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Long-standing European regulations, as well as European case law, recognize the ability to seek enforcement of a decision rendered in civil matters by a criminal court in another Member State of the European Union. This particular situation has been encountered by French court registries only exceptionally, they tended systematically to refuse to grant the European certificate required to enforce the said decision. The French Ministry of Justice has confirmed the primacy of the relevant European regulations.
In accordance with Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters ("Brussels I"), decisions rendered in a Member State of the European Union in civil and commercial matters are to be recognized in other Member States without any special procedure being required, except in cases of dispute. A statement as to the enforceability of a judgment must be issued in the Member State in which the judgment is to be enforced after a formal review of the documents provided.
The European certificate, which is obtained pursuant to Annex V of Brussels I Regulation, is listed among the documents to be provided. In France, the chief clerk of the court which rendered the decision issues the certificate referred to in Annex V of the Brussels I Regulation.
According to the consistent case law of the Court of Justice of the European Communities (ECJ), it is appropriate to consider the term “civil and commercial matters” as an independent concept to be interpreted by reference, first, to the objectives and scheme of the Convention and, secondly, to the general principles which stem from the corpus of the national legal systems1. . The question quickly arose as to whether the Council Regulation would apply to decisions rendered by a criminal court on civil claims.
It was determined that the Brussels Convention and the Brussels I Regulation apply in civil and commercial matters “regardless of the nature of the court or tribunal” which has been seized or which rendered a decision.
This principle finds an application in section 5, 4° of Brussels I Regulation. It makes it possible for the victim of a criminal offense to seek damages from the author of the offense in another Member State other than the State in which he is domiciled.
This position has been developed by the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Communities.
Indeed, in the “De Cavel” Court judgment 2 , the Court observed that Article 5, 4° of the Brussels Convention (now reproduced in full by the Brussels I Regulation in the same article) gives a criminal court jurisdiction to rule on an ancillary civil claim in a criminal proceeding, which is excluded by nature from the scope of the Convention, with the result that a judgment given on that claim will benefit from the Convention as regards its recognition and enforcement (paragraph 8).
Similarly, in the “Volker” decision3 , the Court states that “it follows from the wording of that provision [of Article 1, paragraph 1 of the Convention which provides that “This Regulation shall apply in civil and commercial matters whatever the nature of the court or tribunal”] that the Convention also applies to decisions rendered in civil matters by a criminal court”.
It follows that such decisions fall within the scope of the Convention and therefore the European certificate must be granted.
However, certain court registries in France, especially those in the Paris area, perpetuated a longstanding practice of systematically refusing to issue the certificate when the decision was issued by a criminal court in civil matters.
Faced with such a refusal while handling a case in which we pursued the enforcement in Germany of an award of civil damages imposed by the criminal division of a French Court of Appeals, our team had no other option but to seize the French Ministry of Justice, which finally confirmed in writing the applicability of the Council Regulation to decisions given in civil matters by a criminal ccourt, thus allowing the case to proceed with the expected issuance of the European certificate.
Hopefully, this confirmation of the applicable law will encourage the French Ministry of Justice to ensure that court registries uniformly apply the EU regulation.