Posts Tagged ECtHR

Ordre Public in Bankruptcy. The Amsterdam Court of Appeals in Yukos.

Michael Broeders and Ulrike Verboom have excellent overview of the decision back in May by the Amsterdam Court of Appeal not to recognise the Russian liquidation order of 1 August 2006 regarding OAO Yukos Oil Company. The refusal to recognise is based on ordre public: in particular, a finding was made that the Russian order contravenes the principles of due process hence also ordre public. Reference was made in extenso to decisions by the European Court of Human rights against Russia in related cases in 2011 and 2014.

Michael and Ulrike also refer to previous case-law of the Dutch Supreme Court which held that on the basis of the lex concursus (here: Russian), there is no principled objection to the Russian trustee in bankruptcy to exercise his powers as such trustee in The Netherlands.

Geert.

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Arlewin v Sweden. Strasbourg-Luxembourg combination football on defamation via satellite.

Others have reported in some detail, and I am happy to refer, on Arlewin v Sweden at the ECtHR – the second Strasbourg conflicts ruling I report on in more or less one week. Epra have a short and sweet review, based mostly on the Court’s press release but useful nevertheless: they for instance suggest that Strasbourg have extended e-Date Advertising’s centre of interests rule for infringement of personality rights via the internet, to transmission by satellite. Dirk Voorhoof takes the media regulation angle. Dr Takis has the most extensive review over at Profs Peers and Barnard’s EU law analysis.

The case is a good illustration of an important port of entry for the ECHR into EU conflicts law in commercial litigation at least (I am not talking here of family law): Article 6’s right to fair trial. (See here for more extensive review of the Convention’s impact on European private international law). Strasbourg and Luxemburg are playing combination football here: the ECtHR approving of the CJEU’s application of the Brussels I Regulation in the case of libel and defamation. Especially with the EC’s recent shift of focus to the plaintiff’s position rather than the defendant’s, nothing guarantees of course that in the future EU law at this point might not be at odds with human rights law.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed, 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.4 .

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Refusal of recognition for failure to serve. ECtHR tests the Brussels regime against Strasbourg in AVOTIŅŠ v Latvia

In  AVOTIŅŠ v Latvia |Avotins v LAtvia, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR at Strasbourg held late May that Article 6 ECHR (right to fair trial) was engaged but not infringed by the Latvian’s Supreme Court’s application of Article 34(2( Brussel I (now Article 45(1) b Brussels I Recast).

The Article reads ‘A judgment shall not be recognised: (…) 2. where it was given in default of appearance, if the defendant was not served with the document which instituted the proceedings or with an equivalent document in sufficient time and in such a way as to enable him to arrange for his defence, unless the defendant failed to commence proceedings to challenge the judgment when it was possible for him to do so;…

In the case at issue applicant sought refusal by the Latvian court of recognition of a Cypriot judgment issued against him. After review of the Regulation’s core pedigree of mutual recognition and mutual trust, burden of proof particularly exercised the Court: at 121:

‘The fact that the applicant relied on that Article (34(2), GAVC) without having challenged the judgment as required necessarily raised the question of the availability of that legal remedy in Cyprus in the circumstances of the present case. In such a situation the Senate was not entitled simply to criticise the applicant, as it did in its judgment of 31 January 2007, for not appealing against the judgment concerned, and to remain silent on the issue of the burden of proof with regard to the existence and availability of a remedy in the State of origin; Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, like Article 34(2) in fine of the Brussels I Regulation, required it to verify that this condition was satisfied, in the absence of which it could not refuse to examine the applicant’s complaint. The Court considers that the determination of the burden of proof, which, as the European Commission stressed (see paragraph 92 above), is not governed by European Union law, was therefore decisive in the present case. Hence, that point should have been examined in adversarial proceedings leading to reasoned findings. However, the Supreme Court tacitly presumed either that the burden of proof lay with the defendant or that such a remedy had in fact been available to the applicant. This approach, which reflects a literal and automatic application of Article 34(2) of the Brussels I Regulation, could in theory lead to a finding that the protection afforded was manifestly deficient such that the presumption of equivalent protection of the rights of the defence guaranteed by Article 6 § 1 is rebutted. Nevertheless, in the specific circumstances of the present application the Court does not consider this to be the case, although this shortcoming is regrettable.’

Those ‘specific circumstances’ include in particular the applicant’s professional background: at 124:

‘the applicant, who was an investment consultant, should have been aware of the legal consequences of the acknowledgment of debt deed which he had signed. That deed was governed by Cypriot law, concerned a sum of money borrowed by the applicant from a Cypriot company and contained a clause conferring jurisdiction on the Cypriot courts. Accordingly, the applicant should have ensured that he was familiar with the manner in which possible proceedings would be conducted before the Cypriot courts (…). Having omitted to obtain information on the subject he contributed to a large extent, as a result of his inaction and lack of diligence, to bringing about the situation of which he complained before the Court and which he could have prevented so as to avoid incurring any damage’. 

I am not convinced by the Court’s view on the burden of proof and on the national court’s duty to assess the law in the State of origin sua sponte. Judges Lemmens and Briede, jointly concurring but for different reasons as the court, in my view have the better argument where they say

‘If the applicant wanted to argue that no remedy had in fact been available to him in Cyprus, in our opinion it would have been for him to raise this issue explicitly before the Supreme Court. We question whether he could expect the Supreme Court to raise that issue of its own motion. And we definitely consider that he cannot complain under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the lack of an explicit response to an argument that was not explicitly made.’

The end result is the same at the ECtHR. For future application of the Brussels I (Recast) Regulation however it makes a big difference.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 2.2.16.1.4 (p.198).

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Ordre Public, the ECHR and refusal of recognition under Brussels I: the High Court in Smith v Huertas.

I have reported before on the narrow possibility, within the scope of the Brussels I Regulation, for refusal of recognition of judgments from fellow national courts in the EU (Diageo; Trade Agency). The High Court confirmed the exceptional character of the exercise in Smith v Huertas. Following conviction in a criminal court, Dr Smith had been instructed by the French courts to pay Huertas a considerable sum following fraudulent payments made by a new insolvent company, of which Dr Smith was a director. The argument on ordre public grounds was made viz alleged bias and hostility in one particular court hearing; the long duration of the trial; and one or two alleged procedural inadequacies (in particular, the refusal to interview Dr Smith on a number of occasions).

Most if not all of the complaints were taken by Dr Smith to the ECtHR, which decided not to proceed with the case (such decisions are made in summary manner and one therefore has to guess whether either the claims were found to be manifestly unfounded, or not of a nature as having actually put the applicant at a disadvantage).

Importantly, Cooke J emphasises the responsibility of applicant (seeking refusal of recognition) to raise matters which might conceivably lead to a refusal of recognition, in the Member State of origin: at 21:

Where the factors relied on as being contrary to public policy in England are factors which the court has already considered in the foreign jurisdiction or are factors which could have been raised by way of objection in that jurisdiction, it appears to me self-evident that the foreign jurisdiction must be treated as the best place for those arguments to be raised and determined. To do otherwise would be contrary to the spirit of the Convention and, where issues of unfairness are raised which are capable of being the subject of appeal in the foreign jurisdiction, the court in the enforcing jurisdiction would be much less able to assess them than the original court which was familiar with its own forms of procedure. It is plain that an enforcing court will have much more difficulty in understanding the overall foreign system and its procedures for ensuring that justice is done than the appeal court of the original jurisdiction itself. There is moreover a highly unattractive element in a defendant not raising points which he could have raised in the original jurisdiction, by way of appeal against the judgment and only seeking to raise those matters when the judgment is exported to an enforcing jurisdiction under the Convention as matters of public policy for that court.

Dr Smith’ task therefore was to (at 26) not only … show an exceptional case of an infringement of a fundamental principle constituting a manifest breach of a rule of law regarded as essential in the legal order in this country or of a right recognised as being fundamental within it but that the system of legal remedies in France did not afford a sufficient guarantee of his rights. Dr Smith must overcome the strong presumption that the procedures of the courts of France, another Contracting State, are compliant with Article 6…

A task which in the end Dr Smith failed to accomplish and summary judgment for recognition and enforcement was issued. Review by Cooke J may seem lengthy to some however CJEU case-law emphasises the ad hoc nature of the ordre public exception: that requires some case-specific assessment, of course.

Geert.

 

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Mormones, tax and religion. A (small) further piece in the religion /ECHR jigsaw

In Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v the UK, the ECtHR discussed ‘place of public religious worship’  within the context of a UK tax dispute. For the Church (aka the Mormons) to receive favourable (local) tax treatment for the real estate part of their portfolio, their places of worship had to be ‘public’ – while for doctrinal reasons at least part of the Church buildings must not be public. The House of Lords had already held previously (2008, 1964)in related cases.

The purpose of the UK exemption is to benefit religious buildings which provided a ‘service to the general public’. The same regime applies to all religions and the Church of England, for instance, likewise sees part of its churches, in particular its private Chapels, not exempt.

The ECtHR held that the policy of exempting from rates buildings used for public religious worship fell within the State’s margin of appreciation under Articles 14 and 9 taken together. The legislation is neutral, in that it is the same for all religious groups as regards the manifestation of religious beliefs in private; and indeed produces exactly the same negative consequences for the officially established Christian Church in England (the Church of England) as far as private chapels are concerned. Moreover, the remaining liability to rates is relatively low, in monetary terms.

The finding under Article 9 also led to rejection of the arguments under Article 1 of the first protocol) protection of property). On the facts of this case, the Court considered that the margin of appreciation to be afforded to the State in respect of those provisions would be similar to, if not more generous than, that afforded under Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 9.

The case arguably is a further, fairly uncontroversial, step in the Court’s case-law on freedom of religious beliefs and ditto expression. The real tests will lie in challenges to bans on religious slaughter (schechita and halal; where European secondary law and international and European economic law have far the more immediate impact) and of course in bans on male circumcision.

Geert.

 

 

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Qualification, lex fori and adoption from Morocco. Belgian court sinks the kafala ship.

Update November 2015: in December 2014, the ECtHR held in CHBIHI LOUDOUDI that the ECHR did not come to the rescue under either Article 8 or 14. For a similar case, see SM (Algeria) v Entry Clearance Officer, UK Visa Section [2015] EWCA Civ 1109, reviewed here and (update 20 April 2017) here (following UKSC appeal). Human rights law arguments in that case seem to have fallen down the wayside, though.

In March 2013 (only brought to media attention recently), the Court of Appeal at Gent reversed a decision by a lower court which had granted an adoption ‘light’ of a Moroccan child by a Belgian couple. In line with Belgian conflicts law (Article 68 WIPR), whether the adopted consents (typically: via its parents or a guardian) is subject to the law of the child’s habitual residence immediately prior to its transfer for adoption (or simply its habitual residence if there is no such transfer). However, that same article makes Belgian law gazump foreign law in the event of that foreign law either not requiring such consent, or not recognising adoption at all. This has often been called a lack of respect for that foreign law, among others because it necessarily requires Belgian courts to assess the assimilation of foreign ‘adoption’ institutions, with Belgium’s own views on adoption.

In the case at issue, Morocco’s ‘kafala’ was not considered to be equal to adoption. That’s because, well, it isn’t. It is more akin to guardianship or custody in advance of adoption. Parents signal their inability or unwillingness to look after a child. Followed by a court-registered form of fostering. It is quite easy to find differences between kafala and ‘adoption’ as known under Belgian law. Kafala is reversible. Kinship is not created between foster parents and child.

Belgian law therefore applied to the issue of consent. The father had not consented: it was clear that the man named on the child’s birth certificate was fictitious. The Moroccan court which was involved in the establishment of kafala seemed to have acknowledged as much and did not seem to have considered this to be an obstacle to the proceedings. This was not a cloak and dagger adoption. The eventual purpose of the proceedings, adoption in Belgium, was clear to the Moroccan court. For the Belgian court to stick to the requirement of paternal consent in spite of the Moroccan court’s willingness to see beyond that, seems a bit obnoxious.

The Court of Appeal moreover added that the necessary preliminary reports from Morocco, which the relevant authorities in Belgium ought to have sought, where not available. The Court’s line of reasoning suggests that even had such reports been available, adoption still could have not gone ahead. This reference therefore seems more of an attempt to share the blame. This case, the Court seems to suggest, is not just about dura lex sed lex; it is also about sloppy preparation.

Adoptions from Morocco have now been put on hold. In a final argument, the Court rejected any proposition that refusal of adoption would infringe the child’s human rights. The interests of the child evidently need to be taken into account in adoption decisions. However there is no human right to adoption.

Geert.

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