Does the EU Rights Charter apply to private disputes? Sometimes, sometimes not…

European-Union-Flag_1Association de médiation sociale v Union locale des syndicats CGT, Hichem Laboubi, Union départementale CGT des Bouches-du-Rhône, Confédération générale du travail (CGT), Case C‑176/12 – read judgement

The Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled on whether the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union can apply in a dispute between private parties, although it is not quite clear what its conclusion implies.

This was a request for a preliminary ruling under Article 267 TFEU from the Cour de cassation (France), received by the CJEU in April last year. Continue reading

EU employment rights law trumps diplomatic immunity – what next?

European-Union-Flag_1Benkharbouche v Embassy of the Republic of Sudan (Jurisdictional Points: State Immunity) [2013] UKEAT 0401_12_0410 4 October 2013 – read judgment

These appeals, heard at the same time, raise the question whether someone employed in the UK by a foreign diplomatic mission as a member of its domestic staff may bring a claim to assert employment rights against the country whose mission it is, despite being met by an assertion of State Immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978. The EAT regarded itself bound by the supremacy of EU law to disapply the SIA, despite the fact that it had no jurisdiction to do so under the 1998 Human Rights Act.

This is the first time that the full force of the rights contained in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms has made itself felt in a domestic dispute between private parties (although the embassies themselves are state institutions, as an employment dispute the matter is one of private law only). If upheld on appeal, this ruling will have consequences that extend far beyond the somewhat esoteric area of the immunity of diplomatic missions, and will make the effect of the Human Rights Act look puny by comparison (as pointed out by Joshua Rozenberg  in his post on this case). Continue reading

Internet trolls and why Strasbourg doesn’t want to get involved

2879775-internet_trollDelfi AS v Estonia (Application no. 64569/09)  10 October 2013 – read judgment

This case concerned the liability of an Internet news portal for offensive comments that were posted by readers below one of its online news articles. The following summary is based on the Strasbourg Court’s press release.

The applicant company owns one of the largest internet news sites in Estonia. In January 2006, Delfi published an article on its webpage about a ferry company. It discussed the company’s decision to change the route its ferries took to certain islands. This had caused ice to break where ice roads could have been made in the near future. As a result, the opening of these roads – a cheaper and faster connection to the islands compared to the ferry services – was postponed for several weeks. Below the article, readers were able to access the comments of other users of the site. Many readers had written highly offensive or threatening posts about the ferry operator and its owner. Continue reading

No standing for the Inuit in Luxembourg

ipTteC6iztnEInuit Tapiriit Kanatami et al v. European Parliament, CJEU, 3 October 2013 (read judgment), following Advocate General Kokott, 17 January 2013, read opinion and my post

This important case is all about “standing” before the EU courts, namely the ability to complain about some EU act that affects you. Lack of standing means that even if a measure was wrong and unlawful, you cannot get your foot in the door of the court. Domestic rules are quite relaxed, though proposals by Government to make it more difficult to sue Government and other public authorities are currently being consulted upon. But you cannot say that an EU law is unlawful without going to Luxembourg.

The EU Courts have always been very restrictive about the circumstances in which an individual can do so. A brief blip (C-50/00 UPA) a few years ago by a UK Advocate-General suggesting that things be done differently was squashed by the Court. And since then it has been one-way traffic in the EU Courts, brushing off criticism from NGOs and indeed the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in 2011 (see here). For a good summary of the EU case law up to 2011, see the ACCC at [20]-[31]

Recent Treaty amendments in Lisbon have, it will be seen, made little difference to the result.

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Surrogacy and maternity rights

Pregnant_woman_silhouette.pngC-363/12: A Government Department and the Board of Management of a Community School – read AG Wahl’s opinion

Case C‑167/12 : C.D. v S.T. – read AG Kokott’s opinion 

Two opinions from Luxembourg on exactly the same issue, with diametrically opposed conclusions. AG Wahl (male) says, in brief, that the Pregnancy Workers Directive does what it says on the tin. It does not apply to non-pregnant employees, even though one of these might be an “intended mother” i.e. a woman who for medical reasons cannot carry a pregnancy to term, who has commissioned a surrogacy.  AG Kokott (female)  concludes firmly that the Pregnancy Workers Directive was designed to protect the relationship between mothers and their unborn or newborn, whether naturally produced or arranged by surrogacy.  These opinions were published on the same day, with no mention in either of the other case. We can only conclude that the AGs read each other’s drafts, and decided to go to press with them together, leaving the CJEU to reconcile them in some way or another.

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What is a “public authority” for the purposes of environmental information?

water_tapFish Legal v The Information Commissioner, United Utilities, Yorkshire Water and Southern Water (Case C-279/12) – read Opinion of AG Cruz Villalon

In this most recent case concerning access by private individuals to environmental information held by public authorities,  the AG grasps the nettlish question of what precisely a public authority is. The issue was a subject of debate because the request for information had  been addressed to private companies which manage a public service relating to the environment.  The question therefore was whether, even though the companies concerned are private, they may be regarded as “public authorities” for the purposes of the Directive governing access to environmental information (Directive 2003/4).

Clearly the definition of the concept of “public authority” is an issue of importance not just in relation to access to information, but across the board, whether involving EU law or the application of the Human Rights Act 1998 and judicial review in domestic law. Continue reading

Inuit, standing and the gates to the Luxembourg Court

flagInuit Tapiriit Kanatami et al v. European Parliament opinion of Advocate General Kokott, 17 January 2013, read opinion, on appeal from the General Court read judgment & my post on it

The EU makes a rule. When can the ordinary person affected seek annulment of the rule on the basis that it is unlawful? This is the big issue tussled with in this important and informative Advocate General’s opinion. You might have thought that if the basic ground for challenge was unlawfulness (and that is a high hurdle in itself), then as long as you were in some way affected by the decision, then you should be able to complain about the decision. That is broadly how we do things here in our UK system of judicial review.

But when you get to the EU Courts very different rules of engagement apply – far fewer people can complain about the illegality directly.

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Comity of nations? US ban on US airlines complying with EU emissions law

hr-2594One of the stranger and bolder pieces of US legislation slipped into force in November 2012 – The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 – sic. This  enables the US Secretary of Transportation to prohibit US airlines from complying with EU rules. Those EU rules apply to all airliners which touch down or take off in the EU, and requires them to participate in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – designed progressively to limit carbon emissions from aviation via a cap and trade mechanism.

The US  Act would be odd enough in its lack of respect for the laws of other countries, had the Act’s beneficiaries (the US airlines) not sought to challenge the legality of the EU measure in the EU Courts – and failed: see my post on the judgment of the CJEU. As will be seen, the EU Court expressly rejected claims (by US airlines) that the rules had extra-territorial effect and conflicted with international aviation conventions. Hence, the scheme was lawfully applicable to US airlines – just as to those of all other countries using EU airports.

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What have the Inuit got to do with keeping EU law in check?

In a recent post I mentioned that there has been criticism of the scope of the EU Aarhus Regulation inserting provisions about transparency, public participation and access to justice into EU processes themselves. It struck me just how confusing the whole area of EU challenges to EU measures is, so I thought I would summarise it as best I can in this and a following post. Here goes; the going may get a bit bumpy, but it is important stuff. I hope also to give some EU context to the debate about whether something is or is not a legislative act under Aarhus which I trailed in that post.

The EU signed up to the Aarhus Convention on environmental matters, as have all the member states. And the EU has made member states implement Aarhus-compliant procedures in major areas such as environmental impact assessment and industrial emissions, via the 2003 Public Participation Directive. The EU also requires member states to introduce a wide-ranging right to environmental information, transposed in the UK via the Environmental Information Regulations. The European Court has also chipped in with its own Aarhus gloss in the Slovakian Bear case; whenever a member state is considering some provision of EU environmental law, it must interpret that provision, if possible, so that it complies with Aarhus standards of public participation, even though those standards may be in the parts of the Aarhus Convention which have not received their own direct transposition into EU, let alone domestic, law.

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Down on the farm: subsidy fraud let off the hook?

Preliminary reference in the case of  Łukasz Marcin Bonda – Case C-489/10 - read judgment

Fraud is wrong, right? In most countries with more or less sophisticated criminal codes, it is an offence to obtain money by false representations, just as it is to thump an old lady over her head and grab her handbag.

In law, these two somewhat disparate actions add up to the same thing: theft, punishable by fines or imprisonment. It is not sufficient, in the latter case to return the poor old party’s handbag, even with the wallet intact. There has to be something more to discourage privateering of this sort. Punitive measures usually follow restitution in such cases.  So why is Luxembourg telling us that theft  in the form of subsidy fraud is an administrative matter, not a criminal one? And if it isn’t criminal, why don’t we all do it (those of us with sufficient agricultural land to qualify, that is)

This was a reference from the national court to the Court of European Union (CJEU) for a preliminary reference in relation to criminal proceedings against Mr Bonda for fraud in his declaration of the agricultural area eligible for the single area payment. Continue reading

Driving disqualification and the limits of EU rights

Vinkov v Nachalnik Administrativno-nakazatelna deynost, Case C-27/11 – read judgment

Buried in the somewhat obscure details of this reference for a preliminary ruling is a hint of how the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is approaching arguments based on human rights principles as reflected in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’). Put briefly, there has to be a very clear involvement of EU law before a case can be made out under any of its human rights provisions or principles.

The Bulgarian Court of Appeal referred to the CJEU a question for a preliminary ruling arising out of a dispute over penalty points which triggered automatic disqualification from driving under Bulgarian law. Continue reading