for the argument under consideration, which is that Article 4(4) itself is incompatible with the Charter on Fundamental rights.
One issue nota bene which was not sub judice, is the incomprehensible discrimination between ‘culture’ (exempt as a whole from the Regulation), and religion (regulated). In short: if myself and a bunch of locals slaughter animals without stunning on a Flemish medieval square, citing local custom, the Regulation does not catch me. But if I do so because I am religiously motivated not to stun, the Regulation’s regime kicks in.
Finally, I introduced my students at American University Washington, College of Law this morning to Case C-497/17, Oeuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs. In this case (hearing at Kirchberg tomorrow) an NGO requests a certification body to stop certifying as ‘organic’, products obtained from religious slaughter, even though neither Council Regulation 834/2007 nor the Commission implementing Regulation 889/2008 on organic production and labelling of organic products with regard to organic production, labelling and control, mention stunned or unstunned slaughter. That case turns around scope of application, I would suggest, albeit that the shadow of the human rights implications hangs over it.
A post suited to be this year’s last, given the religious context of the current holiday period: Wahl AG advised late November in C-426/16. See my previous posts on the issue. A European Regulation (1099/2009) provides for an unclear, and conditional, exemption from a requirement of stunning animals for religious slaughter. (Regularly the practise is also called ‘ritual’; including in current Opinion. ‘Religious’ must be the preferred term).
Practised in particular by the Jewish (Shechita; leading to ‘kosher’ meat) and Muslim (Zabihah; with halal meat) faith, a core aspect of the practice is that animals are not stunned prior to slaughter. The science on the effect of stunned or unstunned slaughter is equivocal. What is certain is that neither stunned nor unstunned slaughter, when carried out incorrectly (well documented in the case of stunned slaughter) aids the welfare of the animal.
The Flemish Minister responsible for animal welfare announced that, from 2015 onwards, he would no longer issue approvals for temporary slaughter plants at which religious slaughtering could be practised during the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice because such approvals in his view were contrary to EU legislation, in particular the provisions of Regulation 1099/2009. The muslim community objects to the discontinuation of temporary slaughter plants.
The Advocate-General’s Opinion is lengthy, and there is a lot to chew on. There is little point in rehashing all the AG’s points: readers are best referred to the Opinion itself. Of note however is
- Firstly, the AG’s attempt strictly to delineate the issue.
The case he suggests is simply about what material conditions, in terms of equipment and operating obligations, must accompany unstunned slaughter in order for it to comply with the relevant EU rules. He suggests a rephrasing of the referring court’s questions in that direction. Along these lines he also in substance refuses to entertain the questions as to the validity of Regulation 1099/2009 itself, or the exemption from the duty to use approved slaughterhouses under the Regulation’s ‘cultural’ exception. (See footnote 13). In my view the Regulation is very vulnerable on this issue: sporting and cultural events are entirely excluded from its scope of application; religious rites are subject to a qualified exemption. That to me cannot survive a discrimination test.
The Brussels court had given the case a much wider scope: it suggested that the contested Flemish decision creates a limitation on the exercise of freedom of religion and undermines Belgian customs relating to religious rites, since it obliges Muslims to perform the ritual slaughter of the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice in slaughterhouses that have been approved in accordance with Regulation No 853/2004. In the opinion of that court, this limitation is neither relevant nor proportionate in order to attain the legitimate objective of protecting the welfare of animals and human health (at 20). The AG however sees no limitation of freedom of religion at all, resulting from the general obligation to use approved slaughterhouses.
- Despite the attempt at delineation, the background to the case is undeniable and filters through in the Opinion.
If only because the AG has to complete the analysis should the CJEU disagree with his view that freedom of religion is not being limited, he does review the legality of a total ban on slaughtering other than in plants that have been approved in accordance with the rules established in Annex III to Regulation No 853/2004.
First of all he refers to European Commission audits of the previously approved temporary slaughterhouses to make the point that they protected animal welfare sufficiently. He directly criticises the Regulation for its arguably disproportionate criteria in this respect: see in particular at 127.
Religious slaughter falls squarely within the European Convention of Human Rights Article 9’s freedom of religious expression. It is clear that the AG believes that the ban on unstunned slaughter other than in approved abattoirs, in the name of animal welfare or otherwise, offends freedom of religious expression to such a degree that it simply must not pass: para 133 and the preceding argumentation is very clear.
The AG’s reasoning holds all the more for a total ban un unstunned slaughter full stop. That is the clear implication of this Opinion and one which must be welcomed.
Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!
Update 9 Mach 2018 for the rules of procedure of the International Commercial
Chambers of the Amsterdam District Court (Netherlands Commercial Court) and the
Amsterdam Court of Appeal (Netherlands Commercial Court of Appeal) (The NCC Rules) see here.
I was asked yesterday (interview in Dutch) for my thoughts on the Belgian Government’s plans for a Brussels International Business Court. Here goes, in bullet-points format, a slightly extended and more technical version of those preliminary thoughts:
- Three and more’s a crowd. The Belgian move of course is not the first and neither will it be the last. Even pre-Brexit, Member States (and even individual cities within Member States; see Michiel Poesen recently on Frankfort) were vying for the title of preferred place for litigation.
- Brexit evidently may be a game-changer. I have flagged repeatedly that post-Brexit and assuming there will be no deal which would roll-over the UK’s engagement with EU civil procedure law, UK courts will become a lot less attractive. This is due to the more cumbersome recognition and enforcement regime that will be the result of decoupling from Brussels I. The same incidentally does not apply to arbitration. Pre and post Brexit, deal or not, free movement of arbitral awards is subject to the New York Convention.
- Attractiveness as a centre of litigation and legal services is part of regulatory competition. Being known as a place of legal know-how and expedited litigation brings prestige as well as attractive billable hours to the law firms of one’s country.
- Crucially, in an attempt to prise litigation away from London in particular, the use of English in proceedings is always the eye-catcher for the media. However in reality the language of proceedings is to my experience not the defining issue in client’s forum shopping strategies. Know-how of the bench; speed of proceedings; transparency of case-law; and of course ease of recognition and enforcement, are much more so. The Belgian proposal acknowledges as much by touting in particular the ‘collegiality’ and ‘expertise’ of the pool of (domestic and foreign) commercial law experts that will populate the court.
- Unwittingly perhaps but without a doubt, the proposal in flagging the benefits of the BIBC, also highlights the well-known disadvantages of the Belgian courts in ordinary: tardiness of proceedings (the ‘Belgian’ torpedo) in particular. However also very much so, intransparency (as I have repeatedly signalled: access to Belgian case law continues to be highly problematic) and lack of collegiality among the bench: being a judge is a lonely professional existence in Belgium. Professional secrecy rules, practicalities (lack of proper office space), and the aforementioned reporting issues work against Belgian jurisprudence presenting itself as coherent.
- At a technical level, the proposal emphasises repeatedly that the BIBC will be a court. Not an arbitral tribunal. The difference lies particularly in the easy or enforcement. The draft Bill loudly talks the talk in this respect. But does it walk the walk? What a ‘court’ means within the context of EU civil procedure law is of course the prerogative of that EU law: not of the Member States. (I refer to recent blog posts on same). Extensive reference to UNCITRAL’s Model Law on international commercial arbitration is a strange prop to use in the draft, if the idea is to take one’s attention away from arbitration. The BIBC will only take cases in the event of prorogation (choice of court or submission). The pool of judges will mostly be taken from part-timers, not benchers. Most importantly, in my mind: Article 43 of the draft instructs the BIBC, with respect to choice of law, to respect parties’ choice of governing law, and, in the absence of such law, ‘to apply the law determined by the conflict of laws rules which it considers applicable’. This is a copy /paste from Article 28(2) of the Model Law. In footnote the Act suggests that by omitting the third para of said Law (‘The arbitral tribunal shall decide ex aequo et bono or as amiable compositeur only if the parties have expressly authorized it to do so’), the Bill emphasises the nature of the BIBC as court. It does not. Courts are simply subject to Rome I and II when it comes to applicable law. They do not just ‘consider a law applicable’.
Much to chew on. My analysis is based on a draft Bill which a little bird sent me. This is probably not the final say on the BIBC. (On an aside: @BIBC is already taken. I can think of one or two Twitter Handles which the BE government may want to snap up before someone else does).
Belgium’s Lernout & Hauspie case recently entered a further stage in its civil law chapter. The case is part of Belgium’s (and especially Flanders’) collective memory as an illustration of what can go wrong when markets and investors alike are fooled by corporate greed. Is it world-famous, in Belgium: for those outside, Wiki should help.
Of interest to this blog is the recent judgment of the Gent criminal court on the civil chapter of the case: see my colleague proximus Stefaan Voet’s analysis here. Stefaan has helpfully translated the most relevant sections of the judgment, in particular the court’s rejection of the argument that the US opt-out class action settlement were contrary to Belgium’s ordre public. The court, in my view entirely justifiably, holds that Belgium’s Private international law act does not oppose recognition and enforcement. Of note is the extensive comparative reference which the court makes not just to existing Belgian law on class actions (the Belgian legal order can hardly oppose what it tentatively has introduced itself), but also to a European Recommendation on comparative class action law in the EU (a sort of Ius Commune idea).
Recognition and enforcement rarely makes it to substantive review in Belgian case-law. This judgment is one of note.
Many thanks Michael Verhaeghe (whom I have the pleasure with jointly to be representing a client) for alerting me to Lodi Trading in which the Belgian Supreme Court applied (and distinguished) Kolassa. Lodi Trading is registered in The Netherlands and seemingly had been duped into transferring funds to a gang of fraudsters. As always, the judgment is very very scant on factual reference, and I have not been able to find the Court of Appeals’ judgement: if anyone can: Court of Appeal Gent, 8 December 2015.
Like the CJEU itself did clearly in Universal Music, the Hof van Cassatie distinguished Kolassa (although it does not refer to Universal Music in this part of the judgment) by insisting there be circumstances specific to the case, over and above the simple presence of a bank account, which point to the damage occurring in that State.
In Universal Music the CJEU had emphasised the need for case-specific facts for bank accounts to be a relevant factor in determining jurisdiction, by holding that ‘it is only where the other circumstances specific to the case also contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the courts for the place where a purely financial damage occurred, that such damage could, justifiably, entitle the applicant to bring the proceedings before the courts for that place.’ (emphasis added).
What seems (but again: see the joint caveat of the Supreme Court’s judgment being scant and the Court of Appeal’s judgment being untraceable) to be specific to this case is that the Court of Appeal had held in favour of the location of the bank account of recipient of the funds being locus damni, given that ‘internal law’ (by which I take it reference is made to Belgian, not Dutch law) determines that the time of payment is determined by the moment of accreditation of the funds to the beneficiary’s account: not (the alternative reading; but again I am assuming for the judgment’s 10 brief paras do invite speculation) the time of the funds leaving the account holder’s account.
It could well be therefore that the Supreme Court is rebuking the Court of Appeal for having Belgian law enter the equation, given the need for autonomous interpretation of European civil procedure. But I am not entirely sure.
(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 126.96.36.199, 188.8.131.52.7