Complaints about the inefficiency of enforcement mechanisms at national and transnational level are not new. The insufficiency of existing national and international legal frameworks is a growing cause for concern at all levels. Academics and practitioners acknowledge the fundamental importance of procedures and mechanisms for the effective enforcement of creditors’ claims both in domestic and in cross border situations. They also agree on the existence of numerous obstacles for enforcement in most jurisdictions, and on the need for a comprehensive and detailed international instrument providing for guidance for national legislators to overcome such challenges.
In the agenda UNIDROIT (the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law) has published for the triennial period 2020 – 2022, transnational principles of civil procedure are included with
– high priority: Formulation of regional rules;
– medium priority : Principles of effective enforcement (NoA: priority was moved to “high” by the UNIDROIT Governing Council at its 99th session);
– low priority: International Civil Procedure in Latin America.
As a matter of fact, UNIDROIT has been actively working towards a soft harmonisation of civil procedural rules – mainly to be applied in transnational disputes but also meant to provide guidance in domestic law reforms- already for a while. In 2004, the Governing Council of UNIDROIT adopted the so-called ALI/UNIDROIT Principles of Transnational Civil Procedure (ALI=American Law Institute), which the organization itself defines as its “landmark instrument in this area”.
The ‘Principles’ consist of 31 provisions accompanied by a commentary. They aim to reconcile differences among various national rules of civil procedure, taking into account the peculiarities of transnational disputes as compared to purely domestic ones. They are intended to serve as guidelines for code projects in countries without long procedural traditions; also, as a basis for reform in countries with long and high-quality procedural traditions. They may also be applied by analogy in international commercial arbitration.
In 2013, UNIDROIT and the European Law Institute (ELI) started working together towards the development of European Rules of Civil Procedure. The ELI – UNIDROIT Rules were presented in an International Workshop Webwinar held as a closing event of the 99th session of the UNIDROIT Governing Council, on 25 September 2020.
In addition, UNIDROIT Work Programme 2017-2019 envisaged the preparation of Transnational Principles of Effective Enforcement to bridge the gaps of the ALI/ UNIDROIT Principles of Transnational Civil Procedure in this regard. A preliminary feasibility study was conducted by Rolf Stürner, Emeritus Professor at the University of Freiburg (Germany) and former co-reporter of the ALI/UNIDROIT Principles of Transnational Civil Procedure, and submitted to the Governing Council at its 95th session (2016). According to its final conclusion
Principles will set common minimum standards of enforcement, they will motivate legislatures to evaluate and improve the quality of their laws and thereby strengthen the efficiency of enforcement in foreign countries. Common minimum standards will be a source of increasing harmonization of enforcement laws, as well as predictability of the results of enforcement measures in foreign countries and facilitation of enforcement in cross border cases. A certain degree of harmonization is a necessary precondition of international cooperation in the field of cross border enforcement, which is designed to avoid conflicts of sovereignty and conflicting or superfluous parallel and cost intensive enforcement measures. Worldwide, there is sufficient common ground for specific principles of individual modes of enforcement and for overarching general principles of an overall system of efficient civil enforcement. The variety of organizational structures should not be considered a decisive obstacle to harmonizing principles. It will be possible to develop principles, which define managerial standards to be met by the enforcement mechanisms and the individual enforcement authorities and which at the same time leave necessary leeway for successful regional traditions and local needs. Co-operation with other organizations dealing with the harmonization of law could result in a helpful increase of human and financial resources. The experience of the first joint project with the American Law Institute was very encouraging.
At the time, the topic was nevertheless accorded low priority, which meant the work would only commence after the completion of the preparation of European Rules of Civil Procedure. In this context, the Secretariat received in December 2018 a proposal for the 2020-2022 Work Programme by the World Bank regarding a project on the “Development of a Working Paper to Outline Best Practices on Debt Enforcement”, which it presented on the occasion of the discussion of the 2020-2022 Work Programme at the 98th Session of the Governing Council. The proposal was discussed as a continuation, and a refinement, of the scope of the “Principles of Effective Enforcement”, and eventually included in the new Work Programme by the General Assembly.
On 21 September 2020, the UNIDROIT Secretariat, as mandated by the Governing Council at the first meeting of the 99th session, convened an internal consultation workshop on the project on Best Practices of Effective Enforcement. The UNIDROIT Governing Council, at its 99th session, approved the guidelines provided by the Secretariat regarding the proposed scope of the project, and authorised the establishment of a Working Group, to meet in Rome and on Zoom on 30-November – 2 December 2020. The composition of the group has not yet been disclosed; the MPI Luxembourg will be represented as an observer.
If the initial schedule is kept, the project will be a quick one, coming to an end already in 2022. No doubt it is worth to follow its development and to reflect on its potential impact on the law and practice of cross-border enforcement within the EU and beyond.