Posts Tagged Exequatur
Many of you will have already seen (e.g. via Giesela Ruehl) the German Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof – BGH)’s refusal to recognise and enforce a Polish judgment under the Brussels I Regulation (application was made of Brussels I but the Recast on this issue has not materially changed). The BGH argued that enforcement would violate German public policy, notable freedom of speech and freedom of the press as embodied in the German Constitution.
Giesala has the necessary background. Crux of the refusal seemed to be that the Court found that to require ZDF to publish by way of a correction /clarification (a mechanism present in all Western European media laws), a text drafted by someone else as its own opinion would violate ZDF’s fundamental rights.
Refusal of course is rare and in this case, too, one can have misgivings about its application. The case however cannot be decoupled from the extremely strong sentiment for freedom of speech under German law, for obvious reasons, and the recent controversy surrounding the Polish law banning the use of the phrase ‘Polish concentration camps’.
I am very pleased to have been given approval by professor Burkhard Hess to publish the succinct comment on the case which he had sent me when the judgment was issued. I have included it below.
European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, 126.96.36.199.1, 188.8.131.52.4
The German Federal Civil Court rejects the recognition of a Polish judgment in a defamation case under the Brussels I Regulation for violation of public policy
Burkhard Hess, Max Planck Institute Luxembourg
In 2013, the German broadcasting company ZDF (a public body) broadcast a film about Konzentrationcamps. In the film, it was (incorrectly) stated that Auschwitz and Majdanek were “Polish extermination camps”. Further to the protests made by the Polish embassy in Berlin, ZDF introduced the necessary changes in the film and issued an official apology. However, a former inmate of the KZ, brought a civil lawsuit in Poland claiming violation of his personality rights. With his claim he sought remedy in the form of the broadcasting company (ZDF) publishing on its Internet home page both a declaration that the history of the Polish people had been falsified in the film and a statement of apology. Ultimately, the Cracow Court of Appeal ordered the publication of the declaration on the company’s home page. While ZDF published the text on its website visibly for one month, it did not post it on its home page.
Consequently, the plaintiff sought the recognition of the Polish judgment in Germany under the Brussels I Regulation. However, the German Federal Court denied the request for recognition on the grounds that it would infringe on German public policy (article 34 No 1 Regulation (EU) 44/2001). In its ruling, the Court referred to the freedom of the press and of speech (article 5 of the Constitution) and to the case-law of the Constitutional Court. The Court stated that the facts had been incorrectly represented in the film. However, it held that, under German law, ordering a declaration of apology qualifies as ordering a declaration of opinion (Meinungsäusserung) and that, according to the fundamental freedom of free speech, nobody can be obliged to make a declaration which does not correspond to his or her own opinion (the right to reply is different as it clearly states that the reply is made by the person entitled to the reply). As a result, the Polish judgment was not recognized.
BGH, 19 July 2018, IX ZB 10/18, The judgment can be downloaded here.
To my knowledge, this is one of the very rare cases where a foreign judgment was refused recognition in Germany under article 34 no 1 of the Brussels I Regulation (now article 45 (1) (a) Brussels Ibis Regulation) because substantive public policy was infringed.
Speaking frankly, I’m not convinced by the decision. Of course, the text which the ZDF, according to the Cracow court, had to make as its own statement represented a so-called expression of opinion. Its imposition is not permissible under German constitutional law: requiring the ZDF-television to making this expression its own would have amounted to an infringement of the freedom of speech as guaranteed by article 5 of the Constitution.
However, it corresponds to well settled principles of the recognition of judgments to substitute the operative part of the foreign judgment by a formula which comes close to it. This (positive) option is totally missing in the formalistic judgment of the Federal Civil Court. In this respect I’m wondering why the BGH did not simply order that the operative part of the Polish judgment as such was declared enforceable. My proposed wording of a declaration of enforceability would be drafted as follows: “According to the judgment of the Appellate Court of Krakow the ZDF is required to publish the following decision:…”
This solution would have solved the problem: No constitutional conflict would have arisen and the political issues would have mitigated. Seen from that perspective, the judgment appears as a missed opportunity.
Belgian constitutional court’s ruling on vulture funds fails properly to answer arguments on the basis of EU law.
I have reported earlier on the action of MNL Capital against the 2015 Belgian Vulture Fund Act (my EN translation here), on which I have a paper here. I then reported on a related action (where MNL were joined by Yukos).
At the end of May the Belgian Constitutional Court, ruling 61/2018, rejected an MNL challenge to the Act, which was based inter alia on an alleged infringement of the Brussels I Recast Regulation: at A.23.2: MNL argued that Belgium cannot across the board reject vulture funds activities (I agree) based on an absolute ordre public argument against them: MNL suggested this entails a one-sided reading of ordre public in favour of foreign entities refusing to honour their debt.
Due in large part to the peculiarities of constitutional review in Belgium, the Court at B.15.4 looked at the argument purely from a non-discrimination point of view: creditors who have obtained a foreign judgment against a State are no better or worse off than those having obtained such ruling from a Belgian court.
In essence therefore the arguments on the basis of EU law are left entirely unanswered.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 184.108.40.206.4.
Vulture funds (and Yukos) fail in Round 1 against Belgian enforcement regime viz sovereign immunity. No reference to Luxemburg on compatibility of Brussels I with international law.
Thank you Quentin Declève for alerting me to the Constitutional Court’s judgment on a related action (where MNL were joined by Yukos) namely against the act of 23 August 2015 which introduced Article 1412quinquies in the Belgian Judicial Code. It is noteworthy that the action against the Act of July has not yet been decided by the Court (that case number, for the aficionados, is 6371), at the least I have not been able to locate any judgment).
As Quentin summarises, as a general rule, Article 1412 quinquies of the Belgian Judicial Code provides that assets located in Belgium that belong to a foreign State are immune from execution and cannot be subject to enforcement proceedings by creditors. Exceptions to that rule are possible if very strict conditions are met: a party wishing to seize the assets belonging to a State needs to obtain a prior authorisation from a judge. This judge will only authorise the seizure if (i) the foreign State has “expressively” and “specifically” consented to the seizure of the assets; (ii) the foreign State has specifically allocated those assets to the enforcement of the claim which gives rise to the seizure; and (iii) the assets are located in Belgium and are allocated to an economic or commercial activity.
The Court has now annulled the word ‘specifically’ but has otherwise left the Act intact. Quentin summarises how the Court found that this proviso is not part of international law on State immunity.
Now, picking up where Quentin left: part of applicants’ arguments relate to Brussels I Recast. The argument is made that Belgium with its Act re-introduces exequatur, now that is has been abolished by the Recast. Belgium’s Government seems to argue that the law relating to seizure has public order character and hence is covered by the ordre public exception of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, and that seizure in Belgium which would go against public international customary law on State immunity, along the same lines would be covered by the ordre public exception of the Recast (para A.5.2, p.6).
The Court (at B.29.1 ff, .34 ff) deals with the Brussels I arguments very very succinctly: it refers to Article 41(1) which other than the substantive requirements of title III, makes recognition and enforcement subject to the law of the State of enforcement. The Court also says enforcement is not entirely obstructed: some of the foreign entities’ assets remain subject to seizure; and there are other ways of enforcement other than seizure. Finally the Court suggests that the Brussels I Recast surely must not be applied in a way which would be incompatible with international customary law. By rejecting the suggestion for a prelimary reference to Luxembourg (suggestion made by the Belgian State, unusually), the Court clearly believes that call is not one that has to be made by Luxembourg. Pitty: that would have been an interesting reference.
Again, NML Capital’s action against the Vulture Fund Act is still ongoing, lest I have missed withdrawal. As I noted in my paper, this Act I believe is wanting on various grounds, including some related to the New York Convention and the Brussels I Recast.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 220.127.116.11.4.
For the facts of the case, and the reasoning of the AG in C-559/14 Meroni, I refer to my earlier posting. At the end of May (I am indeed still hoovering up the queue) the Court held very much alongside Kokott AG’s Opinion, I shall therefore not repeat its reasoning here. The CJEU does insist that if third parties rights are directly affected with the intensity as in the case at issue, that third person must be entitled to assert his rights before the court of origin (which English courts provide for), lest one runs the risk of the injunction being refused recognition under ordre public. As I had feared, the Court does not address the AG’s concern whether Mareva orders actually constitute a ‘judgment’ for the purposes of the Regulation.
Post Brexit, this considerable attraction of English courts in interlocutory proceedings might become a lot less real. (Like many of us, I am working on a short review of Brexit consequences for European private international law).
(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, 18.104.22.168.1, 22.214.171.124.4
Kokott AG on the notion of ‘judgment’ and the compatibility of Mareva orders with EU law (ordre public).
In Kokott AG’s words, ‘following the West Tankers case…in the present case the Court is once again confronted with a specific procedural feature of the Anglo-American legal system.’
Article 34 of the Brussels I Regulation (Article 35 in the recast) enables a court, by way of derogation from the principles and objectives of the Regulation, to refuse to recognize a judgment given by a court of another Member State. The whole starting point of the Regulation and its antecedents was to avoid much recourse to refusal of recognition. Free movement of judgments lies at the very core of the foundations of European private international law.
Little wonder then that the Regulation leaves limited freedom for Member States authorities (including courts) who are asked to recognise and enforce another State’s judgment. As I noted at the time, in Trade Agency the CJEU insisted that refusal of recognition on the basis of ordre public is only possible after review of the individual merits of the case. Courts in other EU Member States may not decide that the English system as such as contrary to public policy in the state of enforcement. Relevant case-law was most recently summarised by (the same) Kokott AG in fly LAL and also in Diageo.
The exequatur procedure of the Brussels I Regulation has been amended in the Brussels I Recast. However it is exactly on issues of the rights of the defence that exequatur can never be entirely automatic, even among EU Member States.
In Case C-559/14 Meroni, at issue are Mareva injunctions: (sometimes) worldwide freezing orders issued by English courts (among others), designed to prevent a creditor being deprived of access to the debtor’s assets as a result of a prior disposal of those assets. However, as is often the case, the reputation of Mareva injunctions far exceeds their actual bite. There is no one size fits all such injunction and a number of tools are at the disposal of both the debtor affected, and third parties, to have the order varied or indeed lifted. The rights of third parties in particular are quite relevant in the current review with the CJEU. Part of the injunction are often the debtor’s participations in companies: for the recalcitrant debtor may find all sorts of useful ways to spirit value away from his companies and into vaults safe from prying English or European eyes – especially if the debtor is sole or majority shareholder.
In the case at issue, Mr A.L. is prohibited, inter alia, from disposing of assets which can be attributed directly or indirectly to his property. The injunction extends to interests in the Latvian company VB. Mr A.L. has a direct interest in that company with only one share. According to the referring court, however, he is also the ‘beneficial owner’ of shares in at least one other company (‘Y’), which itself has substantial interests in VB. Mr Meroni is part of the management of Y. Following a seizure ordered by the relevant Latvian office, he also acts as the bailee for the interests in Y. for which Mr A.L. is the beneficial owner. Mr Meroni claims that the freezing injunction prevents the shareholder Y. from exercising its voting rights in respect of VB. This affects constitutionally protected property rights, especially since the company was not heard in the English proceedings. This, it is argued, is contrary to the principle of the right to a fair trial.
The AG Opined differently. At 44, she argues that it is not clear to what extent that injunction might be contrary to basic principles of Latvian substantive law or procedural law, especially since, as the referring court acknowledges, the Latvian legal order does permit judgments as provisional measures without a prior hearing of the party against whom enforcement is sought. Consequently measures such as Mareva orders cannot be said to be fundamentally against the Latvian ordre public. At 45: ‘ Aside from this, the English freezing injunction at issue does not provide for any irreversibly drastic measures for its enforcement overseas, in particular in so far as third persons who were not parties to the proceedings in England are concerned. Rather, the freezing injunction claims legal effects on third persons resident in other countries — and thus the companies controlled by Mr A.L. — only subject to strict requirements: first, it is to have legal effects on a without notice basis only where this is permitted by the foreign law; second, anyone served with the freezing injunction may apply to the court to vary or discharge it; and, third, compliance with contractual obligations in other countries is still to be possible notwithstanding the freezing injunction.‘ (footnotes omitted)
There is no evident breach of basic principles of the legal order of the State in which enforcement is sought – breach of ordre public must therefore be rejected.
Now, earlier in the judgment, the AG also considers albeit more or less obiter (the CJEU is certain not to entertain it) what may in fact be the more important (for it tends to be less sub judice at the CJEU) part of her Opinion: whether the Mareva orders actually constitute a ‘judgment’ for the purposes of the Regulation. Ms Kokott suggests that the Denilauler criteria (easily fulfilled in the case at issue: see para 31) ought to be relaxed under the Regulation, as opposed to the stricter approach under the 1968 Convention. That is because following judgment in ASML, notwithstanding defects in service, if the person concerned fails to commence proceedings in the State of origin of the judgment to challenge the judgment issued upon default, when it was possible for him to do so, recognition may not be refused. The AG suggests to extend the ASML rule to provisional measures.
European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, 126.96.36.199.1, 188.8.131.52.4
Update 21 March 2016 (these updates seem to follow an equinox pattern) NML Capital Ltd reportedly are contesting the legality of the Act before the Belgian Constitutional Court. (Update 24 March the Constitutional Court has the case down under three seperate actions, 6371, 6372, 6373).
Update 21 September 2015: the Act was adopted in July and enters into force today.
I have delayed reporting on this initiative for exam reasons. The Belgian Parliament is currently debating a private members’ proposal for statute to address so-called ‘vulture funds’. These funds are described by the financial dictionary as ‘A fund that buys distressed debt of commercial companies or sovereign nations at a cheap price and then often sues them for the entire value of the debt. The resemblance to vultures is because these funds profit from the debt of failing companies or poor nations.‘
The text of the proposal (in Dutch and French) is available here. Vulture funds litigation is generally called immoral in the proposal. Reference is made to a number of high-profile recent judgments where vulture funds have been given approval by various courts worldwide, to seek redress against assets held by the sovereign nations concerned, or indeed their creditors. Particularly sore is the enforcement sought against funds destined for development aid.
The proposal essentially defines ‘vulture funds’ and then suggests that recognition and enforcement of relevant judgments or arbitral awards, regardless of the law applicable to the underlying relationship with the government concerned, is considered to be contrary to Belgian ordre public international, hence unenforceable. The proposal as it stands now adds (probably superfluously) that relevant EU (read: the Brussels I recast Regulation) and international (read especially: the 1958 New York Convention) law takes priority.
The part of the proposal that is bound to attract attention is the attempt at defining the ‘vulture’ in vulture funds. Frits Bolkestein for instance (former EU Commissioner) has remarked that buying up ‘bad debt’ need not always be morally reprehensible (I would suggest it is not that part of the fund’ activities which has attracted the Belgian Parliament’s attention). The enforcement /recognition part of the proposal is interesting because it applies ordre public in a categorical manner, rather than in the ad hoc application which both EU law and residual Belgian conflicts law (the Belgian Private International Law Act) ordinarily call for. For residual Belgian law, this is probably Parliament’s prerogative. However for EU law (and the New York convention), a general apprehension against vulture funds may not qualify as a proper exercise of the ordre public exception. Courts at the least may wish formally to disregard the act when the judgment /award concerned is covered by Brussels I cq. New York; however they can point to the sentiment expressed in the Act, to support incompatibility with Belgian ordre public when tested against an individual case.
The drafters are aware that this initiative may be a drop in the ocean. Reference is made to other, national initiatives (France, UK, US) which may point to an emerging pattern of anti-vulture funds sentiment. Indeed the realities of forum shopping mean that vulture funds action will migrate away from the Belgian legal order. On the other hand, Belgium’s safe harbour may also mean that relevant assets will seek refuge there. All of course, presuming the initiative will actually be adopted by Parliament.
Geert. Disclosure: I advised the MPs concerned on the technical aspects of the recognition and enforcement leg of the proposal. [My advice may or may not have been followed ].
Court of Justice confirms relevance of rights of defence in Trade Agency – Exequatur can be denied but only after individual review of the case
Article 34 of the Brussels I Regulation (jurisdiction in civil and commercial matters) enables a court, by way of derogation from the principles and objectives of the Regulation, to refuse to recognize a judgment given by a court of another Member State. The whole starting point of the Regulation and its antecedents was to avoid much recourse to refusal of recognition. Free movement of judgments lies at the very core of the foundations of European private international law.
Little wonder then that the Regulation leaves limited freedom for Member States authorities (including courts) who are asked to recognise and enforce another State’s judgment.
In Case C-619/10 Trade Agency, proceedings were underway between Trade Agency Ltd (‘Trade Agency’) and Seramico Investments Ltd (‘Seramico’) concerning the recognition and enforcement in Latvia of a judgment in default delivered by the High Court of England and Wales. Saramico had filed suit against Trade Agency for payment of a sum just under 300.000 Sterling. Trade Agency entered no defence and the sum was awarded. Saremico then sought enforcement in Latvia. The Latvian court wondered whether Article 34(1)’s public policy exception, allowed it to deny ‘enforcement’ (what is meant is really ‘exequatur’) given that under the English system, an uncontested claim is summarily granted, without the judgment reviewing and confirming the legal merits of the case.
The UK had pointed out in the hearing at the Court of Justice that a judgment given in default of appearance, such as that given by the High Court in the main proceedings, cannot be obtained until, first, the applicant serves the claim form and the particulars of claim, containing a detailed description of the pleas in law and the material facts, to which the judgment itself impliedly refers, and, second, the defendant, although he has been informed of the legal proceedings instituted against him, does not appear or does not express his intention to submit a defence within the period prescribed.
The Court of Justice refused to disallow all scope for the Member State in which enforcement is sought, to refuse such enforcement in light of what seem to be serious procedural requirements under English law. However the court in which exequatur is sought, may only refuse after review of the individual merits of the case: it has to in other words review whether in the case at issue, the defendant knew of the applicant’s statement of claim and decided not to defend himself against it. It may not decide that the English system as such as contrary to public policy in the state of enforcement.
The exequatur procedure of the Brussels I Regulation will be overhauled in the current review. However it is exactly on issues of the rights of the defence, such as those raised in Trade Agency, that a number of Member States continue to insist that exequatur can never be entirely automatic, even among EU Member States.