Posts Tagged Public policy
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.
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, 184.108.40.206.1, 220.127.116.11.4
Does Article 21 TEU on EU citisenship, facilitate one’s acquiring names bearing the tokens of nobility, acquired in one Member State (here: the flexible ‘deed poll’ regime available to citisens of the United Kingdom), for subsequent use in another Member State less keen on such (token or real) titles? In Case C-438/14 Bogendorff the CJEU held that it does not.
Applicant at issue had acquired UK nationality over and above German nationality (which he held by birth). Subsequent adoption but especially vanity had led to a change in first name and surname by deed poll, a very flexible name change regime available to UK citisens. German authorities however refused to recognise the name change upon the occasion of registration of applicant’s daughter, citing public order considerations in particular Germany’s long-standing objection against aristocratic titles, real or vanity, so as to emphasise equality before the law. The court’s approach on free movement and names in my view has taken a better turn since Vardyn, Case C-391/09, where it left its insistence that only copy /paste recognition of names by authorities in other Member States can safeguard citisens free movement rights.
In the case of aristocratic titles, however, the court has always recognised in particular Austria’s and Germany’s right to extend domestic policies to incoming citisens, on the basis of public policy considerations. Current case differs from Sayn-Wittgenstein, C‑208/09. The latter concerned Austrian law, which has a strict prohibition on the use and transmission of titles of nobility. Under German law by contrast all privileges and inequalities connected with birth or position have been abolished in Germany. Titles of nobility which were actually borne when the Weimar Constitution entered into force may continue as elements of a name and may be transmitted as a fact of personal status. The creation of new titles of nobility and the grant of such titles are prohibited.
Hence for Germany to refuse to recognise such titles where they have been accidentally obtained abroad (by birth, marriage or adoption) would run counter EU citisenhip. By contrast, it would run counter to the intention of the German legislature for German nationals, using the law of another Member State, to adopt afresh abolished titles of nobility. Systematic recognition of changes of name such as that at issue in the main proceedings could lead to that result.
Name dropping undoubtedly will continue. Name shopping has been halted.
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, 18.104.22.168.1, 22.214.171.124.4
Gazprom, arbitral Antisuit Injunctions and the Judgments Regulation: Wathelet AG gets one or two things off his chest
Wathelet AG opined yesterday in Gazprom, Case C-536/13, re the fate of arbitral anti-suit injunctions. (See my posting on the application, for context). He takes the opportunity to add to the chorus of criticism of the ECJ’s West Tankers ruling, at considerable length; and to review the ‘new’ regime under the Brussels I recast, in light of recital 12 of that Regulation.
His review of the ‘new’ regime of the Brussels I recast, and the contrasting positions of the EC and a number of Member States, support my proposition that the recast, by incorporating a summary of previous case-law in its recitals, has certainly not clarified things beyond discussion. Wathelet in fact suggest that the recitals do rebuke the ECJ and return application of the Regulation to the Rich scenario – however I am not convinced that Rich itself necessarily clarifies things. (It, too, like Van Uden and like the current recital, uses a confusing variety of criteria. I have a paper forthcoming on the Brussels I recast (already in a Dutch version should readers be interested) which looks into this).
At any rate, the lengthy review of the position under the recast evidently is outside the scope of the preliminary review, since the recast does not apply to it, and the ECJ is certain not to entertain the AG’s review of the recast and his rebuke of West Tankers at all. (Although his critical views are not likely to endear him to the Court).
Returning to the actual questions, the AG suggests the Court reply that that the Brussels I Regulation is not applicable in the present case (it falling exclusively within the scope of the 1958 New York Convention) and that, in any event, (what is effectively) an anti-suit injunction issued by an arbitration tribunal is not contrary to that Regulation. Finally, that under the New York Convention, a Member State cannot classify Brussels I’s jurisdictional regime as being ‘ordre public’ and hence capable of leading to refusal of recognition of an arbitral award.
The AG decisively supports arbitration in this opinion, however the ECJ is bound to be much shorter (and perhaps less sympathetic) in its judgment. To be continued….
‘The Bundesgerichtshof was wrong to deny choice of court in favour of Virginia, on the basis of EU mandatory law.’ Discuss.
Such would be the title for a perfect exam question for an advanced conflict class. It would also kill the bird of making the point of German law and scholarship being particularly relevant to conflict of laws. In September 2012 (only just now brought to my attention), the Bundesgerichtshof denied a choice of court agreement in favour of the courts in Virginia. The agreement was part of a contract between a German agent and a principal from the US and co-incided with a choice of law clause, also in favour of the laws of Virginia. Under Virginian law, the agent would not have a right to indemnity, contrary to the commercial agents Directive, which was held in Ingmar to be part of EU mandatory law: that was enough for the German courts to refuse to accept the validity of the choice of court clause, and to accept jurisdiction for German courts on the basis effectively of a minimum presence rule (general jurisdiction over a defendant anywhere it maintains a registered branch or office).
Progress is to varying degree based on assimilation: I shall not therefore repeat the excellent analysis of Jennifer Antomo here. Choice of court clauses in favour of non-EU courts are not covered by the Brussels I-Regulation. Yet when national courts refuse to acknowledge such choices and assume jurisdiction, the Rome I Regulation on applicable law for contracts, does come into play. In effect, the German court here refuses to acknowledge the clause on the basis of applicable law considerations, whence EU law is far from absent in the case. Some sort of judicial review with the ECJ might therefore have been warranted.