How to write a first class dissertation: Chapter 4: New Topic

by WardBlawg on November 5, 2010

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The following is a different slant on the fundamental theme of the dissertation.


5.1. Recognition of Contracting State Judgments

An indirect breach of Article 6 may occur where a court recognises and thus enforces a judgment obtained in foreign proceedings contrary to the requirements of Article 6. Little challenge is presented where that judgment is obtained in a court of a State party to the ECHR; in such a case, recognition can be refused through Article 6 which is a facet of public policy under Article 27(1) of the Brussels Convention.

Notably, Article 34(1) of the Brussels Regulation provides that the recognition must be “manifestly” contrary to public policy, implying a higher threshold than in Article 27(1). The difference in wording is uncertain, but it is hoped that it will not be used to “sweep mere procedural defects under the rug.” Indeed, the importance of the right to a fair trial to the rule of law cannot be underestimated and thus it is arguable that any breach of Article 6 will be manifestly contrary to public policy. Notwithstanding, if the phrases “manifestly contrary to public policy” and a “flagrant breach of the ECHR” were to be compared, it may be just as arguable that a manifest breach of Article 6, not a standard one, is required for the operation of Article 34(1) of the Brussels Regulation. However, this may not be unwarranted in the context of judgments of Contracting States, as noted.

Through Krombach v Bamberski , the housing of Article 6 under public policy effectively creates a hierarchical system, whereby EC rules have precedence over human rights rules, particularly because of the ignorance of the indirect effect doctrine. However, this may not be wholly unwelcome in light of the potential existence of a common EC public policy, somewhat emanating from the harmonisation through the ECHR in 1950. Moreover, as Meidanis suggests, the ECJ appears to see the protection of human rights as the common core of the European public policy and is prepared to sacrifice the basic principle of the free movement of judgments of the Brussels Convention to ensure protection of human rights. Notwithstanding, as noted, in other contexts, the ECJ does not so respect human rights, particularly highlighted by its emphatic rejection of Article 6 in Gasser. Although the flexibility through the public policy exception does not extend to the rules relating to jurisdiction, there are other mechanisms for protecting human rights within the Brussels Convention and, especially, the Brussels Regulation.

5.2. Recognition of Non-Contracting State Judgments

More difficulty arises with recognition of a judgment obtained in a non-Contracting State.

5.2.1. European Court of Human Rights

Such recognition was permitted without reference to Article 6 in Drozd and Janousek. However, in Pellegrini v Italy, the ECtHR held that the Italian court could not recognise a judgment obtained in a Vatican City court in contravention of Article 6 standards. This was so despite a Concordat between Italy and the Vatican requiring such recognition. Pellegrini can be considerably demarcated from the Soering/Drozd line of cases, which requires a flagrant breach to have occurred in the non-Contracting State, the underpinning theory being the “reduced effect of public policy.” Instead, Pellegrini requires full compliance with Article 6 standards as if the foreign court were party to the ECHR, such that failure to review a judgment against which standards is a risky practice.

Notwithstanding, the actual breach of Article 6 standards in Pellegrini was flagrant, despite the court’s omission of this, and therefore the judgment may not represent such a large departure from Drozd. Moreover, the “reduced effect of public policy” approach of Drozd was followed eight days prior to Pellegrini in Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein v Germany. However, it is difficult to distinguish Hans-Adam II on its facts particularly given the sweeping reasoning in Pellegrini. Thus, as it stands, Pellegrini is the leading authority, prescribing the need for a review of foreign judgments against full Article 6 standards, ensuring full protection for the right to a fair trial. It is nevertheless hoped by some that the case will be revisited, perhaps with the preference of a variable standard.

Further, a dictum in Pellegrini may have the effect of requiring such review only where the judgment emanates from the courts of a State not party to the Convention. Hence, as Kinsch submits, an a contrario reading may be imputed, such that review of Article 6 standards is optional where the judgment emanates from a Contracting State. However, this may not be wholly unwelcome given that the Member States of the EU are party to the ECHR in addition to the Brussels Convention and Regulation, which seek to limit the power of public policy from preventing recognition of judgments.

5.2.2. House of Lords

In stark contrast to Pellegrini, the House of Lords in Montgomery required a “flagrant” breach in the United States, a non-Contracting State, for the judgment not to be recognised. Such a flagrant breach was not created in the United States and hence recognition of a judgment breaching regular Article 6 standards was permitted.

In its judgment, the House of Lords attempted to distinguish Pellegrini through the existence of the Concordat between Italy and the Vatican City, which required Italy to ensure that the Vatican court’s procedure complied with the fundamental principles of Italian legal system, one being Article 6. However, this is hard, if not impossible, to understand, particularly since it assumes that the Concordat of 1929, as amended, could incorporate ECHR standards, when the Vatican City deliberately refused to subscribe to the ECHR. Further, the ECtHR in Pellegrini did not suggest in its judgment that the relationship between Italy and the Vatican was material to its decision. Therefore, Montgomery is seen to be wrong in so distinguishing Pellegrini.

Briggs and Rees further suggest that the House of Lords applied the wrong test in Montgomery because of the analysis of deportation cases, such as Soering. In such a case, a prediction is required, whereas in Montgomery, or indeed in any case concerning recognition, there was no need for such a prediction as the foreign judgment could already be seen to have breached Article 6. However, Soering requires that the person “has suffered or risks suffering a flagrant denial of a fair trial (emphasis added.)” If he has already suffered a breach, there is no need for a prediction to be made; instead, the reason for the standard of flagrancy is based on the “reduced effect of public policy” theory, an approach followed in Drozd, as noted.

The reasoning of Briggs and Rees in this respect is akin to that of the Court of Appeal in Montgomery where Lord Woolf CJ stated that “the reference in [Soering at [113]] to a future flagrant breach of Article 6 was no more than a dicta which should not be applied to the enforcement of a court order of a non-Contracting State.” However, Drozd, which was not cited to, or considered by, the Court of Appeal, expressly requires such a flagrant breach of Article 6 if enforcement of a court order of a non-Contracting State is to be denied, which clearly has nothing to do with making predictions.

Instead, as Briggs and Rees indeed note, the reason why the House of Lords applied the wrong test in Montgomery is that Pellegrini, the leading ECtHR authority which overrides Drozd, was wrongly distinguished and therefore permitted recognition of a judgment in contravention of ECHR jurisprudence. It may be argued that this was not a case of human rights not being taken seriously, but was merely a case of wrongful interpretation of human rights law, yet this could only be accepted upon an assumption of the incompetence of the House of Lords.

5.3. Conclusions

The leading authority of the ECtHR on operation of the indirect effect doctrine with respect to recognising foreign judgments, Pellegrini demands a review of full compliance with Article 6 standards of foreign judgments, perhaps limited to those emanating from non-Contracting State courts. Through this, the right to a fair trial can be fully upheld in national courts and, in the UK, breach of Section 6 of the HRA 1998 can be avoided. Notwithstanding, the House of Lords effectively got human rights wrong, thus paving the way forward for reduced protection of Article 6 in the UK. However, this area is not devoid of hope; to effect compliance with this framework, Montgomery must be overturned, which does not appear too remote a possibility given the extensive criticism of the case.



Legal Blogger at WardBlawg
+Gavin Ward is the founder of WardBlawg, Director of YouBlawg Limited and Operations Director at Moore Legal Technology Limited, specialising in helping law firms, lawyers and businesses grow their businesses online and aiming to help get great legal content published and shared across the web. Gavin created this law blog or ‘blawg’ to aim to contribute useful updates, thoughts and advice to help law firms, businesses and the legal profession in the UK and across the world succeed both online and offline.

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