After the Christmas break the Court of Justice takes up again its public activity. Regarding judicial cooperation on civil matters, the first event in January 2022 is the hearing in case C-18/21, Uniqa Versicherungen, scheduled for Wednesday 19.
The request for a preliminary ruling comes from the Oberster Gerichtshof (Austria). It focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on procedural periods in civil proceedings in the context of Regulation (EC) No 1896/2006 creating a European order for payment procedure (here the consolidated text).
In the case at hand, the District Court for Commercial Matters of Vienna had issued a European order for payment on 6 March 2020, which was served on the defendant, a resident in the Federal Republic of Germany, on 4 April 2020. The latter lodged a statement of opposition thereto in a written submission posted on 18 May 2020. The court of first instance rejected the opposition on the ground that the objection had not been filed within the 30-day period foreseen in Article 16(2) of Regulation (EC) No 1896/2006.
The Commercial Court of Vienna, ruling on the appeal on the merits, set that order aside holding that the period for lodging a statement of opposition under Article 16(2) had been interrupted pursuant to the Federal Law on accompanying measures for COVID-19 in the administration of justice. According to that law, all procedural periods in judicial proceedings that had started to run on 22 March 2020 or thereafter, up until the end of 30 April 2020, are to be interrupted and are to begin to run anew on 1 May 2020. The applicant’s appeal on a point of law is directed against that decision, and seeks to have the order of the court of first instance restored.
The Austrian Supreme Court has referred the following question to the Court of justice:
Are Articles 20 and 26 of Regulation (EC) No 1896/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 creating a European order for payment procedure to be interpreted as meaning that those provisions preclude an interruption of the 30-day period for lodging a statement of opposition to a European order for payment, as provided for in Article 16(2) of that regulation, by Paragraph 1(1) of the Austrian Bundesgesetz betreffend Begleitmaßnahmen zu COVID-19 in der Justiz (Federal Law on accompanying measures for COVID-19 in the administration of justice), pursuant to which all procedural periods in proceedings in civil cases for which the event triggering the period occurs after 21 March 2020 or which have not yet expired by that date are to be interrupted until the end of 30 April 2020 and are to begin to run anew from 1 May 2020?
K. Jürimäe is the reporting judge in a chamber composed, in addition, by N. Jääskinen, M. Safjan, N. Piçarra and M. Gavalec. Advocate General A. Collins will announce the date of his opinion after the hearing. For the record: the Court has interpreted Articles 16, 20 and 26 of the Regulation already several times, see case C-324/12, joined cases C‑119/13 and C‑120/13, C-94/14, C-245/14, C-21/17.
Advocate General Szpunar‘s Opinion in case C-617/20, T.N. and N.N., will be published the next day (that is, on Thursday 20). The questions have been referred by the Hanseatisches Oberlandesgericht in Bremen (Germany), in the context of an intestate succession, and relate to the interpretation of Articles 13 and 28 of the EU Succession Regulation:
(1) Does a declaration concerning the waiver of succession by an heir before the court of a Member State that has jurisdiction for the place of his or her habitual residence, which complies with the formal requirements applicable there, replace the declaration concerning the waiver of succession to be made before the court of another Member State that has jurisdiction to rule on the succession, in such a way that when that declaration is made, it is deemed to have been validly made (substitution)?
(2) If Question 1 is to be answered in the negative:
In addition to making a declaration before the court that has jurisdiction for the place of habitual residence of the party waiving succession which complies with all formal requirements, is it necessary, in order for the declaration concerning the waiver of succession to be valid, that the latter inform the court that has jurisdiction to rule on the succession that the declaration concerning the waiver of succession has been made?
(3) If Question 1 is to be answered in the negative and Question 2 in the affirmative:
a. Is it necessary that the court that has jurisdiction to rule on the succession be addressed in the official language of the location of that court in order for the declaration concerning the waiver of succession to be valid and, in particular, in order to comply with the time limits applicable for making such declarations before that court?
b. Is it necessary that the court that has jurisdiction to rule on the succession receive the original documents drawn up in relation to the waiver by the court that has jurisdiction for the place of habitual residence of the party waiving succession and a translation thereof in order for the declaration concerning the waiver of succession to be valid and, in particular, in order to comply with the time limits applicable for making such declarations before the court that has jurisdiction to rule on the succession?
The judgment will be handed down by judges E. Regan, I. Jarukaitis, M. Ilešič (reporting), D. Gratsias, and Z. Csehi.
Finally, another hearing of interest will be taking place at the very end of the month, on Monday 31. C-700/20, London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association, is a Grand Chamber case (K. Lenaerts, L. Bay Larsen, K. Jürimäe, C. Lycourgos, E. Regan, I. Jarukaitis, N. Jääskinen, M. Ilešič, J.C. Bonichot, A. Kumin, L. Arastey Sahún, M. Gavalec, Z. Csehi, O. Spineau-Matei, and M. Safjan as reporting judge), to be decided with the benefit of Advocate General A. Collin’s opinion. The request, from the High Court – Business and Property Courts of England and Wales Commercial Court, was lodged on 22 December 2020. The questions referred arose in the context of an appeal by The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Limited (the “Club”), pursuant to Article 43 of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001, against a registration order made by the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales pursuant to Article 33 of the same regulation. The registered judgment that is the subject of the registration order is an auto de ejecución (execution order) of the Provincial Court of La Coruña, Spain, delivered following the proceedings related to the sinking of the Prestige (the “Vessel”) at the coast of Spain in November 2002. The Vessel was carrying 70,000 MT of fuel oil at the time she sank causing significant pollution damage to the Spanish and French coastlines. The execution order declares the Club liable in respect of 265 claimants, including the Kingdom of Spain in the sum of € 2.355 billion. Spain applied to register the Spanish judgment against the Club in England. The Club was the Protection & Indemnity (“P&I”) insurer of the Vessel and its owners (the “Owners”) at the time the Vessel sank, pursuant to a contract of insurance where an arbitration clause was included.
The background of the dispute can be summarized as follows:
In late 2002, criminal proceedings relating to the loss of the Vessel were commenced in Spain; civil claims were brought in those proceeding. On 13 November 2013, the Provincial Court of La Coruña handed down a judgment which was confirmed after first and second appeals. On 15 November 2017, the Provincial Court delivered a judgment on quantum concluding that the Club (and others) was liable to over 200 separate parties, including the Kingdom of Spain, in sums in excess of € 1.6 billion as a result of the casualty, subject in the case of the Club to the global US$ 1 billion limit of liability. On 1 March 2019, the Provincial Court issued an execution order (the Spanish judgment referred to above) setting out the amounts that each of the claimants were entitled to enforce against the respective defendants.
In January 2012, the Club had commenced London arbitration proceedings seeking declarations that, pursuant to the arbitration agreement in the contract of insurance, Spain was bound to pursue its claims under Article 117 of the Spanish Penal Code in London arbitration. The arbitral tribunal found that, as a matter of English law, although Spain was not a contractual party to the arbitration agreement in the Contract of Insurance, according to English equitable principles Spain could not be a “beneficiary” of the Owners’ contractual rights without respecting the “burden” of the arbitration agreement. The award declared as well that the Club was not liable to Spain.
In March 2013, the Club applied to the Commercial Court of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales for “leave” (permission) to enforce the Award in the jurisdiction. The application was granted on October 2013.
On 25 March 2019, Spain applied to the High Court of Justice in England and Wales for the registration of the Spanish judgment as a judgment of the High Court pursuant to Article 33 of Regulation Brussels I. The application was successful. One month later the Club lodged an appeal under Article 43 of Regulation No. 44/2001 against the Registration Order based on Article 34(3) and Article 34(4) of the same instrument.
In this context, the High Court is referring the following questions to the Court of Justice:
(1) Given the nature of the issues which the national court is required to determine in deciding whether to enter judgment in the terms of an award under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, is a judgment granted pursuant to that provision capable of constituting a relevant “judgment” of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3) of EC Regulation No 44/2001?
(2) Given that a judgment entered in the terms of an award, such as a judgment under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, is a judgment falling outside the material scope of Regulation No 44/2001 by reason of the Article l(2)(d) arbitration exception, is such a judgment capable of constituting a relevant “judgment” of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3) of the Regulation?
(3) On the hypothesis that Article 34(3) of Regulation No 44/2001 does not apply, if recognition and enforcement of a judgment of another Member State would be contrary to domestic public policy on the grounds that it would violate the principle of res judicata by reason of a prior domestic arbitration award or a prior judgment entered in the terms of the award granted by the court of the Member State in which recognition is sought, is it permissible to rely on Article 34(1) of Regulation No 44/2001 as a ground of refusing recognition or enforcement or do Articles 34(3) and (4) of the Regulation provide the exhaustive grounds by which res judicata and/or irreconcilability can prevent recognition and enforcement of a Regulation judgment?