CJEU - Joined cases C 411/10 and C 493/10 / Judgment N.S. v Secretary of State for the Home Department M.E. et al. v Refugee applications Commissioner et al.

Key facts of the case:
 
Several third country nationals applied for asylum in UK or Ireland, respectively. Each of them having entered first EU territory in Greece, according to the Dublin II Regulation, had to be sent back to Greece as the responsible Member State. However, the courts seized by the applicants decided to refer to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
 
Results (sanctions) and key consequences of the case:
 
The court ruled that the decision adopted by a Member State to examine an asylum application for which it is not responsible according to the criteria laid down in the Council Regulation (EC) No 343/2003, implements European Union law for the purposes of Article 6 TEU and/or Article 51 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Furthermore, the court affirmed that European Union law precludes the application of a conclusive presumption that the Member State which the Regulation No 343/2003 indicates as responsible observes the fundamental rights of the European Union. Article 4 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union must be interpreted as meaning that the Member States, including the national courts, may not transfer an asylum seeker to the ‘Member State responsible’ within the meaning of Regulation No 343/2003 where they cannot be unaware that systemic deficiencies in the asylum procedure and in the reception conditions of asylum seekers in that Member State amount to substantial grounds for believing that the asylum seeker would face a real risk of being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment within the meaning of that provision.The Member State which should carry out that transfer must examine the criteria set out in order to establish whether one of the criteria enshrined in the Regulation enables another Member State to be identified as responsible for the examination of the asylum application. The Member State in which the asylum seeker is present must ensure that it does not worsen a situation where the fundamental rights of that applicant have been infringed by using a procedure for determining the Member State responsible which takes an unreasonable length of time. If necessary, the first mentioned Member State must itself examine the application in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 3(2) of Regulation No 343/2003.
Paragraphs referring to EU Charter: 

 

55. By its first question in Case C‑411/10, the Court of Appeal (England & Wales) (Civil Division) asks, in essence, whether the decision adopted by a Member State on the basis of Article 3(2) of Regulation No 343/2003 to examine a claim for asylum which is not its responsibility under the criteria set out in Chapter III of that regulation falls within the scope of European Union law for the purposes of Article 6 TEU and/or Article 51 of the Charter.

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62. The United Kingdom emphasises that a sovereignty clause is not a derogation within the meaning of Case C-260/89 ERT [1991] ECR I‑2925, paragraph 43. It also points out that the fact that the exercise of that clause does not implement European Union law does not mean that Member States are disregarding fundamental rights, since they are bound by the Geneva Convention and the ECHR. The Belgian Government, however, submits that carrying out the decision to transfer the asylum seeker implements Regulation No 343/2003 and therefore falls within the scope of Article 6 TEU and the Charter.

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64. Article 51(1) of the Charter states that the provisions thereof are addressed to the Member States only when they are implementing European Union law.

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68. Those factors reinforce the interpretation according to which the discretionary power conferred on the Member States by Article 3(2) of Regulation No 343/2003 forms part of the mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for an asylum application provided for under that regulation and, therefore, merely an element of the Common European Asylum System. Thus, a Member State which exercises that discretionary power must be considered as implementing European Union law within the meaning of Article 51(1) of the Charter.

​69. The answer to the first question in Case C-411/10 is therefore that the decision by a Member State on the basis of Article 3(2) of Regulation No 343/2003 whether to examine an asylum application which is not its responsibility according to the criteria laid down in Chapter III of that Regulation, implements European Union law for the purposes of Article 6 TEU and/or Article 51 of the Charter.

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73. Finally, by its sixth question in Case C‑411/10, the Court of Appeal (England & Wales) (Civil Division) asks, in essence, whether a provision of national law which requires a court, for the purpose of determining whether a person may lawfully be removed to another Member State pursuant to Regulation No 343/2003, to treat that Member State as a ‘safe country’ is compatible with the rights set out in Article 47 of the Charter.

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75. The Common European Asylum System is based on the full and inclusive application of the Geneva Convention and the guarantee that nobody will be sent back to a place where they again risk being persecuted. Article 18 of the Charter and Article 78 TFEU provide that the rules of the Geneva Convention and the 1967 Protocol are to be respected (see Joined Cases C-175/08, C‑176/08, C‑178/08 and C‑179/08 Salahadin Abdulla and Others [2010] ECR I‑1493, paragraph 53, and Case C‑31/09 Bolbol [2010] ECR I-5539, paragraph 38).

76. As stated in paragraph 15 above, the various regulations and directives relevant to in the cases in the main proceedings provide that they comply with the fundamental rights and principles recognised by the Charter.

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86. By contrast, if there are substantial grounds for believing that there are systemic flaws in the asylum procedure and reception conditions for asylum applicants in the Member State responsible, resulting in inhuman or degrading treatment, within the meaning of Article 4 of the Charter, of asylum seekers transferred to the territory of that Member State, the transfer would be incompatible with that provision.

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94. It follows from the foregoing that in situations such as that at issue in the cases in the main proceedings, to ensure compliance by the European Union and its Member States with their obligations concerning the protection of the fundamental rights of asylum seekers, the Member States, including the national courts, may not transfer an asylum seeker to the ‘Member State responsible’ within the meaning of Regulation No 343/2003 where they cannot be unaware that systemic deficiencies in the asylum procedure and in the reception conditions of asylum seekers in that Member State amount to substantial grounds for believing that the asylum seeker would face a real risk of being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 4 of the Charter.

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106. Article 4 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union must be interpreted as meaning that the Member States, including the national courts, may not transfer an asylum seeker to the ‘Member State responsible’ within the meaning of Regulation No 343/2003 where they cannot be unaware that systemic deficiencies in the asylum procedure and in the reception conditions of asylum seekers in that Member State amount to substantial grounds for believing that the asylum seeker would face a real risk of being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment within the meaning of that provision.

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109. By its fifth question in Case C‑411/10, the Court of Appeal (England & Wales) (Civil Division) asks, in essence, whether the extent of the protection conferred on a person to whom Regulation No 343/2003 applies by the general principles of EU law, and, in particular, the rights set out in Articles 1, concerning human dignity, 18, concerning the right to asylum, and 47, concerning the right to an effective remedy, of the Charter, is wider than the protection conferred by Article 3 of the ECHR.

110. According to the Commission, the answer to that question must make it possible to identify the provisions of the Charter the infringement of which by the Member State responsible would result in the secondary responsibility of the Member State which has to decide on the transfer.

111. Even if the Court of Appeal (England & Wales) (Civil Division) did not expressly provide reasons, in the order for reference, why it required an answer to the question in order to give judgment, a reading of that decision in fact suggests that that question can be accounted for by the decision of 2 December 2008 in K.R.S. v. United Kingdom, not yet published in the Reports of Judgments and Decisions, in which the European Court of Human Rights held inadmissible an application claiming that Article 3 and 13 of the ECHR would be infringed were the applicant to be transferred by the United Kingdom to Greece. Before the Court of Appeal (England & Wales) (Civil Division), a number of parties claimed that the protection of fundamental rights stemming from the Charter is wider than that conferred by the ECHR and that, taking the Charter into account, their request not to transfer the applicant in the main proceedings to Greece would have to be granted.

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113. As follows from paragraph 106 above, a Member State would infringe Article 4 of the Charter if it transferred an asylum seeker to the Member State responsible within the meaning of Regulation No 343/2003 in the circumstances described in paragraph 94 of the present judgment.

114. Articles 1, 18 and 47 of the Charter do not lead to a different answer than that given to the second to fourth questions and to the sixth question in Case C‑411/10 and to the two questions in Case C‑493/10.

115. Consequently, the answer to the fifth question in Case C‑411/10 is that Articles 1, 18 and 47 of the Charter do not lead to a different answer than that given to the second to fourth questions and to the sixth question in Case C‑411/10 and to the two questions in Case C‑493/10.

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117. As noted by the EHRC, that question arises because of the position taken by the Secretary of State before the High Court of Justice (England & Wales) (Administrative Court) that the provisions of the Charter do not apply in the United Kingdom.

118. Even if the Secretary of State no longer maintained that position before the Court of Appeal (England & Wales) (Civil Division), it must be noted that Protocol (No 30) provides, in Article 1(1), that the Charter is not to extend the ability of the Court of Justice or any court or tribunal of Poland or of the United Kingdom, to find that the laws, regulations administrative provisions, practices or action of Poland or of the United Kingdom are inconsistent with the fundamental rights, freedoms and principles that it affirms.

119. According to the wording of that provision, as noted by the Advocate General in points 169 and 170 of her Opinion in Case C-411/10, Protocol (No 30) does not call into question the applicability of the Charter in the United Kingdom or in Poland, a position which is confirmed by the recitals in the preamble to that protocol. Thus, according to the third recital in the preamble to Protocol (No 30), Article 6 TEU requires the Charter to be applied and interpreted by the courts of Poland and of the United Kingdom strictly in accordance with the explanations referred to in that article. In addition, according to the sixth recital in the preamble to that protocol, the Charter reaffirms the rights, freedoms and principles recognised in the Union and makes those rights more visible, but does not create new rights or principles.

120. In those circumstances, Article 1(1) of Protocol (No 30) explains Article 51 of the Charter with regard to the scope thereof and does not intend to exempt the Republic of Poland or the United Kingdom from the obligation to comply with the provisions of the Charter or to prevent a court of one of those Member States from ensuring compliance with those provisions.

121. Since the rights referred to in the cases in the main proceedings do not form part of Title IV of the Charter, there is no need to rule on the interpretation of Article 1(2) of Protocol (No 30).