Having set the scene, it is time to delve straight into comment and opinion, drawing on relevant facts and law where required. Where possible, suggest ways in which events or decisions could have been improved and do not be afraid to say that commentators, judges or even powerful institutions, like the ECJ, got it wrong.
3.3. Conflict with Lis Pendens: Erich Gasser
Erich Gasser v MISAT concerned the validity of a choice-of-court agreement in favour of the Austrian courts where one party had first seised the Italian courts by way of negative declaration. Second seised, the Austrian Court sought a reference from the ECJ on, inter alia, whether it must stay its proceedings under lis pendens where the proceedings in the court first seised generally take an unreasonably long time, such that there may be a breach of Article 6.
Both the claimant and the intervening UK Government invoked the ECHR, arguing that Article 21 of the Brussels Convention should be interpreted in conformity with Article 6 ECHR to avoid excessively protracted proceedings, given that proceedings in Italy were likely to take an unreasonably long time. Through this interpretation, it was argued that Article 21 should not be applied if the court first seised had not determined its jurisdiction within a reasonable time.
In a very short response, the ECJ effectively said that the ECHR did not apply because first, it is not expressly mentioned in the Brussels Convention and second, there is no room for it in a collection of mandatory rules underpinned by mutual trust between Contracting States.
3.3.1. Delay in the Italian Court
However, it may be seen that the stay de facto risked at least a standard breach in the Italian court. The Italian courts have been held in breach of Article 6 a staggering number of times because of unreasonable slowness. The existence of these breaches amounted to a practice incompatible with the ECHR and produced the notoriety of the Italian legal system as “the land that time forgot.” Indeed, the practice of seising the Italian courts first by way of negative declaration has become known as instituting an “Italian torpedo,” which may succeed in delaying proceedings substantially even where the Italian courts have no jurisdiction.
It has already been noted that evidence is crucial in determining a real risk of a breach of Article 6. Instead, in Gasser, human rights arguments were based upon a general breach of the reasonable time requirement in Italian courts. Moreover, no ECtHR case law was relied upon when so arguing, nor was mention made of previous breaches. Therefore, a very weak argument, if any, was laid before the ECJ in respect of a risk of a breach. In effect, the ECJ was being asked something tantamount to whether there should be an exception to Article 21 in respect of certain Member States, a question justifiably answered in the negative. However, if the arguments had been more focussed, concentrating on the present case, with evidence to show the likelihood of breach in the Tribunale civile e penale di Roma, then the ECJ may have been more persuaded by Article 6 considerations, as Fawcett suggests.
Notwithstanding previous delays, efforts have been made to reduce the backlog of cases. This is somewhat owing to Article 13 ECHR, which requires Contracting States to provide persons with an effective national remedy for breach of a Convention right. Such domestic remedies assist in reducing further breaches and ultimately reduce the need for the indirect effect doctrine. Thus, the Italian “Pinto Act” was passed, providing a domestic legal remedy for excessive length-of-proceedings cases. The existence of this remedy may have gone towards justifying application of Article 21, which indeed was one of the questions referred to the ECJ by the Austrian Court, although unanswered.
3.3.2. A Clash of Treaties
Nevertheless, given that the ECJ so held that Article 6 considerations were irrelevant, there may be further legal implications, particularly for the Austrian Court which was required to stay its proceedings under the Brussels Convention. If this stay created or risked creating a flagrant breach of the reasonable time requirement in the Italian Court, Austria may itself have breached Article 6 indirectly.
Such an indirect breach is clearly not justifiable on the ground that Austria is party to the Brussels Convention or Regulation made under the European Treaties. Hence, the judgment may lead to a clash between the ECHR and Brussels Convention or Regulation. This in turn raises the questions of how and to what extent the Brussels Convention or Regulation could have been interpreted to give effect to Article 6.
Formerly Article 57 of the Brussels Convention, Article 71 of the Brussels Regulation provides inter alia that “(1) [t]his Regulation shall not affect any conventions to which the Member States are parties and which in relation to particular matters, govern jurisdiction or the recognition of judgments.” Although the ECHR is not prima facie a Convention governing jurisdiction, all Member States are party to it and Article 6 contains the inherent right of access to a court. Thus, as Briggs and Rees argue, this may have application where a court with jurisdiction is prevented from exercising that jurisdiction in a manner compatible with the ECHR.
Therefore, in Gasser Article 71 may have been applied to allow Austria to act in accordance with its obligations under the ECHR. This approach is complemented by Article 307 (ex 234) EC such that Article 21 or 27 of the Brussels Convention or Regulation respectively can be overridden by a Convention previously entered into, including the ECHR. Further, this conclusion is even more realistic in light of the jurisprudence of the ECJ, which is peppered with notions of protection for fundamental rights, and the express protection of these rights in Article 6(2) EC.
Instead of even contemplating such an outcome, the ECJ showed that it was prepared to ignore a significant international convention. Perhaps, in addition to mutual trust between Contracting States, mutual recognition of international conventions should have been considered, especially due to the express provisions permitting such consideration.
Those having a duration of over three years: Gasser (n28), at .
See Ferrari v Italy  ECHR 64, at .
Ferrari (n46), at ; Article 6 imposes on the Contracting States the duty to organise their judicial systems in such a way that their courts can meet the requirements of the provision (Salesi v Italy  ECHR 14, at .)
Briggs and Rees: 2005, Preface to the Fourth Edition, p.v.
Messier-Dowty v Sabena  1 WLR 2040.
Franzosi: 1997, p384.
Transporti Castelletti v Hugo Trumpy, C-159/97,  ECR I-1597.
Opinion of A.G. Léger in Gasser, at .
When Gasser came before the ECJ, there was already a delay in Italian proceedings of 3½ years in determining jurisdiction.
Fawcett: 2007, p15.
Kudla v Poland  ECHR 512.
Fawcett: 2007, p4.
Law no.89 of 24 March 2001.
However, even this has breached Article 6(1): Riccardo Pizzati v Italy  ECHR 275, at ; Mance suggests that the Act only partially solved if not repatriated the ECtHR’s overwhelming number of claims in this respect (Mance: 2004b, p357.) Notwithstanding, since 1999, there has been a trend of continuous breach, the ECtHR having adopted more than 1,000 judgments against Italy (Riccardo Pizzati, at .)
As Briggs and Rees note, the ECHR “might as well have been part of the law of Mars for all the impact it had.” (Briggs and Rees:2005, para.2.198.)
Soering (n14), at .
Matthews v United Kingdom  ECHR 12.
Hartley: 2005b, p821 n35; the most important example of a conflict of treaties: Hartley: 2001, p26.
Briggs and Rees: 2005, para.2.38.
An approach recognised by both Mance (Mance: 2004a, paras.6-7) and Hartley (Hartley: 2005a, p383.)
ERT v DEP C-260/89  ECR I-2925, at ; “Bosphorus Airways” v Ireland (2006) 42 EHRR 1,at ; particularly for Article 6: Philip Morris International Inc v Commission of the European Communities  ECR II-1, at .