Key facts of the case:
Framework Decision 2005/214/JHA (2) (‘the Framework Decision’) extends the application of the principle of mutual recognition to financial penalties. It requires a Member State to give effect to a decision of another Member State to impose a financial penalty if that decision was made, inter alia, by an authority, other than a court, provided that the person concerned has had ‘an opportunity to have the case tried by a court having jurisdiction in particular in criminal matters’. By this request for a preliminary ruling, the Court is asked how that expression must be interpreted. Answering that question will require the Court to strike the appropriate balance between mutual recognition and enforcement of such penalties and the effective protection of fundamental rights.
Results (sanctions) and key consequences of the case:
In the light of all of the above, I suggest that in answer to the questions referred by the Vrchní soud v Praze (High Court, Prague) the Court should interpret Council Framework Decision 2005/214/JHA of 24 February 2005 on the application of the principle of mutual recognition to financial penalties as follows:
- The term ‘court having jurisdiction in particular in criminal matters’ in Article 1(a)(iii) of the Framework Decision is an autonomous concept of European Union law.
(a) Article 1(a)(iii) of the Framework Decision must be interpreted as meaning that a ‘court having jurisdiction in particular in criminal matters’ is a court before which the person concerned will benefit from the rights guaranteed by Article 6(1), (2) and (3) of the European Convention on Human Rights when the case is tried.
(b) It is for the competent authority in the executing State to determine whether an Austrian independent administrative tribunal (Unabhängiger Verwaltungssenat) is to be regarded as a ‘court having jurisdiction in particular in criminal matters’ within the meaning of Article 1(a)(iii) of the Framework Decision.
- There is an ‘opportunity to have the case tried’ where the person concerned must first exhaust an administrative procedure, provided that access to the court is not subject to conditions which make it impossible or excessively difficult. The court hearing the case must have full jurisdiction to determine facts as well as law. Article 1(a)(iii) of the Framework Decision does not preclude a financial penalty decision taken by an administrative authority from becoming final prior to the trial of the case.