As stated by the Commission, this “infringement case concerns the non-conformity of the Polish law with the Brussels IIa Regulation, specifically the provisions relating to the enforcement of judgments or orders that require the return of abducted children to their place of habitual residence”.
Apart from the very general statement that “there is a systematic and persistent failure of Polish authorities to speedily and effectively enforce judgments ordering the return of abducted children to other EU Member States” no further information is unfortunately made publicly available.
The expression “enforcement of judgments or orders that require the return of abducted children” might relate to two kinds of situations: when a court of the country to which the child was abducted (Poland) decides that the child should be returned to the country of the child’s habitual residence (another EU Member State), or at a later stage of the procedure when a court of the country of the child’s habitual residence (another EU Member State) orders a return after the non-return decision was given in the country to which the child was abducted (Poland).
Enforcement of a Return Decision Handed Down in Poland
Article 11(3) Brussels II bis Regulation requires the court to which an application for return of a child is made to act expeditiously, using the most expeditious procedures available in national law. For this purpose, the general six weeks period was established.
The Practice Guide to Brussels IIa Regulation explains in more details how to understand the six-week period:
With regard to decisions ordering the return of the child, Article 11(3) does not specify that such decisions, which are to be given within six weeks, shall be enforceable within the same period. However, this is the only interpretation which would effectively guarantee the objective of ensuring the prompt return of the child within the strict time limit. (…) Member States should seek to ensure that a return order issued within the prescribed six-week time limit is “enforceable”.
Hence, it follows from the above that, in general, the procedure itself should be expeditious, and if the court hands down a return order, it should be enforceable within the six-week period… and successfully enforced.
Without going into details of the civil procedure in Poland concerning child abduction cases (which was meticulously described by J. Pawliczak, Reformed Polish court proceedings for the return of a child under the 1980 Hague Convention in the light of the Brussels IIb Regulation, JPIL 2021/3, available in open access), it might be indicated, as an example, that child abduction decisions might be subject to appeal and then, since 2018, to cassation appeal to the Supreme Court. The cassation appeal may be filed by designated authorities only, namely General Prosecutor, Commissioner for Children (Rzecznik Praw Dziecka) and Ombudsman (Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich) within 4 months period since the order became final (Article 5191 § 21 and § 22 Code of Civil Procedure). This period seems quite long as for the requirement of “expeditiousness”, especially when compared to the general one, applicable to all other cassation appeals, which is two months.
Additionally, in 2022 the Civil Procedure Code was amended to provide for the suspension for two months of the enforceability of the return order on the application of one of the above mentioned designated authorities filed within two weeks since the order become final (Article 388(1) § 1 and § 2 Code of Civil Procedure), and its automatic prolongation if the designated authority indeed filed later a cassation appeal (Article 388(1) § 3 Code of Civil Procedure). This suspension of enforceability was found incompatible with Brussels II bis Regulation in a recent judgement given by the Court of Justice of the EU in February 2022 in Rzecznik Praw Dziecka case (C‑638/22 PPU).
Enforcement in Poland of a Decision Given in the Country of the Child’s Habitual Residence
Pursuant to Article 11(8) Brussels II bis Regulation, even if a judgement of non-return was handed down in the country to which the child was abducted, any subsequent judgment which requires the return of the child issued by a court having jurisdiction under the regulation becomes enforceable in accordance with Section 4 of Chapter III. Article 42(1) Brussels II bis Regulation requires that such an enforceable judgment must be recognised and enforceable in another Member State without the need for a declaration of enforceability and without any possibility of opposing its recognition if the judgment has been certified in the Member State of origin in accordance with the regulation.
In Rinau case (C-195/08), the Court of Justice of the EU, underlined that:
an application for non‑recognition of a judicial decision is not permitted if a certificate has been issued pursuant to Article 42 of the Regulation. In such a situation, the decision which has been certified is enforceable and no opposition to its recognition is permitted.
In accordance with Article 598(14) § 1 Code of Civil Procedure, general rules on enforcement of foreign judgements are applicable to recognition and enforcement of a return order given in another EU Member State. These general rules provide, among others, that a decision on enforcement may be subject to appeal and then cassation appeal (this “particularity” of the procedure was already signaled on this blog in a previous post). It seems that the non-return order should be subject to special provisions allowing for the full effectiveness of Article 42(1) Brussels II bis Regulation.
The above shows that there are provisions in the Code of Civil Procedure which give rise to doubts as to their compatibility with Brussels II bis Regulation (and the new Brussels II ter Regulation equally). The question remains open whether and when Poland will be willing to address them.