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Home International Tribunals Archive for category "European Court of Justice"

Je Suis Achbita!

Published on February 19, 2018        Author: 
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Achbita, decided in March 2017 is not a run of the mill case. It raised what I think are hugely difficult conceptual legal issues. It also comes at a delicate moment in the social and political life of Europe, where the Court of Justice of the European Union is an important actor in shaping the climate and defining the moral identity in and of Europe. I do not believe the Preliminary Ruling of the ECJ comes even close to what one may expect from the supreme judicial voice of justice of our Union in a case of this nature.

The case concerned, as you will know, a Muslim woman whose employer insisted in the name of a neutrality policy of the Company that she may not wear the hijab (a head scarf) to work, and thus she lost her job. I think it is a fair reading of the ruling sent back to the referring Belgian Court that other than checking that the company, without overly burdening itself, could not find a place for Achbita in a back office which would not bring her into contact with the public, the Court had no major problems with the company’s policy compliance with the specific Directive bringing the case within the jurisdiction of European Law and the overriding human rights controlling norms such as the ECHR and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

I will present the case, for reasons which I will explain below, with a slightly different factual matrix.

Chaya Levi lives in Antwerp. She is part of the large Jewish Hassidic community in that town. She, like other members of that community, follows the strict norms of Orthodox Judaism. Some refer to them as Ultra-Orthodox. She works as a receptionist in a general services company which, inter alia, offers reception services to customers in the private and public sectors. As a receptionist she comes into contact with customers. No fault is found with her job performance. Chaya Levi falls in love and marries Moses Cohen of her community. Under Jewish law she now must wear a scarf covering her hair, not unlike the Islamic headscarf. In Antwerp this is an immediate tell-tale sign that she is an observant Jewess. Read the rest of this entry…

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Western Sahara before the CJEU

Published on January 11, 2018        Author: 
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Just a quick heads-up to our readers that yesterday Advocate General Wathelet of the Court of Justice of the EU delivered his opinion in Case C‑266/16, Western Sahara Campaign UK, The Queen v Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Secretary of State for  Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This is a very important opinion, dealing with numerous issues of international law, above all the principle of self-determination; the AG concluded that the Fisheries Agreement between Morocco and the EU was invalid because it was in violation of self-determination, as the Agreement applied to the territory and waters of Western Sahara. This is the first time that a request was made under the preliminary ruling procedure for a review of validity of international agreements concluded by the EU and their implementing acts. In that regard, the AG concluded that it was possible to rely in such proceedings on the rules of international law which are binding on the EU, where their content is unconditional and sufficiently precise and where their nature and broad logic do not preclude judicial review of the contested act. These conditions were in the AG’s view satisfied here. In addition to self-determination, the AG also examines the principle of permanent sovereignty over natural resources and the law of occupation, including the capacity of the occupying power to concluded treaties for the occupied territory.

The AG’s opinion is rich and rigorously argued – obviously it remains to be seen whether the Court will follow it. I would only add that the opinion and the case concern the validity of the Agreement from the perspective of the internal legal order of the EU, which then incorporates (other) rules of international law. But one could also look at the validity question purely from the perspective of general international law, and the rule set out in Art. 53 VCLT. In that regard, the necessary implication of the AG’s analysis seems to me to be that the Agreement was void ab initio and in toto as it conflicted with a peremptory norm of international law, the right to self-determination. For background on the UK litigation from which this case arose, see this post by David Hart QC on the UK Human Rights Blog. For analysis of the earlier Polisario litigation before EU courts, see here.

 

 

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Those Who Live in Glass Houses….

Published on November 8, 2017        Author: 
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The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Poland over measures affecting the judiciary a day after the publication in the Polish Official Journal of the Law on the Ordinary Courts Organization on 28 July 2017. Though the infringement procedure is formally distinct from the ongoing ‘Rule of Law Dialogue’ and the recommendations issued just a few days before commencement of such procedure, it comes under the latter’s penumbra; both form part and parcel of the Commission Press Release (IP-17-2205). If the concern was ‘The Rule of Law,’ at least in some respects there is more bang than buck. The President of Poland blocked the most controversial parts of the new judicial regime in Poland, so that the infringement procedure was left with just two violations.    

The first concerns a different retirement age for male and female judges. It is not clear if this distinction in the Polish law is by design or inertia but the infringement seems clear: what is sauce for Sabena (RIP) cabin attendant geese should be sauce for judicial ganders. But important as any form of gender discrimination is, this item in the Polish legislation does not directly concern the more troublesome aspects of political control over the judiciary and its independence. Should Poland not correct this anomaly, it should be an easy case for the Court.

The second item in the infringement procedure is far more serious. In the Letter of Formal Notice (the first stage in infringement procedures) the Commission raises concerns ‘…that by giving the Minister of Justice the discretionary power to prolong the mandate of judges who have reached retirement age, as well as dismiss and appoint Court Presidents, the independence of the Polish Courts will be undermined’ (id.), allegedly contravening a combination of Article 19(1) of the TEU and Article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – a legal basis which is creative but not specious.

If indeed the prolongation of the mandate of a judge reaching retirement age rests in the hands of a Minister, the government of which he or she is part and acts and/or legislation issuing from which might be subject to judicial scrutiny by said judge, it may well consciously or otherwise impact, for example, his or her conduct prior to retirement or, no less importantly, give the appearance of lack of independence. I think this is indeed a serious matter impinging on the independence and appearance of independence of the judiciary. It is one thing to have scrutiny and approval of judges by democratic bodies at the moment of appointment. But once appointed, the independence of the judge from political actors must be as absolute as possible, and this dependency described in the letter of intent clearly compromises such.

But there is an irony in this complaint; some might even think a ticking time bomb. At least on two occasions proposals were put to various Intergovernmental Conferences to amend the Treaties so that the appointment of Judges to the Court of Justice of the European Union should be for a fixed period of time – say nine years – as is undoubtedly the Best Practice in Europe among higher courts where appointments are not until the age of retirement. Ominously in my view, the proposals were rejected. So that now we live under a regime where the prolongation of Members of the Court(s) (Judges and Advocates General) rests in the hands of national politicians whose decisions and legislation may come before such judges. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Polisario case: Do EU fundamental rights matter for EU trade policies?

Published on February 3, 2017        Author: 
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On 10 December 2015, the General Court of the European Union (GC) rendered a judgment in the Council v. Front Polisario case that was revolutionary in many regards: not only did a national liberalization movement successfully challenge an EU trade agreement, the Court also considered the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) applicable to non-EU citizens on a non EU-territory and in the context of trade policies (see previously, Geraldo Vidigal in EJILTalk).

A month ago and a year later, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) quashed the decision of the GC and denied legal standing for the Front Polisario. However, the door for a role of EU fundamental rights as a benchmark for EU trade policies is not yet closed. To the contrary, the ECJ’s conclusions brought to the fore an ugly truth that shows that the extraterritorial effects of EU trade policies are in urgent need of closer scrutiny.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Trade Agreements, EU Law, and Occupied Territories (2): The General Court Judgment in Frente Polisario v Council and the Protection of Fundamental Rights Abroad

Published on December 11, 2015        Author: 
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This is a follow-up to my July post on Action for Annulment Frente Polisario v Council (Case T-512/12), a case before the General Court of the European Union (GC) in which Frente Polisario – the National Liberation Movement for Western Sahara – seeks the Annulment of the EU Council decision adopting the 2010 EU-Morocco Agreement on agricultural, processed agricultural and fisheries products. The GC delivered its judgment yesterday, both recognizing the standing of Frente Polisario and granting the (partial) annulment of the decision, with implications for EU-Morocco relations and for EU external relations law more broadly.

(1) Standing of Frente Polisario under Article 263 TFEU

As regards standing, the most striking aspect of the judgment is that the Court accepted the Frente’s entitlement to plead as a ‘moral person’, with the ‘necessary autonomy’ to challenge a decision of the EU legislator (paras. 50-53), without reference to the sui generis character of Frente Polisario or to the unique situation of Western Sahara. This would seem to open the door for other ‘autonomous entities’, even those with no claim to international legal personality, to challenge EU decisions under Article 263 TFEU.

By the same token, the Court fell short of recognizing the Frente’s legal personality under international law. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Ballad of Google Spain

Published on September 7, 2015        Author: 
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This poem was submitted for our Last Page, but given its wit and topicality I thought it should go on our First Page, namely in this Editorial. Kudos to Paul Bernal.

There was a case, called ‘Google Spain’
That caused us all no end of pain
Do we have a right to be forgotten?
Are Google’s profits a touch ill-gotten?

From over the pond came shouts of ‘Free Speech!’
So loud and so shrill they were almost a screech
From the ECJ came a bit of a gloat
‘We’ve got that Google by the throat!’

Said Google ‘If it’s games you play’
‘We’ll do that too, all night and day’
So they blocked and blocked, and told the press
‘It’s that evil court, we’re so distressed’

’Such censorship,’ they cried and cried
Though ‘twas themselves who did the deeds
They didn’t need to block the links
They were just engaging in hijinks

And many stood beside them proudly
Shouting ‘freedom’, oh so loudly
‘Google is our free-speech hero!’
‘We’ll fight with them, let’s be clear-oh!’

Others watched and raised their eyebrows
Listening wryly to these vows
And thought ‘is Google really pure?’
‘From what we’ve seen, we’re far less sure.’

For Google blocks all kinds of sites
‘Specially for those with copyright
And, you know, this isn’t funny,
When blocking things will make them money

This isn’t just about free speech
No matter how much Google preach
What matters here is really power
Is this truly Google’s hour?

Does Google have complete control
Or do the law courts have a role?
Time will tell – but on the way
Our privacy will have to pay…

Paul Bernal

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Trade Agreements, EU Law, and Occupied Territories – A Report on Polisario v Council

Published on July 1, 2015        Author: 
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Speaking of occupied territories, an interesting judgment should soon come from the General Court of the European Union (GC) in Action for Annulment Frente Polisario v Council (Case T-512/12), a case with fascinating international law aspects. I attended the hearing last week and think it warrants a report.

Frente Polisario is a national liberation movement (NLM) that claims sovereignty for Western Sahara – the area between Morocco and Mauritania that has been on the UN list of non-self-governing territories since 1963, and in 1975 was the subject of a fairly inconclusive ICJ Opinion. The Frente sees Morocco as an occupying power, and challenges the EU Council decision approving the 2010 EU-Morocco Agreement on agricultural, processed agricultural and fisheries products. Given that the 2010 Agreement is a development of the 2000 EU-Morocco Association Agreement, the decision will have significant implications for the application of the latter agreement, and may thwart negotiations of the so-called “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement”.

These agreements are all silent on the question of what constitutes Moroccan territory. However, Frente Polisario claims, de facto Morocco has been applying the 2000 Association Agreement to Western Sahara. If applied the same way, the 2010 Agreement will facilitate the export to the EU of agricultural products grown in Sahrawi land and fish caught in Sahrawi waters. If Morocco’s control of Western Sahara is illegitimate, this would violate the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination and to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources.

The case raises a number of interesting questions:

Standing of NLMs

Read the rest of this entry…

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The Territorial Reach of the EU’s “Right To Be Forgotten”: Think Locally, but Act Globally?

Published on August 14, 2014        Author: 
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Brendan Van Alsenoy is a legal researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Law & ICT (ICRI), KU Leuven – iMinds. Marieke Koekkoek is a research fellow at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies (GGS), KU Leuven.

800px-Google_SignIn May of this year, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decided that individuals can – under certain conditions – ask Google (photo credit) to stop referring to certain information about them. The CJEU’s recognition of this so-called “right to be forgotten” has kicked up quite a storm. Now that the dust is beginning to settle, it’s time to direct our attention to questions of practical implementation. One set of questions is about territorial reach. How far should the right to be forgotten extend, geographically speaking? Should Google, upon finding that an individual’s request is justified, modify its search results globally? Or should it only modify search results shown within the EU?

According to press reports, Google’s current approach is to limit its modification of results to the “European versions” of the search engine. Search results of people using google.com remain unaltered, while people using google.es or google.be may no longer be seeing the full picture. However, Google still allows its EU users to switch to the .com version, simply by clicking a button at the bottom of the page. EU users can also freely navigate to other country-specific versions of the search engine, whose search results may not be filtered in the same way. By not taking further measures to limit access to “forgotten” search results, it seems as if the search engine is needlessly provoking the wrath of European data protection authorities. So what should the search engine be doing?

Realistically speaking, only two approaches seem viable. The first option would be to “keep it local”, by filtering the search results for queries originating from EU territory – regardless of which country version of Google is being used. The second option would be to “go global”, which would involve modification of search results worldwide. (To be clear, either approach would only kick in once Google has decided to grant a specific request and would only affect results following a name search).

It is true that nothing in the CJEU ruling suggests that Google would be justified in limiting itself to specific websites, countries or regions. But, as even the Chairwoman of the Article 29 Working Party has acknowledged, the matter may not be so clear-cut. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Court of Justice of EU’s Judgment on the “Right to be Forgotten”: An International Perspective

Published on May 20, 2014        Author: 
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In its judgment published on 13 May in the case C-131/12 Google Spain AEPD and Mario Costeja Gonzalez, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), Grand Chamber, recognized a “right to be forgotten” with regard to Internet search engine results. Unfortunately, the judgment has important international implications that the Court did not sufficiently consider. In this post, I will put aside the issues of EU data protection law that the judgment raises, and focus instead on its implications for the rights of individuals to use the Internet as a global communications medium. It is important to note that application of the judgment extends beyond particular search engine providers to include any “provider of content which consists in finding information published or placed on the internet by third parties, indexing it automatically, storing it temporarily and, finally, making it available to internet users according to a particular order of preference” (paragraph 21), which could include Internet archives, social media, news crawler services, and many other types of online services.

The plaintiff in the case complained to the Spanish Data Protection Agency (DPA) against a Spanish newspaper and Google, stating that a Google search brought up a link to the newspaper containing irrelevant information about him, and requesting that the newspaper be required to remove or alter the pages and that Google be required to remove the data from the search results. The DPA found against Google, which then appealed to the Spanish Audiencia Nacional (National High Court). The Spanish court referred the case to the CJEU. On June 25, 2013, Advocate-General Jääskinen recommended that the Court find that it had jurisdiction over Google; that in its role as a search engine provider, Google was a data processor rather than a controller; and that the EU Data Protection Directive 95/46 does not contain a right to be forgotten that could entitle the plaintiff to have his data deleted from search engine results.

In its judgment, the Court differed in several important points from the Advocate-General’s opinion, and reached the following conclusions:

–Google’s branches in the EU are subject to the national data protection law of the EU member states where they are located, since they are “inextricably linked” to the activities of the Google headquarters in the US by virtue of Google Spain selling advertising space on the search engine provided by Google Inc, even if the actual processing is carried out in the US (paragraphs 42-60).

–Search engines are “data controllers” and as such are independently responsible for the personal data they retrieve, store, and display from websites (paragraphs 21-41).

–Under the Directive, there exists a limited right to have search engines delete material from search results (i.e., a “right to be forgotten”), regardless of whether the material indexed was posted legally or whether it is accurate (paragraphs 62-99). Read the rest of this entry…

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The ECJ and (Mis)interpretation of Security Council Resolutions: The Case of Sanctions Against Iran

Published on December 23, 2013        Author: 
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On 28 November 2013, the ECJ set aside the judgment of the General Court of the EU in case T‑509/10, Manufacturing Support & Procurement Kala Naft v Council, which had annulled, in so far as they concerned the applicant (an Iranian company owned by the National Iranian Oil Company), the various EU restrictive measures targeting persons and entities listed as being engaged in nuclear proliferation (including Council Decision 2010/413/CFSP). However, in my view, the ECJ was wrong in considering that the UNSC Resolution 1929 (2010) provided a basis for the challenged EU measures as the Court wrongly interpreted the SC resolution as enabling the European Council to conclude that trading in key equipment and technology for the gas and oil industry was ‘capable of being regarded as support for the nuclear activities of [Iran]’.

In its judgment, the ECJ, recalls that the effectiveness of judicial review requires that the Courts of the EU are to ensure that the decision challenged ‘is taken on a sufficiently solid factual basis’ (at para. 73), and observes that in order to assess the lawfulness of the General Court’s review of the measures, it shall examine ‘the way in which the General Court identified and interpreted the general rules of the relevant legislation’ (para. 74). The ECJ held that “there is nothing in the judgment under appeal to indicate that the General Court took into account the changes in European Union legislation after Security Council Resolution 1929 (2010) (para. 75, emphasis mine). Read the rest of this entry…

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