Key facts of the case:
(Recovery of a customs debt — Rights of the defence — Principle of respect for the rights of the defence — Direct effect)
Results (sanctions) and key consequences of the case:
88. In the light of the foregoing considerations, I propose that the Court give the following replies to the questions referred by the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden:
- The principle of respect for the rights of the defence by the authorities may be relied on directly by individuals before the national courts.
- (a) National legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which does not allow the addressee of a decision adversely affecting him to be heard by the authorities before the decision is taken, but which gives him the opportunity to be heard at a subsequent administrative stage, without that appeal entailing the automatic suspension of the adverse decision, is inconsistent with the principle of respect for citizens’ rights of the defence and, more specifically, the right to be heard.
(b) The conditions under which respect for the rights of the defence is to be ensured and the consequences of infringing that principle are governed by national law, provided that the rules adopted to that effect are the same as those to which individuals in comparable situations under national law are subject (principle of equivalence) and that they do not make it impossible in practice or excessively difficult to exercise the rights of defence conferred by the European Union legal order (principle of effectiveness).
- As the national court has the obligation to ensure that European Union law is given full effect, it may, when assessing the consequences of an infringement of the rights of the defence, in particular the right to be heard, take account of the fact that such an infringement results in the annulment of the decision taken at the end of the administrative proceedings in question only if, had it not been for such an irregularity, the outcome of the proceedings might have been different.