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French Supreme Court on cover by Lugano of legal fees in criminal proceedings – and the proper limits of the ordre public test.
The criminal courts at Geneva have condemned claimant, domiciled at France, to pay a criminal fine of 3,600.00 Swiss Francs, a well as 36,000.00 Swiss Francs towards defendant’s legal fees. The latter were incurred given that defendant in current legal proceedings had entered a civil claim in the Swiss criminal proceedings: a claim which the Geneva judge ordered to be settled through the Swiss courts in civil cases.
Upon fighting the request for exequatur, claimant first of all argues that the French courts’ acceptance of exequatur via the Lugano Convention is outside the scope of that Convention. The matter, he argues, is not civil or commercial seeing as the civil claim was not even entertained.
This of course brings one to the discussion on the scope of application of Lugano (and Brussels Ia) and the perennial difficulty of focusing on nature of the claim v nature of the underlying facts and exercised powers. Now, for civil claims brought before criminal courts there is not so much doubt per se, seeing inter alia that Article 7(3) Brussels Ia (Article 5(4) Lugano 2007) has a specific head of jurisdiction for such civil claims. Claimant’s point of argument here evidently is that this should not cover this particular claim seeing as the legal representation at issue turned out to be without purpose. Not being privy to the discussions that took place at the Geneva court, I evidently do not know the extent of discussion having taken place there (there is no trace of it in the Supreme Court judgment) however one assumes that the Geneva proceedings in theory could have dealt with the civil side of the litigation yet for a factual or legal reason eventually did not. Over and above the intensity of discussions being difficult to employ as a decisive criterion, one can also appreciate the difficulty in separating the civil from the criminal side of the argument made by defendant’s lawyers.
Of perhaps more general interest is the Supreme Court’s rebuke of the lower courts’ treatment of ordre public. Exequatur was granted because, the lower courts had held, the judge in the substantial proceedings has the sovereign right to establish costs under the relevant national procedure. This, it was suggested by these lower courts, shields it from ordre public scrutiny – a clear misunderstanding of the ordre public test. Part of the ordre public considerations had also been that the relative slide in the strength of the Swiss Franc v the Euro, and the generally higher costs of living in Switzerland, put the cost award in perspective. Moreover the judges found that there was insufficient information on the length of the proceedings in Switserland, and the complexity of the arguments. That, however, is exactly the kind of data which the judge in an exequatur assessment ough to gauge.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2n ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52.