CJEU Case C-279/09 / Judgment

DEB Deutsche Energiehandels- und Beratungsgesellschaft mbH v Bundesrepublik Deutschland
Deciding body type
Court of Justice of the European Union
Deciding body
Court (Second Chamber)
Type
Decision
Decision date
22/12/2010
ECLI (European case law identifier)
ECLI:EU:C:2010:811
  • CJEU Case C-279/09 / Judgment
    Key facts of the case:
     
    Reference for a preliminary ruling: Kammergericht - Germany.
    Effective judicial protection of rights derived from European Union law - Right of access to a court - Legal aid - National legislation refusing legal aid to legal persons in the absence of ‘public interest’.
     
    Outcome of the case:

    On those grounds, the Court (Second Chamber) hereby rules:

    The principle of effective judicial protection, as enshrined in Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, must be interpreted as meaning that it is not impossible for legal persons to rely on that principle and that aid granted pursuant to that principle may cover, inter alia, dispensation from advance payment of the costs of proceedings and/or the assistance of a lawyer.

    In that connection, it is for the national court to ascertain whether the conditions for granting legal aid constitute a limitation on the right of access to the courts which undermines the very core of that right; whether they pursue a legitimate aim; and whether there is a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the legitimate aim which it is sought to achieve.

    In making that assessment, the national court must take into consideration the subject‑matter of the litigation; whether the applicant has a reasonable prospect of success; the importance of what is at stake for the applicant in the proceedings; the complexity of the relevant law and procedure; and the applicant’s capacity to represent himself effectively. In order to assess the proportionality, the national court may also take account of the amount of the costs of the proceedings in respect of which advance payment must be made and whether or not those costs might represent an insurmountable obstacle to access to the courts.

    With regard more specifically to legal persons, the national court may take account of their situation. The court may therefore take into consideration, inter alia, the form of the legal person in question and whether it is profit-making or non-profit-making; the financial capacity of the partners or shareholders; and the ability of those partners or shareholders to obtain the sums necessary to institute legal proceedings.

  • Paragraphs referring to EU Charter

    3) Recitals 5 and 11 in the preamble to Council Directive 2003/8/EC of 27 January 2003 to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid for such disputes (OJ 2003 L 26, p. 41, and corrigendum OJ 2003 L 32, p. 15), read as follows:

    ‘(5) This Directive seeks to promote the application of legal aid in cross-border disputes for persons who lack sufficient resources where aid is necessary to secure effective access to justice. The generally recognised right to access to justice is also reaffirmed by Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union [‘the Charter’].

    ...

    30) As regards fundamental rights, it is important, since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, to take account of the Charter, which has ‘the same legal value as the Treaties’ pursuant to the first subparagraph of Article 6(1) TEU. Article 51(1) of the Charter states that the provisions thereof are addressed to the Member States when they are implementing EU law.

    31) In that connection, the first paragraph of Article 47 of the Charter provides that everyone whose rights and freedoms guaranteed by EU law are violated has the right to an effective remedy before a tribunal in compliance with the conditions laid down in that article. Under the second paragraph of Article 47, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law. Everyone is to have the possibility of being advised, defended and represented. The third paragraph of Article 47 of the Charter provides specifically that legal aid is to be made available to those who lack sufficient resources in so far as such aid is necessary to ensure effective access to justice.

    32) According to the explanations relating to that article, which, in accordance with the third subparagraph of Article 6(1) TEU and Article 52(7) of the Charter, have to be taken into consideration for the interpretation of the Charter, the second paragraph of Article 47 of the Charter corresponds to Article 6(1) of the ECHR.

    33) In the light of the above, it is necessary to recast the question referred so that it relates to the interpretation of the principle of effective judicial protection as enshrined in Article 47 of the Charter, in order to ascertain whether, in the context of a procedure for pursuing a claim seeking to establish State liability under EU law, that provision precludes a national rule under which the pursuit of a claim before the courts is subject to the making of an advance payment in respect of costs and under which a legal person does not qualify for legal aid even though it is unable to make that advance payment.

    ...

    35) As regards the Charter, Article 52(3) thereof states that, in so far as the Charter contains rights which correspond to those guaranteed by the ECHR, their meaning and scope are to be the same as those laid down by the ECHR. According to the explanation of that provision, the meaning and the scope of the guaranteed rights are to be determined not only by reference to the text of the ECHR, but also, inter alia, by reference to the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. The second sentence of Article 52(3) of the Charter provides that the first sentence of Article 52(3) is not to preclude the grant of wider protection by EU law (see, to that effect, Case C-400/10 PPU McB [2010] ECR I-0000, paragraph 53).

    36) As regards in particular Article 47(3) of the Charter, the last paragraph of the Explanation relating to Article 47 mentions the judgment in Airey v. Ireland of 9 October 1979 (Eur. Court H.R., Series A, No 32, p. 11), according to which provision should be made for legal aid where the absence of such aid would make it impossible to ensure an effective remedy. No indication is given as to whether such aid must be granted to a legal person or of the nature of the costs covered by that aid.

    ...

    38) As the Commission of the European Communities observed in its written submissions, the word ‘person’ used in the first two paragraphs of Article 47 of the Charter may cover individuals, but, from a purely linguistic point of view, it does not exclude legal persons.

    39) It should be noted in that connection that, although the explanations relating to the Charter do not provide any clarification in this regard, the use of the word ‘Person’, in the German language version of Article 47, as opposed to the word ‘Mensch’, which is used in numerous other provisions – for example, in Articles 1, 2, 3, 6, 29, 34 and 35 of the Charter – may be an indication that legal persons are not excluded from the scope of that article.

    40) Moreover, the right to an effective remedy before a court, enshrined in Article 47 of the Charter, is to be found under Title VI of that Charter, relating to justice, in which other procedural principles are established which apply to both natural and legal persons.

    41) The fact that the right to receive legal aid is not to be found in Title IV of the Charter, relating to solidarity, indicates that that right is not conceived primarily as social assistance, whereas in German law it does appear to be conceived as such, a factor on which the German Government has relied in support of its argument that that assistance must be reserved to natural persons.

    42) Similarly, the inclusion of the provision relating to the grant of legal aid in the article of the Charter relating to the right to an effective remedy indicates that the assessment of the need to grant that aid must be made on the basis of the right of the actual person whose rights and freedoms as guaranteed by EU law have been violated, rather than on the basis of the public interest of society, even if that interest may be one of the criteria for assessing the need for the aid.

    ...

    59)In the light of all of the foregoing, the answer to the question referred must be that the principle of effective judicial protection, as enshrined in Article 47 of the Charter, must be interpreted as meaning that it is not impossible for legal persons to rely on that principle and that aid granted pursuant to that principle may cover, inter alia, dispensation from advance payment of the costs of proceedings and/or the assistance of a lawyer.

    ...

    63) Since these proceedings are, for the parties to the main proceedings, a step in the action pending before the referring court, the decision on costs is a matter for that court. Costs incurred in submitting observations to the Court, other than the costs of those parties, are not recoverable.

    On those grounds, the Court (Second Chamber) hereby rules:

    The principle of effective judicial protection, as enshrined in Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, must be interpreted as meaning that it is not impossible for legal persons to rely on that principle and that aid granted pursuant to that principle may cover, inter alia, dispensation from advance payment of the costs of proceedings and/or the assistance of a lawyer.

    In that connection, it is for the national court to ascertain whether the conditions for granting legal aid constitute a limitation on the right of access to the courts which undermines the very core of that right; whether they pursue a legitimate aim; and whether there is a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the legitimate aim which it is sought to achieve.

    In making that assessment, the national court must take into consideration the subject‑matter of the litigation; whether the applicant has a reasonable prospect of success; the importance of what is at stake for the applicant in the proceedings; the complexity of the relevant law and procedure; and the applicant’s capacity to represent himself effectively. In order to assess the proportionality, the national court may also take account of the amount of the costs of the proceedings in respect of which advance payment must be made and whether or not those costs might represent an insurmountable obstacle to access to the courts.

    With regard more specifically to legal persons, the national court may take account of their situation. The court may therefore take into consideration, inter alia, the form of the legal person in question and whether it is profit-making or non-profit-making; the financial capacity of the partners or shareholders; and the ability of those partners or shareholders to obtain the sums necessary to institute legal proceedings.