Category Archives: EU Law

Towards a Tort of Political Negligence: Political Deceit, Political Misrepresentation and the Brexit Conundrum

Dr Hamiisi J Nsubuga

PhD (Law), LLM, PGDL, LLB. 

Lecturer in Law, Law School, Middlesex University London, UK.

 

Introduction

The tort of negligence can be defined as negligentlyor carelessly causing damage or injury to someone, who may in turn hold the perpetrator liable for such injury or damage. In 1932, the historical case of Donoghue v Stevenson[1]marked the birth of the modern tort of negligence. In this case, the House of Lords (HL) had identified that the doctrine of privity[2]in contract lawprevented Mrs Donoghue from initiating a claim against the defendant in contract, hence, the formulation of the neighbour test (discussed below) and the tort of negligence.

 

To initiate a claim for negligence, the claimant must satisfy the test that was established in Donoghue namely:

 

  1. Defendant owed victim a Duty of care
  2. Defendant breached that Duty of Care
  3. Causation – the defendant’s breach of duty of care in factor legally, caused the claimant’s damage or harm.

 

The HL established in Donoghue that some professionals or classes of peoples owe a duty of care to other people who are proximate to them or their services. For example, medical professionals owe a duty of care to their patients,[3]employers owe a duty of care to their employees, [4]manufacturers owe a duty of care to customers / consumers,[5]as well as occupiers to patrons[6]among others. This begs the question, do politicians owe a duty of care to voters or electorates?

 

This post discusses the current political debate born out of Brexit and the plethora of discontent voiced by voters.[7]It will conclude by calling for the introduction of the tort of political negligence such that politicians, like other professionals can be held liable in tort of negligence for bad faith misstatements, misrepresentation of facts or political lies they make during political campaigns that influence voters to vote in favour of their political ambitions.

 

Do Politicians Owe a Duty of Care to Voters (Society at Large)?

 

One may argue that politicians do not owe a duty of care to voters, as there’s no valid established duty of care arising out of either case law or statute. However, in Caparo v Dickman,[8]the HL established a 3 Part test that must be satisfied if a duty of care is to be established.

 

  1. Reasonable foreseeability of the damage / harm.
  2. Proximity.
  3. Fair, just & equitable to impose liability.

 

In light of the above test, three questions need answering in order to support a claim for the introduction of the tort of political negligence. In order to inform context, the “three – part test” established Caparo is applied to the ‘Brexit’ conundrum as a case study below:

 

The Brexit Conundrum: The “three – part test”

 

  1. Was it reasonably foreseeable that the statements (factual / false) from the leave campaigners would influence the voters during the Brexit campaign to vote in their favour?
  2. How close / proximate i.e., (in terms of trust / influence) were the voters and the leave campaigners?
  3. Would it be fair, just and equitable to hold the leave campaigners liable for negligently misleading / influencing the voters?

 

Reasonable Foreseeability of the Harm arising out of Negligent Statements

 

The reasonable foreseeability element(also known as the ‘neighbour’ principle’) in the tort of negligence relates to the rule that ‘you must not injure your neighbour’. But who then, in law, is my neighbour? ‘Persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts and omissions which are called in question’.[9]This entails ensuring that you maintain the standard of care expected of you as a ‘reasonable person’.

 

It should be noted that the standard of care in negligence cases is objective; that is, the reasonable man test first formulated in Blyth v Proprietors of the Birmingham Waterworks.[10]Therefore, the court may consider several factors, such as the magnitude of the risk or likelihood of harm.[11]On this note, the question that follows on is that: Did the leave campaigners fall below the standard of care expected of them towards their voters through false / nonfactual statements?

 

Since the referendum results were announced, followed by the triggering of Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union by the Prime Minister that officially commenced the withdrawal proceedings of the UK from the EU, several concerns via political platforms, whistleblowing platforms,[12]among other platforms have been voiced. These relate especially to the authenticity of the literature, funding sources, advertisements and campaign manifesto used by leave campaigners.

Among those concerns was the fact that the Leave Campaigners relied more on the amount of money (i.e., £350 Million sent to Brussels on a weekly basis by the UK Government), yet actual figures were not authenticated in any certified reports.[13]From the above concerns, reasonable foreseeability of harm in the tort of negligence may be inferred. Arguably, the Leave Campaigners ought to have contemplated that false, nonfactual and uncertified statements in their campaign adverts, may be relied upon by some voters to in favour of their political opinions.

 

Proximity – Closeness between Politicians and Voters: (Trust and Influence)

 

Negligent misrepresentation is a type of misrepresentation at common law that if proven amounts to the tort of deceit. In Derry v Peek,[14]Lord Herschell established that:

 

‘Fraud is proved when it is shown that a false representation has been made (i) knowingly, or (ii) without belief in its truth or (iii) recklessly, whether it be true or false.’

 

Moreover, unreasonableness provides evidence of dishonesty on the part of the maker of the false statement. In Polhill v Walter,[15]the representor knew that his statement was false but his motive in making the false statement was to benefit his principal not himself; yet, despite his intentions, he was liable in the tort of deceit.

 

In Hedley Byrne v Heller,[16]the House of Lords widened the scope of liability for negligent misrepresentation. One of the approaches to analysing this wider scope is via the concept of a ‘special relationship’ between the claimant and the defendant, which has been argued, to be the key to Hedley Byrne. This ‘special relationship’ is premised on the notion of voluntary assumption of responsibility by the defendant and foreseeable detrimental reliance by the claimant.

 

It may be argued that from this formulation in Hedley Byrne, politicians assume voluntary assumption of responsibility when they take political offices. Consequently, they are expected to discharge their duties of representing the electorates at different levels of political spectrum with honesty and fairness. This is a form of fiduciary relationship, which in turn creates an implied duty of care arising out of the ‘special relationship’ which ought to be maintained by not falling below the standard of care expected of them.

 

Due to proximity between politicians and voters, issues of trust and influence are key to persuading the electors to vote in a certain way or the other. Therefore, it may be argued that leave campaigners’ relationship (closeness) to their voters may have influenced the voters due to trust and influence underpinnings yet based on negligent, non factual statements.

 

 

 

Would it be fair, just and equitable to Impose Liability for Political negligence?

 

The role of liability in tort is either deterrent or punishment. Where liability is imposed, the main remedy is damages. However, injunctions are also remedies in tort. The argument is therefore, that where the court is satisfied that liability should be imposed for tort of political negligence / deceit, either prohibitory injunctions or mandatory injunction may be granted to the victims. Prohibitory injunctions would prevent politicians from continuing the course of their conduct of falsely misleading voters. Mandatory injunctions would require politicians to rectify the situation (perhaps by telling the voters that they were misled during campaigns). This may arguably bring fairness and justice to the voters whose decisions to vote in one way or the other were influenced by political misrepresentation of facts or misstatements.

 

Policy Considerations – Potential Floodgates Argument

 

Sometimes courts are concerned with opening the floodgates of litigation. They are reluctant to impose liability where doing so might encourage large numbers of claims on the same issue. This would ‘flood’ the courts, possibly to such an extent that the courts could not cope. In Ultramares Corporation v Touche, Niven & Co,[17]the court was of the view that “the law should avoid imposing ‘crushing liability’: …liability in an indeterminate amount for an indeterminate time to an indeterminate class.”From this point of view, it may be a concern that if courts were to impose liability in tort for political negligence / deceit, numerous claims from voters may be initiated, especially in the aftermath of Brexit.

 

Of course making it too easy to sue may make us a litigious society. However, as per the opinion in Smolden v Withworth and Nolan,[18]the benefits of imposing a duty of care for future conduct might lead to people being more careful in the future. The floodgate argument is the least morally justifiable argument under judicial policy consideration as sometimes, it constricts fundamental underpinnings of justice and fairness. Therefore, to avoid future political conundra such as Brexit, we should consider the introduction of the tort of political deceit / negligence via common law and statute to regulate politicians in our societies as they are key to the direction of societal governance and other social welfare imperatives.

[1]Donoghue v Stevenson[1932] UKHL 100.

[2]The doctrine of privity of contract is a common law principle which provides that a contract cannot confer rights or impose obligations upon any person who is not a party to the contract.

[3]Montgomery v Lanarkshire NHS Board[2015] UKSC 11.

[4]Wilsons & Clyde Coal Co v English[1938] AC 57.

[5]Grant v Australian Knitting Mills[1936] AC 85.

[6]Glasgow Corp v Muir[1943] AC 448.

[7]For example, T. Sampson, ‘Brexit: The Economics of International Disintegration’ (2017) 31(4) Journal of Economic Perspectives, 163 – 184.

[8]Caparo v Dickman[1990] UKHL 2.

[9]Per Lord Atkin in Donoghue v Stevenson[1932] UKHL 100 at [580].

[10]Blyth v Proprietors of the Birmingham Waterworks(1856) 11 Exch 781.

[11]This test was applied in the cases of Bolton v Stone[1951] AC 850 HL and Miller v Jackson[1977] QB 966 (CA).

[12]See, for example,John Lichfield, “Boris Johnson’s £350m claim is devious and bogus” The Guardian, 18 September 2017 at  <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/18/boris-johnson-350-million-claim-bogus-foreign-secretary> (accessed December 2018).

[13]Ibid.

[14]Derry v Peek [1889] 14 App Cas 337.

[15]Polhill v Walter [1832] 3 B & Ad 114.

[16]Hedley Byrne v Heller [1964] AC 465.

[17]Ultramares Corporation v Touche, Niven & Co, 159 F2d 169 (2 CiR 1947.

[18]Smolden v Withworth and Nolan[1997] PIQR PL133.political negligence

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The State of the Union 2018 and Migration: a far-sighted Europe deserves more courage

Introduction

On the 12th of September 2018 the President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean Claude Juncker, pronounced the State of the Union Address of 2018 before the plenary session of the European Parliament. The State of the Union’s speech prepares the ground for the debate which will involve the highest EU Institutions the year ahead. It normally includes a report on the Union’s activities of the past year, as well as a letter of intent for the forthcoming one with the aim of underlining the priorities of the Union. While migration was included in the agenda, one might have expected a more far-sighted approach from the EU institutions. This post aims to see how the current -still improvable- EU policy on migration, as emerged from the 2018 State of the Union Address and its attachments, could act as a useful starting point for a more ambitious project in the future.

The 2018 Address: the responsibility of solidarity

‘We cannot continue to squabble to find ad hoc solutions each time a new ship arrives. Temporary solidarity is not good enough. We need lasting solidarity – today and forever more’.

‘Responsibility’ and ‘solidarity’ were two of the most frequent concepts the President Juncker made reference to in his speech. The first mention of the perpetual responsibility of the European Union comes at the very beginning of the speech together with a reference to the EU’s well-known role as the guardian of peace. As for solidarity, the President reminds how the EU operations have rescued more than half a million of people at sea since 2015, The Address brings to light several ambitious proposals linked to the main criticalities of the EU’s migration policy at the moment: the improvement of equipment and means for the European Border and Coast Guard; the reinforcement of the European Agency for Asylum; a more effective European return policy; the improvement towards more effective legal migration policy through the opening of legal pathways ( based on humanitarian reasons as well as on labor market needs) to the Union.

All of these tasks are planned according to the updated version of the project for a Common European Asylum System, which includes a stronger protection of the European external borders and a sharper distinction in terms of status between irregular and legal migrants among the EU priorities. In all fairness, the reinforcement of the European Agency for Asylum should also serve the scope of making the support of the EU to Member States more effective in order to comply with the international protection principles. At the same time, however, strengthening the European Border and Coast Guard would probably mean for the EU to stay focused on a short-term ‘border defence’ purpose rather than on a long-term management and regulation of third nationals’ inflows. On the one hand, the improvement of a EU Border and Coast Guard might lead eventually to reconsider the broad responsibility which the EU has partially discharged through the externalization of the migration management at its external borders counting on its neighbours, such as Turkey and Libya; on the other, however, the priority accorded to such a defensive objective makes extremely clear which direction has been chosen by the EU for the benefit of a certain idea of sovereignty. Besides any possible uncertainty, it is worth to bear in mind that a number of European Mediterranean countries at the border of the EU, particularly affected by the Balkan and the Central Mediterranean Route, have managed a huge humanitarian crisis since 2011 and, because of the lack of resources and obsolete EU and domestic legislation, they have faced it through all but a far-sighted approach. This has resulted in the implementation of many emergency measures within the EU, instead of a long-term and perspectival reform for a fair and common migration management.

The reform of the 2008 Return Directive: from a liberal approach to more restrictive definitions

In 2008 the EU States agreed upon several common rules for the return and the removal of irregularly staying migrants which have been transposed in the Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and the Council (hereinafter the ‘Return Directive’). Nowadays the enforcement of an amended European return policy should be considered the most significant point among the proposals announced by the EU Commission (or the Commission) on the occasion of the State of the Union: it resulted in the presentation of a Proposal for the reform of the Return Directive).

The Proposal, contrary to the more liberal case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union on the 2008 Return Directive, [1] embraces the more restrictive current approach of the Commission.[2] In the Explanatory Memorandum attached to the Proposal, the Commission underlines that an update of the EU return policy is needed due to the increasing migratory pressure on the Member States and the Union. In the past few years, Member States have indeed struggled in implementing the EU framework. They also have faced numerous difficulties in managing return procedures and complying with return decisions against irregular migrants allegedly because of their lack of cooperation in doing so.

The most delicate issues of the EU return policy deal with the relationship between the rules on detention (Article 15 of the 2008 Return Directive) and the functional definition of the “risk of absconding” (Article 6 of the Proposal), which is a condition to apply detention. The definition of the ‘risk of absconding’ has been set through the not exhaustive list of objective criteria provided by the Proposal: this parameter shall be used in the overall assessment of the specific individual case in migration-related procedure (administrative or criminal) in order to evaluate the need of preventing secondary movements of an individual within the EU. The list of criteria refers, in some cases, to extremely broad issues (such as the a risk for public security or national security), and in others to grounds that might potentially correspond to the commission of crimes (or single elements of crimes), depending on the system (e.g. see, among others, (from the list provided by the new article 6 of the proposal): (a) lack of documentation proving the identity; (b) lack of residence, fixed abode or reliable address; (c) lack of financial resources; (d) illegal entry into the territory of the Member States; (e) unauthorised movement to the territory of another Member State; (f) explicit expression of intent of non-compliance with return-related measures applied by virtue of this Directive) etc. The ‘risk of absconding’ itself could frequently be included, as occurs in the Italian criminal system, among specific procedural requirements for custody against suspects of crimes. For that reason, the use of such an ambivalent concept could create significant ambiguity in the law instruments that every Member State is requested to adopt.

After reminding that the new Directive Proposal aims at guaranteeing the principle of non refoulement, as well as the supreme protection of fundamental rights, the EU Commission turns to the use of detention (Article 18 of the Proposal) against illegal migrants. The Commission rates as a new emerging risk the fact that some third country nationals -supposedly considering the massive inflows- have posed or might pose a threat to public order or national security.

In the same way as in the externalization policy implemented and regulated by the EU and Turkey statement and the agreement between EU and Libya, the notions of public order and national security risk also in this case to appear to be empty boxes to store every undefined conduct so as to detain individuals who might be classified as ‘suspects’ of law breaching (such as irregular migrants, suspects of crimes, reported as suspects against national security). Moreover, like in the 2008 Directive, the Proposal does not refer to the precise field of law within which the detention of “irregular” migrants should find its own regulation: that is probably due to the fact that Member States apply either administrative or criminal measures depending on the risk assessment.

The unbearable uncertainty of the criteria on which the application of detention measures is based in the case of illegal migrants (i.e., irregulars, individuals affected by an order of expulsion or by a denial of international protection, “suspects” of not defined crimes) has therefore even got worse as a consequence of the undefined nature of the measures adopted. The latter might also affected the remedies at migrants’ disposal against a first instance denial of international protection or against an expulsion order, which are, again, differently-defined depending on the Member States’ legislative and judicial orders.

To sum up, notwithstanding the ambiguity in referring to the administrative or the criminal dimension indifferently has allowed every Member State to regulate freely the matters of detention against ‘illegal migrants’ according to its own legal system, a step forward in the perspective of a complete reform of the Return policy with the aim of ensuring harmonization among Member States’ practices could and should have been planned.

Conclusion

The 2018 State of the Union Address by the EU Commission promotes a ‘necessary’ switch of perspective allegedly caused by, on the one hand, an increasing pressure of migration on Member States’ boarders and, on the other, an ineffective return practice within the EU. Notwithstanding the urgency of setting out several key points – which the Proposal did meet, – such as the improvement of equipment and means for the European Border and Coast Guard, the reinforcement of the European Agency for Asylum and the reform of the return policy, the Address seems to leave behind several permanent criticalities in terms of de-harmonisation.

The protection of an idea of sovereignty of the European Union should have brought to light a more ambitious proposal, much more ambitious than a mere ‘defensive’ approach in terms of return policy and individual guarantees. The EU could have proposed the establishment of the principle of the EU sovereignty in the migration matters on the Member States’ practice through the creation of a long-term common operative équipe of experts dealing with migration within the EU by applying EU regulations and fundamental principles. This in order to erode progressively and slowly national sovereignty in a field which cannot be handled by single competent national authorities, normally politically linked to the national Government in charge (such as the Ministry of Home Affairs in Italy). This long-term revolution would ensure a far-sighted harmonization of practices within the EU in order to ‘offer – As the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Mr. Avramopoulos, stated –more Europe where more Europe is needed’ and ‘to support Member States to take up their responsibilities.

 

 

[1] See on this point the interesting contribution of S. Peers, Lock’em up: the proposal to amend the EU’s Return Directive, 12th September 2018 <http://eulawanalysis.blogspot.com/2018/09/lock-em-up-proposal-to-amend-eus.html&gt;; for some examples on the more ‘liberal case law’ see Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber), 18 December 2014 Mohamed M’Bodj v État belge, Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber), 18 December 2014, Centre public d’action sociale d’Ottignies-Louvain-La-Neuve v Moussa Abdida, Judgment of the Court (Second Chamber) of 26 July 2017 Criminal proceedings against Mossa Ouhrami, Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 7 June 2016 Sélina Affum v Préfet du Pas-de-Calais and Procureur général de la Cour d’appel de Douai.

[2] ibidem ; see also European Commission releases proposal to recast Return Directive, 14th of September 2018, <https://www.ecre.org/european-commission-releases-proposal-to-recast-return-directive/&gt;.

 

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The Italian legislation on foreign and unaccompanied minors between international principles and EU good practices: is a new de iure condendo perspective needed?

  1. Introduction

Over the past few years, the European Union has adopted a number of Directives relating to migrant rights. In particular, European Union Directive 2013/33/EU, laid down standards for the reception of applicants seeking international protection, while Directive 2013/32/EU established common procedures for the granting and withdrawal of international protection. In Italy, these Directives were implemented by means of legislative decree n. 142 of 2015 (hereinafter dlgs n. 142/2015)Law n. 47, of 7 April 2017, (hereinafter Lg. n. 47/2017), and legislative decree n. 220, of 22 December 2017 (hereinafter dlgs. N. 220/2017).

This post will focus on the recent Italian legislative developments in relation to unaccompanied minors. Following an overview of the legislation and the guidelines issued by the European Union, the post will highlight some outstanding issues relating to the existing body of legislation in the field and will seek to address whether a new legislative perspective is needed.

  1. The international principles and EU guidelines.

On 19th September 2016, the General Assembly of United Nations, adopted the ‘New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants’ (hereinafter the NY Declaration), through resolution 71/1. In Section I, para 3, the Declaration states that ‘We are witnessing in today’s world an unprecedented level of human mobility. More people than ever before live in a country other than the one in which they were born. Migrants are present in all countries in the world. Most of them move without incident. In 2015, their number surpassed 244 million, growing at a rate faster than the world’s population. However, there are roughly 65 million forcibly displaced persons, including over 21 million refugees, 3 million asylum seekers and over 40 million internally displaced persons’ (NY Declaration, Section I, para 3).

One of the main concerns for the United Nations, as well as for other supranational non-State actors, such as the European Union, is that, as has been demonstrated, a high degree of human mobility increases the number of unaccompanied children among migrants. The NY Declaration sets out a number of commitments towards migrant and unaccompanied children. One of these is the ‘equality’ clause at paras 5 and 6, which affirms the equality between migrants and refugees in terms of entitlement to international human rights protection. It includes this among the priorities of the international community, recalling established principles like the ‘best interests of the child’ and the special status of children as ‘vulnerable’ (paras 58 – 59 NY Declaration). In relation to the procedure granting international protection to third country nationals and migrants, the declaration affirms States’ commitment to ensuring “access for children to child-appropriate procedures” (para 70, NY Declaration).

The European Union, which is currently facing huge inflows of migrants through the European-African route, has shared the same concern for guaranteeing the adequate protection of third country national minors, especially unaccompanied children, in accordance with the principle of the best interests of the child. The ‘EU Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child (2017) – Leave no child behind’, issued on the 7th of March 2017, recalled, established and pointed out some examples of good practice. The tool is general in nature and is, therefore, applicable to all the sensitive situations which could require the safeguarding of the rights of children: the management of migration certainly falls within its scope.

On this specific point, on the 12th of April 2017, the European Commission, recalling the NY Declaration itself, addressed the ‘Communication on The protection of children in migration’ (COM(2017) 211 final) to the EU Parliament and the Council, highlighting the best practices applicable to migrant and unaccompanied minors. In this document the Commission highlights several improvements requested of EU Member States with the aim of complying with EU standards relating to the identification procedure, the (adequate) standard of reception and the effective access to status determination procedures. All of these matters should be addressed by the EU Member States, in the Commission’s view, in accordance with the Council proposal for a Common European Asylum system (COM(2016) 467 final), the Council of Europe Guidelines on child-friendly justice and the EASO (European Asylum Support Office) recommendation and practices on age assessment procedure in Europe.

  1. The Italian legislation on foreign and unaccompanied minors.

At the same time that the European Commission issued its communication, Italy began its own reform process of the legislation on unaccompanied children, with the aim of complying with the new obligations established. It also issued its response to alleged violations which gave rise to Infringement proceedings opened against Italy in 2014 by the European Commission about the matter at stake. The allegations, made in a letter issued on the 11th of July 2014, listed several violations of Directive 2003/95/EU and Directive 2003/9/EU committed by Italy. In particular, it was stated that the Italian asylum system failed to grant both an expeditious and adequate procedure for the minors seeking international protection, and a high standard of conditions for their reception in the territory.

Lg n. 47/2017 aimed to integrate the already existent discipline of reception, international protection and the asylum procedure, as well as introducing regulations on unaccompanied children, regardless of their status as refugees, asylum seekers or any other status.

The law focuses on some key points, grounded on the principle of the best interests of the child, namely: the definition of the unaccompanied minor as a vulnerable subject; the principle of non-refoulement and the special return policy; the creation of a national database aimed at collecting and sharing data on unaccompanied and foreign minors at both the national and European level; and the introduction and the reaffirmation of some significant procedural guarantees in the identification and determination of the age of minors. Regarding the latter point, the law introduced a significant modification to dlgs 142/2015, by adding a new art. 19-bis. The provision establishes some mandatory steps to be followed in the reception of a foreign minor, regardless of the status of the child. These include: the medical procedures needed to determine the age of the child (which should be as non invasive as possible); an informative interview, conducted by qualified personnel; the judicial appointment of a legal guardian; an investigation on the family situation and conditions of family life; and the duty to fully inform the minor about his/her own right to apply for any form of international protection. Also particularly significant are the provisions of Art. 15 (the right of the minor to be heard in any judicial proceedings on their own interests) and Art. 16 (the right to legal representation in any proceedings and the assistance of a lawyer of their own choice).

These two specific guarantees comply with the universal principle of the effective participation of minors in proceedings involving their own interests, which, in the case of unaccompanied minors and asylum-seekers, needs to be protected even further, due to the special vulnerability of the applicants involved.

Dlgs 220/2017 builds upon Lg. n. 47: in particular, Art. 2 significantly modifies the procedure to appoint a guardian. In line with the request by the EU to grant an adequate and expeditious procedure in a specialized and streamlined system, the competence for this is assigned to the Youth Court, instead of the Civil Litigation Section of the Ordinary Tribunal.

As regards the procedure to apply for international protection, dlgs. 220 significantly modifies the clause included in Art. 19 bis of the Law Decree n. 13/2017 (converted into Law n. 46/2017 – hereinafter the Decreto Minniti). The latter, which significantly reformed the regulation of reception and asylum/international protection procedures, provided for a ‘clause of non applicability’ of the regulation to unaccompanied minors. This aimed to exclude sensitive and vulnerable minors from the general regulation.

Notwithstanding the several recent reforms, the Italian immigration system does not yet provide for a special regulation and procedure for unaccompanied minors seeking international protection. Furthermore, in excluding unaccompanied minors from its scope, the Decreto Minniti de facto created a normative vacuum. The dlgs 220/2017 solves the issues by referring, even in the case of unaccompanied minors, to the applicability of Decreto Minniti in the part relating to the international protection and asylum seeking procedure and to any other related administrative procedure.

The modification of the non applicability clause of the Decreto Minniti by the dlgs. 220 suggests a proposal de iure condendo. The total absence of a comprehensive code of procedural and substantial provisions specifically for the protection of the foreign and unaccompanied minors seeking international protection would suggest to intervene to fill the gap.

Italian legislation currently in force encompasses a significant number of different regulations: the comprehensive code of immigration law (Decreto legislativo, testo coordinato, 25/07/1998 n° 286, G.U. 18/08/1998), as integrated and amended; dlgs 145/2015, implementing directives 2013/33/EU and 2013/32/EU; the most recent so-called Decreto Minniti, converted into Law n. 46/2017; Law n. 47/2017 on unaccompanied children; and, lastly, dlgs n. 220/2017. The last three tools supposedly amended the Code of immigration law. This situation creates an uncomfortable patchwork of regulations.

  1. Final remarks

The current legislative framework is so fragmented and convoluted that it would appear to run counter to the fundamental principles as well as objectives set out by supranational bodies and with which the Italian system is trying to comply.

From a strictly legislative point of view, the recent reforms in Italian legislation deserve to be acknowledged as being formally consistent with European Union regulations and guidelines, as well as with the international principle of the best interests of the child.

However, the fragmentation in the relevant legislative tools creates a confused framework that makes it difficult to really cater for the most vulnerable category of migrants (children), who deserve to be prioritized. In this sense, the adoption of a comprehensive code of regulation in the field could probably help Italian interpreters and front line operators to intervene as best as they can to ensure the highest standard of substantial and procedural guarantees for accompanied and unaccompanied minors seeking international protection.Berlin

 

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The Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: How the exception relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union will impact on the protection of Human Rights in UK

Introduction

 

On 13 July 2017 the Government of the UK published the long-awaited European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, a single legislative measure which is planned to enter into force in March 2019, when the two-year Brexit negotiation process comes to an end. In brief, the bill will revoke the European Communities Act of 1972 and transpose European Union (EU) law, ‘wherever practical’, into UK law. Any European Court of Justice’s case law issued until March 2019 will also acquire the legal strength and authority of a UK Supreme Court’s decision.

Although Parliament will be able to vote on it no sooner than next autumn, the publication of the Bill has already resulted in a great amount of criticisms, above all, on the exclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (hereafter, ‘the Charter’) from the application of the Bill, pursuant to its section 5 (4). This post first argues that the Charter, as many EU laws, is currently part of UK domestic law, thanks to section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972; which contradicts the Government’s stance in this respect; then, it argues that after Brexit, and with regard to those cases currently governed by EU law, the exclusion of the Charter would diminish the level of protection of human rights in the UK. This notwithstanding the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), incorporated in UK law via the 1998 Human Rights Act will still be enforced, but it argues that the ECHR will not grant the same human rights protection.

 

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention of Human Rights

 

In 2000, at the Nice European Council, the EU Members States adopted the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which in some respects is broader than the ECHR in that it enlists, in addition to civil and political rights, economic and social and societal rights. In 2009, the Charter became binding pursuant to article 6(1) of the Treaty of Lisbon, which assigned to the Charter ‘the same legal value as the Treaties.’ EU Member States have a duty to observe it only in application of the EU law, namely: when a national legislation transposes an EU directive; 
a public authority applies EU law; or a national court applies or interprets EU law.

 

The Treaty of Lisbon, under article 6 (2), provides that the EU “shall accede” to the ECHR. While the accession has not taken place yet, all EU institutions and Member States are in any case obliged to interpret the Charter in light of existing jurisprudence of the ECtHR. Under Article 52(3) of the Charter, States have a legal obligation to give the same meaning and scope to the rights of the two instruments, insofar as they correspond.

 

On the applicability of the Charter to the UK

 

In Lisbon, Protocol 30 to the treaty related to the application of the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union to Poland and to the United Kingdom was adopted. This Protocol generated a significant confusion with respect to the legal effects on the UK. Some have argued that this implied a sort of opting out, so that the Charter has no legal value in the UK. Others embraced an opposite view, so that the Charter could have created new justiciable rights. To sort out this controversy, in 2014 the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons published a report with the evocative title of ‘The application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the UK: a state of confusion’. The Committee concluded that the Protocol had reaffirmed that the Charter has legal strength in so far as all national authorities had to apply and interpret EU law, but it did not create new independent rights. In this respect, the Charter is directly effective in the UK, by virtue of Section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972 which in its relevant parts reads as follows:

 

‘All such rights, powers, liabilities, obligations and restrictions from time to time created or arising by or under the Treaties, and all such remedies and procedures from time to time provided for by or under the Treaties, as in accordance with the Treaties are without further enactment to be given legal effect or used in the United Kingdom shall be recognised and available in law, and be enforced, allowed and followed accordingly'[emphasis added].

 

The Committee indeed recommended that, in order to disapply the Charter from the UK, ‘primary legislation be introduced by way of an amendment to the European Communities Act 1972’. Therefore, since the Charter has the same legal value as the Treaties, with respect of any EU law, it is automatically part of the UK domestic law, pursuant to the 1972 Act of Parliament. In fact UK Courts have often made reference to the Charter and checked its compatibility with the EU law as implemented in UK.[1] Furthermore, in 2013 the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the EU held:

 

‘where a court of a Member State is called upon to review whether fundamental rights are complied with by a national provision or measure which, in a situation where action of the Member States is not entirely determined by European Union law, implements the latter for the purposes of Article 51(1) of the Charter, national authorities and courts remain free to apply national standards of protection of fundamental rights, provided that the level of protection provided for by the Charter, as interpreted by the Court, and the primacy, unity and effectiveness of European Union law are not thereby compromised’ [emphasis added].

 

Consequently, it is surprising that under Section 5(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, ‘[t]he Charter of Fundamental Rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit’ [emphasis added].

 

On the protection of fundamental rights provided by the Charter and the ECHR

 

After Brexit, as provided by the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, any public authority or national court in the UK could keep on applying or interpreting what was originally EU law, as this would become, ‘wherever practical’, UK law. However, so far, the relevant EU law has been interpreted in the case law of the Court of Justice of the EU in light of the Charter. If the Charter were not applicable to the UK any more, this might result in then-former EU law being significantly different from its ‘original’ version at the moment of its transposition; furthermore, its interpretation would be left to decisions to be taken on a case-by-case basis. These two factors taken together might have serious consequences in respect to the certainty of the law.

Concerning the application of the law, as far as the rights overlapping with the ECHR are concerned, this would result in a different kind of protection. Indeed, those civil and political rights provided by the Charter, in compliance with one of the most fundamental principles of the EU law, have a direct effect in the UK as many EU laws do. But if the Charter had no effect in the UK after Brexit, victims of human rights violations could only rely on the ECHR. Yet, under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, while ‘[i]t is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right’, this does not apply to an act if

 

—(a) as the result of one or more provisions of primary legislation, the authority could not have acted differently; or (b) in the case of one or more provisions of, or made under, primary legislation which cannot be read or given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights, the authority was acting so as to give effect to or enforce those provisions.

 

Thus, the kind of protection provided by the ECHR is not comparable to what people in the UK currently have in the application of EU law, thanks to the Charter and the European Communities Act 1972.

The same kind of reasoning would a fortiori apply to all those rights that are not protected by the Human Rights Act, including many economic and social rights, when they already are justiciable rights in the UK and in the application of EU law. Indeed, while it is true that the Charter did not add any new justiciable right, it is currently relevant when it comes to verify whether any EU law is compatible with it; to the contrary, domestic law (as all former EU legislation will become after the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is adopted) granting the same rights will not prevail over conflicting statutes.

 

Conclusion

 

On 13 July 2017 the Government of the UK published the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which is going to be discussed in Parliament no sooner than next autumn. Section 5(2) of the Bill, which is meant to enter into force when the UK actually leaves the EU, provides for the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU not to be considered domestic law in the UK at the moment of Brexit, nor after it. This post has shown how the Charter is currently part of UK domestic law, thanks to Section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972. It has also been argued that, should the Bill enter into force as it stands at the moment, there may arise a problem in terms of the certainty of the law because, lacking the possibility of making reference to the Charter when interpreting and applying it, former EU law would already miss something at the moment of its transposition and national authorities would be left with the burden of filling the gaps it would leave. As for the protection of fundamental rights in the UK, this might be subjected to a considerable change too. Indeed, concerning those civil and political rights that are also provided by the ECHR, national authorities are bound not to give priority to the Human Rights Act, incorporating the ECHR in the UK system, when this is in conflict with national legislation. Thus, the protection of these rights, when violated in application of a norm incorporated by the then former EU law, will be left to a different, less incisive, kind of remedy than that offered by the Charter (and many EU laws!) at present. This would be a fortiori true with regard to those rights, including economic and social rights, which are not protected by the Human Rights Act.

[1] See, for instance, [2017] EWCA Civ 431, [2017] EWCA Civ 397 at 74; [2017] EWHC 1174 (Admin) at 100-101; [2017] EWHC 931 (Admin) at 59; [2017] EWHC 577 (Admin) at 38; [2017] EWCA Civ 35; [2017] EWCA Civ 41 at 136; [2017] EWCA Civ 243 at 1; [2017] EWHC 331 (Admin) at 17; [2017] EWHC 827 (Admin) at 30; [2016] QB 1003 at [99]; [2017] CAT 9 at 80; [2017] UKUT 125 (IAC) at 34; [2017] UKFTT 167 (TC) at 435; on the Charter not conferring new rights nor expanding those rights stemming from EU law, see, e.g., [2017] EWHC 695 (QB) at 13-16; on the disapplication of a national measures conflicting with the Charter see, e.g., [2017] EWCA Civ 121 at 60; [2015] EWCA Civ 311, [2015] 3 WLR 409. Interestingly, the First Section of the ECtHR has recently reaffirmed the legally binding nature of the Charter in a case against the UK.May

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The ECB imposes a new strategy on the management of NPLs: a first analysis of the “Draft Guidance to Banks on Non-performing Loans”

Daria Sartori, PhD, Trainee Lawyer, Mercanti Dorio e Associati; Giulia Ferrari, PhD, Attorney-at-Law, Mercanti Dorio e Associati

Introduction

In general terms, non-performing loans (NPLs) are bank loans which are considered as unlikely to be paid back because of the debtor’s delay in paying the agreed instalments or interest for a certain amount of time.[1] When a loan is non-performing, banks must set aside capital on the assumption that the loan will not be paid back, thus reducing their capacity to provide new loans.[2] When banks are overburdened by NPLs, the entire economy suffers, one of the consequences being that privates will face difficulties in having access to credit.

Within the EU, the issue of NPLs has been a substantial one since the outbreak of the financial crisis of 2007-2008. At a macroeconomic level, the significant upward trend of NPLs has reflected the consequences of heightened unemployment, depreciated currency and tight financial conditions.[3] At bank level, the excessive amount of NPLs has been linked to poor loan underwriting, monitoring and control.[4]

NPLs are now specifically addressed by the “Draft guidance to banks on non-performing loans” (the Guide), drafted by the European Central Bank (ECB) and open to public consultation from 12 September to 15 November 2016. The Guide collects a number of best practices identified by the ECB in the course of its supervisory functions and relating to the issue of NPLs, defined as all exposures of banks which are held to be at risk of non-repayment according to EU standards.[5] While the Guide is not, technically speaking, a binding instrument, non-compliance with its standards may trigger the imposition of supervisory measures for credit institutions which, pursuant to Regulation n. 468/2014 of the European Central Bank of 16 April 2014, fall within the ECB’s scope of supervision (so-called “Significant Institutions”, or SIs).

The present contribution provides an overview of the Guide and highlights the main issues relating to the problem of NPLs at bank level.

Banking supervision within the EU

Following the financial crisis of 2007–2008, EU institutions have called for the creation of a “banking union”, ensuring the safety and soundness of the European banking system thorough increased financial integration and stability. The first step towards a banking union has been the creation of a Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), comprising the European Central Bank (ECB) and the national supervisory authorities of the participating countries. The SSM’s task is to ensure that EU policies and rules on the prudential supervision of credit institutions are implemented in a coherent and effective manner.

The ECB’s supervisory functions are exercised in accordance with the EU Capital Requirements framework, i.e. the Capital Requirements Regulation[6] and Capital Requirements Directive.[7] These instruments transpose into EU law the standards elaborated at international level by the Basel accords, and they confer on supervisory authorities the power of imposing measures.

With regard to the ECB, these measures range from less stringent (such as the power “to impose additional or more frequent reporting requirements”, pursuant to Article 16 of the Capital Requirements Regulation) to substantial ones (such as the power to impose pecuniary sanctions for non-compliance with ECB regulations or decisions, pursuant to Council Regulation (EC) No 2532/98 of 23 November 1998).

Whereas the Draft guidance to banks on non-performing loans is not an instrument allowing the ECB to impose sanctions, its standards represent the ECB’s supervisory expectation for the future and non-compliance may trigger supervisory measures,[8] such as those articulated by Article 16 of the Capital Requirements Regulation. Thus, the standards of the Guide can be considered as de facto binding for SIs, who should plan ahead interventions on their internal organization and policies in order to be able to meet the requirements by the time the Guide’s final version will be publicly available.

The ECB Draft guidance to banks on non-performing loans

On 12 September 2016 the ECB has launched public consultation on the “Draft guidance to banks on non-performing loans”. The consultation has been closed on 15 November 2016 but the comments received by the ECB have not been published yet, and the Guide itself is still in its draft version.

As mentioned above, the Guide collects a number of best practices relating to the issue of non-performing loans. It includes seven Annexes, providing samples of criteria and practices relating to every phase of the NPL life cycle.

The term “non-performing loans”, as used by the Guide, refers to non-performing exposures (NPE), as defined by the European Banking Authority (i.e., exposures satisfying either or both the “90 days-past-due” and “unlikely-to-pay” criteria),[9] as well as to foreclosed assets and performing exposures with an elevated risk of turning non-performing.[10]

According to the Guide, SIs must develop a specific NPL strategy, on the basis of a comprehensive assessment of the operating environment, i.e. of internal capabilities (self-assessment) and external conditions. The strategy thus elaborated must include targets relating to the development of operational capabilities and projected NPL reductions over the short (indicative 1 year), medium (indicative 3 years) and long-term line horizons. An operational plan must be developed accordingly, approved by the management body and reviewed at least annually. Credit institutions with high levels of NPLs are expected to report their NPL strategy and operational plan to the banking authority in the first quarter of each calendar year.

The strategy and plan must be embedded in processes at all levels of organization, and human resources must be organized accordingly. Thus, for instance, the NPL Guide requires the creation of separate NPL workouts units (WUs), dealing with NPLs along their life cycle and composed by staff members with dedicated NPL expertise and experience. Technical resources must be also implemented, including automated monitoring processes of the loan status, with early warning signals and reporting.

Credit institutions must implement effective and efficient control processes for the NPL workout framework, involving three lines of defence. The first line of defence comprises control mechanisms within the NPL workout units, ensuring that the NPL policy is adequately embedded in daily processes. The second line must ensure that the first line of defence operates effectively: it comprises risk management and compliance functions and requires continuous monitoring and reviewing of NPL operating model’s performance. The third line comprises the internal audit function, which must conduct regular (i.e., at least annual) assessments to verify adherence of the NPL framework to the NPL policy. Annex 5 to the Guide provides key elements of NPL framework-related policies (such as arrears management policy, forbearance policy, debt recovery/enforcement policy) that should be implemented by high NPL banks.

An entire chapter of the Guide is dedicated to NPLs secured by immovable property held as collateral.[11] In the past, delays in assessing the decline of real estate value have proved to affect substantially credit institutions’ balance sheets. In fact, a high number of NPLs is secured by immovable property, and the value of the latter may significantly change over time. The Guide requires regular monitoring and reviewing of the valuations for collaterals, carried out by independent and qualified appraisers in accordance with the requirements set forth by Article 208(3) of the Capital Regulation Directive. It emphasizes the importance of maintaining the valuations for collaterals in line with market changes: thus, while establishing a minimum regular interval for updates (one year for commercial immovable property, three years for residential), it also requires credit institutions to carry out more frequent valuations where the market is subject to substantial negative changes and/or where there are signs of significant decline in the value of the individual collateral. In this last regard, banks are also required to establish their own criteria for determining whether a “significant decline” has taken place.

With regard to NPL impairment measures and write-offs, the Guide encourages credit institutions to align consistently with the standards set out by the Capital Requirements Regulation and Capital Requirements Directive, even when the institution is part of a group and some units of the group are not located in the EU.

Internal organization and timely intervention on NPLs

The Guide stresses the importance of adequate internal organization and coherent NPL policies, allowing timely intervention on NPLs. These aspects are particularly significant when it comes to dealing with high value NPLs, whereby the sums involved are significant (usually, because the loan is granted to enterprises/corporations). In this case, a good management of NPLs can affect both the bank’s capacity to conduct businesses profitably and the good functioning of the overall economy.

With regard to high value NPLs, measures aiming to restructuring are more appropriate than enforcement measures. However, in order to be effective, restructuring must be timely and conducted by staff with adequate expertise and experience. Restructuring is a process to which banks frequently turn too late (when the exposure has significantly worsened, making it more difficult for the borrower to repay the entire debt). For this reason, the Guide’s focus on the organization of human resources and on the timely recognition of NPLs should be appreciated: an increased attention by credit institutions to these aspects can positively affect the economic growth.

Conclusion

In the light of the best practices collected by the ECB in the Draft guidance to banks on non-performing loans, credit institutions subject to the Single Supervisory Mechanism must tackle NPLs by assessing the operating environment, developing and implementing a specific NPL strategy and an operational plan.

The Guide’s focus on internal organization and timely intervention on NPLs is particularly appreciated, as it favours solutions to the main issues contributing relating to the problem of NPLs at the bank level.

Whereas the Guide is not a binding instrument, compliance with its standards may trigger the imposition of supervisory measures by the ECB on Significant Institutions. For this reason, SIs should plan ahead interventions on their internal organization and policies in such a way as to be compliant with the Guide’s standards by the time its final version will be publicly available.

[1] For a technical definition of NPLs, infra sub n. 7 and 8

[2] For a general overview of the topic, see the ECB’s explanation at: https://www.ecb.europa.eu/explainers/tell-me/html/npl.en.html

[3] IMF Working Paper of the European Department Non-Performing Loans in CESEE: Determinants and Macroeconomic Performance, by Nir Klein, March 2013, p. 3 (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2247224)

[4] ibid., p. 5

[5] Draft guidance to banks on non-performing loans, sub par 1.3

[6] Regulation (EU) No 575/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 on prudential requirements for credit institutions and investment firms and amending Regulation (EU) No 648/2012, OJL 176, 27.6.2013, p. 1–33

[7] Directive 2013/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 on access to the activity of credit institutions and the prudential supervision of credit institutions and investment firms, amending Directive 2002/87/EC and repealing Directives 2006/48/EC and 2006/49/EC, OJL 176, 27.6.2013, p. 338–436

[8] Draft guidance to banks on non-performing loans, sub par 1.2

[9] See paragraph 145 of Annex V to the “Implementing Technical Standards on Supervisory Reporting” (ITS)

[10] Draft guidance to banks on non-performing loans, sub par. 1.3

[11] Draft guidance to banks on non-performing loans, sub par 7, “Collateral valuation for immovable property”

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The EU Commission’s Fifth Report on relocation and resettlement of migrants: a(nother) proposal.

  • Introduction

On the 13th of July (2016) the European Commission issued the fifth report on relocation and resettlement of migrants  from the external EU’s borders, addressed to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council.  The report provides an updated state of the situation of relocation and resettlement of migrants eligible to obtain international protection in EU countries in the light of the urgent migration crisis that Italy and Greece especially have been facing since 2015. The considerable increase in the number of migrants – many of whom are entitled to apply for relocation/resettlement – has imposed to the Commission to update its last report (i.e., the one issued in June 2016) with the aim of keeping the institutions fully informed about the situation at the “external borders” of Europe.  After a brief introduction about the relevant legislative framework, this post aims to underline some critical issues emerging from the relocation and resettlement policies of the European Union as set out in the official documents published so far.

  • The Council’s decisions establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece.

The relocation and resettlement policies of the EU have been framed, firstly, by the Council Decision 2015/1523 of 14 September 2015 establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece. This was followed, just a few days later, by the Council Decision 2015/1601 of 22 September 2015 (hereafter the Decision), which provided for a few changes regarding the number of migrants needing a relocation plan. With regard to the latter instrument, it was adopted in accordance with Article 78, para 3, of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which authorises the Council to adopt provisional measures when one or more Member States are faced with an emergency situation involving a massive inflow of third countries’ nationals, in order to relieve those Member States. This provision regulates the main points that the European Union should respect in order to establish a common policy of asylum, subsidiary protection and temporary international protection for eligible third country nationals. The principle of mutual solidarity and the rule of fair sharing of responsibility between Member States in the management of the refugee crisis at the external borders have been recognised as the two keystones of the Decision. In addition, the individual rights granted by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (hereinafter the Charter), along with the rights of vulnerable groups, act on the background of the Decision, balancing the needs of both public order and national security, these two becoming an inevitable paradigm of the management of every humanitarian crisis by the EU.[1]

The 23rd introductory paragraph of the Decision permits a temporary derogation from the Dublin’s Regulations System. This system provides that the Member State in which third countries’ nationals enter is responsible for their international protection. In recognition of the emergency situation in Greece and Italy, those countries have been relieved of this ‘entry and stay’ rule set out in article 13 of Reg. 604/2013.[2]

However, the Decision has let several shadows and grey areas subsist, together with the necessity to solve some critical issues. Some of these have been faced by the new report and the draft proposal for a European Union regulation establishing a Union Resettlement Framework – which has been attached to the report – while some others have been left unsolved/unresolved?. As for the latter, one could consider, for instance, the unclear legal force of the relocation and resettlement rules as regards the Member States.

  • The content of the report.

The goal of the Fifth Report[3] is to accelerate the implementation of the relocation and resettlement schemes by the Member States. It is articulated in two sections, dedicated to the relocation (1) and the resettlement (2) schemes, respectively, and containing different highlights which emerged during the reporting period, from 14th of June to 11th of July. In particular, the report warns against the bad situation of Italy in comparison to Greece. While relocation transfers from Greece have increased during the reporting period as compared to the previous one (from 594 to 710), those from Italy have decreased and remain at an unsatisfactory level (66 compared to 186). In this connection, major concerns have been expressed by the Commission regarding the relocation of vulnerable groups, especially unaccompanied minors. [4]

On the one hand, the report requires Italy to provide clearer information on the number of arrival, to develop a special procedure for the relocation of unaccompanied minors, which is at this time extremely slow, to open additional hotspots as planned and to improve its cooperation with the other Member States. On the other hand, it was difficult for the Commission to ignore that so far several Member States have not complied with their obligations as established by the Council Decision of 22nd September 2015. Despite the deployment of many experts to Greece and Italy by the European Asylum Support Office, the data provided by the fifth report show an increasing level of (humanitarian) emergency and a worrisome deterioration of the refugee crisis. It unfortunately appears that the efforts made by and the means available to the countries at the external borders are not yet sufficient to face the ongoing inflow of migrants seeking international protection.

Regarding the resettlement scheme (sub 2 of the Decision), it has resulted in the resettlement of about 8000 people (mostly Syrian nationals from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey) to twenty different countries. The Commission has also made reference to the EU–Turkey statement of 18 March 2016, which foresees the activation of the Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme with Turkey, currently still at the negotiation stage. This scheme is part of the general political agreement between EU and Turkey concluded last March with the aim of stopping the unconditional flow of migrants from the eastern route to Greece.[5]

The report’s conclusion is twofold. On the one hand, the Commission has urged Italy to quickly step up its processing capacity and to cooperate more closely with Member States in implementing the relocation scheme, especially regarding the situation of the vulnerable group of unaccompanied minors.  On the other hand, the Commission has exhorted all Member States to urgently provide an adequate response to the crisis and to build up support of Italy and Greece by increasing the number of pledges. The Commission has also expressed its concern by ‘reserving the right to take action against those Member States not complying with their obligation’.[6] This statement – which could play a role in terms of political effectiveness – compels the EU institutions to ask themselves about the kind of actions that could be taken in order to induce Member States to comply with the Council’s Decision.

  • The proposal

The problem highlighted by the Commission’s report has not been solved by the proposal attached thereto, establishing a Union Resettlement Framework and amending Regulation (EU) n. 516/2014.[7] The explanatory memorandum of the proposal underlines the ’voluntary basis’ of the resettlement commitments of all Member States, as established by the framework regulation. The effort required might be considered ‘binding’ given the principles of fair sharing of responsibility and solidarity, which are crucial to the aim of building a Common European Asylum System and consistent with the policy on better migration management adopted by the European Agenda on Migration.[8]

In this sense, the proposal acknowledges several core principles and good practices in the field, namely: a) reducing divergences between Members States and creating common rules for resettlement; b) discouraging second movements of the resettled people in the EU; c) distinguishing the policy of resettlement from the so-called Dublin’s regulation system; d) increasing the already central role of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (hereinafter UNCHR), European Asylum Support Office (hereinafter EASO) and stakeholders in general to support Member States in managing the crisis; e) protecting fundamental rights linked to asylum and international protection, in accordance with Articles 18 and 19 of the Charter and with the principle of non discrimination;[9] f) offering priority protection to vulnerable groups;[10] g) arranging two different procedural pathways, namely, an ordinary one and an expedited one, depending on the grade of  urgency.

  • Conclusions

The publication by the Commission of the Fifth Report on relocation and resettlement has created some momentum for EU institutions and Members States to consider the status of the common European system in the field of asylum and international protection. While certain satisfactory steps have been made at the external borders of Greece, the Italian situation remains critical and very few chances to sort out the problems generated by the massive inflow of migrants there are in sight. The main issue at stake is still the lack of synergy and mutual cooperation among Member States when it comes to relocation and resettlement. Notwithstanding the political pressure exerted by the Commission, the invocation of the supreme principles of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility in migration crisis has failed to induce Member States to comply with their commitments. Together with the absence of a mechanism of sanctions in cases of non-implementation of the Council Decision by Member States, this is liable to lead to the failure of the relocation and resettlement policy.

One day, the strength of common principles might be sufficient to induce Member States to implement the obligations arising from any decisional act of the European Union, especially in such a delicate political field as the management of a migration crisis. For now, the European Union is unable to compel Members States (regardless of the proximity to the external border) to implement its plans on relocation and, indeed, to respect the fair sharing of responsibility. Therefore it cannot manage this huge crisis in a proper way and, considering the proportions of the emergency, this might result in the collapse of the whole system.

[1] On this point see, for example, the creation and the update of the EURODAC system, starting from the COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 2725/2000 of 11 December 2000 concerning the establishment of ‘Eurodac’ for the comparison of fingerprints for the effective application of the Dublin Convention; another example could be the attention paid to the defence of external borders and the fight against irregular immigration which are central to the migration crisis management of the EU, as provided by the EU- Turkey statement of 18th March 2016 and within the new proposal itself of 13th of July 2016.

[2] The so-called Dublin’s Regulation System establishes which Member State is responsible for the examination of the asylum application. See Regulation (EC) No 1560/2003 and Regulation (EU) No 604/2013.

[3] Fifth Report on relocation and resettlement from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council, Brussels 13.7.2016, COM(2016) 480 final.

[4] Fifth Report, COM(2016) 480 final, 8 – 9.

[5] On this issue see, among others, G. Goalwin, The EU-Turkey Agreement on Refugees: Echo of a Tragic Past, available online at http://religionandpolitics.org/2016/05/03/the-eu-turkey-agreement-on-refugees-echo-of-a-tragic-past/ accessed 30th August 2016.

[6] Fifth Report on relocation and resettlement, COM (2016) 480 final, Brussels 13.07.2016, p. 11.

[7] Regulation (EU) No 516/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014 establishing the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, amending Council Decision 2008/381/EC and repealing Decisions No 573/2007/EC and No 575/2007/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Council Decision 2007/435/EC.

[8] The European Commission set out the long-term policy on better migration in the European Agenda on Migration, which developed President Juncker’s Political Guidelines. Proposal for a Regulation COM (2016) 468 final, 2016/0225 (COD), p.5.

[9] The principle of non discrimination is granted by several Universal and Regional legal provisions on human rights, namely: Article 1, 2 and 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Article 1, 8 and 24 of the American Convention on Human Rights; Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

[10] To individuate the vulnerable groups, the Commission also refers to other international tools such as the United Nations Conventions and the Conventions of the Council of Europe.

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The European Court’s Grand Chamber decision in Biao v. Denmark: A case of indirect discrimination against nationals of non-Danish ethnic origins

Introduction

Within the context of the on-going EU migration crisis, Denmark has been subjected to huge criticisms with regard to a recent bill that is considered to violate asylum seekers’ fundamental rights. More recently, on 24 May 2016 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued its decision in the case Biao v. Denmark, regarding matters of family reunification and held that Denmark had unjustifiably violated the prohibition of non-discrimination towards some of its nationals.[1] The Court found, by twelve votes to five, that there has been a violation of Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) read in conjunction with Article 8 of the Convention.[2] The Government had indeed failed to show that there were compelling or very weighty reasons unrelated to ethnic origin to justify the indirect discrimination to which the applicants had been subjected arising from the relevant national legislation.[3] Notably, this decision came after the Chamber, in 2014, had found that the Danish authorities had struck ‘a fair balance between the public interest in ensuring effective immigration control and the applicants’ need to be granted family reunion in Denmark and concluded that there had been no violation of Article 8 taken alone.[4]

In order to reach its conclusions, and consistently with its practice, the Grand Chamber considered ‘instructive’ to interpret the Danish legislation on family reunification in the light of the relevant EU law, including the Court of Justice of the European Union’s case law in the matter.[5] This post aims at examining the Grand Chamber’s decision in light of the recent developments in the relationship between the Courts of Strasbourg and Luxembourg. It will be concluded that the decision in Biao v. Denmark is perfectly consistent with the ECtHR’s practice of not only making reference to EU law and the case law of the Court of Luxembourg, but also verifying the compatibility of national legislations or practice with the ECHR, trying to look at the former through the lens of the relevant EU law or case law. Some comments on the political value of this decision when it comes to Denmark and migration issues are also included among the conclusions.

 

The facts

 

The case of Biao v. Denmark concerns the applicants’ complaint about the Danish authorities’ refusal to grant them family reunification in Denmark. Mr Biao is a Danish national of Togolese origin who is married to Asia Adamo Biao, a Ghanaian national. They live in Sweden and have a son who got Danish citizenship due to his father’s nationality. Their application for residence permit in Denmark and, therefore, their family reunification got refused in 2003 and 2004. The Danish Supreme Court upheld such a refusal in January 2010.

Before the ECtHR the applicants claimed to have been subjected to indirect discrimination in the application of the attachment requirement provided by the Danish Aliens Act as amended in December 2003, which introduced the so-called 28-year rule.[6] Pursuant to such a rule, in order for a Danish national, who has not acquired his/her nationality from the moment he/she was born and that is married to a third country national, to enjoy the privileges associated to citizenship in matters regarding family reunification, he/she needs to prove that he/she has got stronger ties with Denmark than with any other country by residing in Denmark for at least 28 consecutive years. The 28-year rule thus resulted in a differential treatment between Danish-born citizens and other nationals, as Danish nationals who had acquired nationality from the moment they were born were exempted from such a requirement.[7] This treatment was also an indirect discrimination on the basis of race or ethnic origin because persons acquiring Danish nationality later in life ‘would overwhelmingly be of different ethnic origins, that is other than Danish’.[8]

The conclusions of the Court

Having recalled that ‘a difference in treatment may take the form of disproportionately prejudicial effects of a general policy or measure which, though couched in neutral terms, discriminates against a group’,[9] and that indirect discrimination does not necessarily require a discriminatory intent,[10] the Grand Chamber considered it to be a reasonable assumption that people, who have acquired a Danish nationality later in life, would be more likely to be of non-Danish ethnic origins and that, to the contrary, Danish-born people were more likely to belong to the Danish ethnic group.[11]

According to the Court, the burden of proof was then on the Government to show that the difference in the impact of the legislation pursued a legitimate aim and was the result of objective factors unrelated to ethnic origin. Indeed,

‘no difference in treatment based exclusively or to a decisive extent on a person’s ethnic origin is capable of being justified in a contemporary democratic society and a difference in treatment based exclusively on the ground of nationality is allowed only on the basis of compelling or very weighty reasons.’[12]

Although the Court noted that Article 8 ECHR when taken alone ‘cannot be considered to impose on a State a general obligation to respect a married couple’s choice of country for their matrimonial residence or to authorise family reunification on its territory’,[13] it also held that it could apply to the present case what had been concluded in Konstantin Markin v. Russia with regard to difference in treatment on the ground of sex. That is, that ‘general biased assumptions or prevailing social prejudice in a particular country do not provide sufficient justification’.[14] The Court found that similar reasoning should apply to discrimination against naturalised nationals and therefore excluded that the problems relating to integration could be sufficient justification for the 28-year rule.

The Court also affirmed that thanks to Article 5 (2) of the European Convention on Nationality, which has been ratified by 20 states, including Denmark, there was a trend towards a European standard aiming to eliminate the discriminatory application of rules in matters of nationality between nationals from birth and other nationals.[15]

Hence, it concluded that, ‘having regard to the very narrow margin of appreciation in the present case’,[16] the Government had ‘failed to show that there were compelling or very weighty reasons unrelated to ethnic origin to justify the indirect discriminatory effect of the 28-year rule’.[17]This rule indeed has ‘a disproportionately prejudicial effect on persons who acquired Danish nationality later in life and who were of ethnic origins other than Danish.’[18]

EU Law and the ECtHR

It is well known that the two legal regimes pertaining to the EU and the ECHR are quite different when it comes to the principle of non-discrimination.[19] Moreover, although the Treaty of Lisbon, under article 6 (2), provides for the possibility for the EU to accede to the ECHR, in December 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a negative opinion in this respect. Furthermore, in its recent practice the Court of Luxembourg has increasingly avoided making explicit reference to the ECtHR’s case law.[20] As for the European Convention, according to the CJEU,

‘[i]t must be borne in mind that, in accordance with Article 6(3) TEU, fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the ECHR, constitute general principles of the EU’s law. However, as the EU has not acceded to the ECHR, the latter does not constitute a legal instrument which has been formally incorporated into the legal order of the EU.’[21]

The Strasbourg Court, on its side, has been constantly referring to both EU law and the case law of the CJEU. For instance, in its recent case Arlewin v. Sweden,[22] the Court has pronounced itself on the compatibility of the Swedish courts’ practice in application of Brussels I Regulation (44/2001) with the ECHR. In this respect, it has been observed that:

‘[t]he Court of Strasbourg relies upon the findings of the Luxembourg Court and reaffirms the existence of a direct dialogue between the two jurisdictions, with the first affirming the findings of the second in a noteworthy manifestation of its endeavour to choose –whenever possible- an interpretation of the ECHR that facilitates the proper application of EU law by national authorities.’

Consistently with this view, in Biao v. Denmark the Grand Chamber also took into consideration the relevant EU law and CJEU’s case law. Indeed, although, ‘[t]he rules for family reunification under EU law did not apply to the applicants’ case in August 2004’, the ECtHR noted that:

‘it is instructive to view the contested Danish legislation in the light of relevant EU law. Given that the first applicant has moved to Sweden, by virtue of Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the member States, and in the light of the CJEU’s judgment of 25 July 2008 in Metock v. Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (…), the applicants and their child now have a prospect of success in applying from Sweden for a residence permit in Denmark.’[23]

Conclusions

Different legal issues arise from migration, as it is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon. Apart from the current EU migration crisis, which mostly relates to non-EU nationals, some national policies regulating issues concerning migrants can have an impact on the rights of EU nationals. If it is true that the non-discrimination prohibition contained in Article 14 ECHR has not acquired a perfectly overlapping application with the EU non-discrimination legislation, it is also worth noticing that the Strasbourg Court has examined the relevant Danish legislation in the light of the relevant EU law and affirmed that the applicants’ new applications could now possibly have ‘a prospect of success in applying from Sweden for a residence permit in Denmark’.

This decision will probably lead Danish authorities to amend their Aliens Act and abolish the 28-year rule. It is however striking that at a time when ‘no difference in treatment based exclusively or to a decisive extent on a person’s ethnic origin is capable of being justified in a contemporary democratic society’, a national legislation of both an EU member and CoE state has been considered to have indirect discriminatory effects on the sole ground of race/ethnicity.

[1]Case of Biao v. DenmarkApp no. 38590/10 (ECHR, 24 May 2016).

[2]Ibid. at 154.

[3]Ibid. at 138 [emphasis added].

[4]Ibid. at 64.

[5]Ibid. at 135.

[6]Ibid. at 35.

[7]Case of Biao v. DenmarkApp no. 38590/10 (ECHR, 24 May 2016) at 25.

[8]Ibid. at 102.

[9]Ibid. at 103.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Ibid. at 112.

[12]Ibid. at 114 [emphasis added].

[13]Ibid. at 117.

[14]Ibid. at 126.

[15]Ibid. at 132.

[16]Ibid. at 138.

[17]Ibid.

[18]Ibid.

[19] See, e.g., See also European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Handbook on European non-discrimination law (Publication Office of the European Union 2011).

[20]OddnýMjöllArnardóttir and Antoine Buyse, Shifting Centres of Gravity in Human Rights Protection: Rethinking Relations Between the ECHR, EU, and National Legal Orders(Routledge 2016) 19-24.

[21] Opinion 2/13, Delivered on 18 December 2014 (full court), at 179.

[22]Case of Arlewin v. Sweden App no 22302/10 (ECHR, 1 March 2016).

[23]Ibid. at 135 [emphasis added]. See also European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Handbook on European non-discrimination law (Publication Office of the European Union 2011) 58-59.European-Court-of-Human-Rights.jpg

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Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights vs the national public interest in prohibiting age discrimination (Directive 2000/78): Hütter and Schmitzer cases

Introduction

Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) on “Non-discrimination” embraces a positive task for the Member States to eliminate anything which produces unlawful distinctions in society or concrete hurdles towards achieving equality. [1] In 2009, after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the Charter became a legally binding catalogue of fundamental rights within the EU legal order.[2] The Preamble of Directive 2000/78, at point 6, cites the Charter as a legitimating source for combating discrimination against elderly people. Thus, the relationship between the Charter and Directive 2000/78 on “Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation” has been understood as a link between ‘legitimacy’ and ‘potency’[3], and it became particularly relevant by virtue of the Charter’s new legal status.

The equality approach embedded in article 21 CFR, which prohibited any discrimination on the basis of the listed grounds, is recalled in article 2 of Directive 2000/78, which defines how the “principle of equal treatment” needs to be interpreted within the boundaries of the Directive and particularly in accordance with article 1.[4] The Directive, however, at article 6 incorporates a contradiction. In fact, article 6 allows certain age discriminations, by considering ‘lawful’ both direct discrimination (when one person is treated less favourably than the other in a comparable situation) and indirect discrimination (an apparently neutral practice which can create disadvantages). According to article 6, such differences can be objectively justified only by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim needs to be appropriate and necessary. Thus, while Article 21 provides a broad but unequivocal legal framework for prohibiting discriminations, articles 2 and 6 of the Directive 2000/78 respectively provide  both the grounds on which discrimination is prohibited and the grounds on which age discrimination can be justified.  Such duality means, Member States often face the uncertainty of what can objectively justify age discrimination.

Two notable Austrian cases, decided by the European Court of Justice (hereinafter: the Court), demonstrate how article 21 CFR and article 6 of Directive 2000/78 should be mitigate by the principle of proportionality, which requires an adequate balance between a rights provision and a state or public interest. The cases are: David Hütter v Technische Universität Graz[5] and Schmitzer v Bundesministerin für Inneres.[6]

Case law

1) The Hütter case and article 6 of Directive 2000/78

According to article 6 of Directive 2000/78, a justification for difference of treatment must be “objective”. This means that it should be supported by a legitimate aim within the context of national law and the means to achieve such legitimate aim must be “appropriate and necessary”. The legitimate aims listed under Article 6 include: legitimate employment policies, labour market and vocational training objectives. Indeed, under article 6, differences of treatment may include “minimum conditions of age… for access to employment or to certain advantages linked to employment”.

Mr Hütter, who worked as a public servant under Austrian law, was entitled to be paid in accordance with the length of his service. However, the law prescribed that the time he had spent working or training before the age of 18 was not to be included in the calculus. Consequently when, Mr Hütter, completed a period of apprenticeship as a laboratory technician with Technische Universität Graz (TUG), he was recruited at a lower incremental pay point compared to a female colleague in materially similar circumstances, but only 22 months older. The age limit imposed by Austrian law (Vertragsbedienstetengesetz ‘the VBG’) determined an unlawful direct discrimination. The TUG argued that the discrimination was justified by legitimate aims: to ensure that those who had pursued a general secondary education would not be treated less favourably than those who had pursued vocational qualifications; and to promote entry into the labour market for young people.

Mr Hütter brought a claim before the Landesgericht für Zivilrechtssachen Graz (Graz Regional Court for Civil Matters). He sought the payment of compensation equivalent to the difference in treatment he had received due to his age. He considered the difference in treatment to be unjustified and in breach of both Austrian Law and Directive 2000/78. That difference in treatment corresponded to a sum of EUR 69.60.  On the possibility to justify the discrimination suffered by Mr Hütter the ECJ (but he took the claim to Graz) expressed the following opinion:

National legislation which…excludes periods of employment completed before the age of 18 from being taken into account for the purpose of determining the incremental step at which contractual public servants of a Member State are graded, is incompatible with Articles 1, 2 and 6 of Directive 2000/78”.

This declaration motivated a subsequent amendment on Austrian law.

2) The Schmitzer case

The Amending Law apparently solved the incompatibility with Directive 2000/78, by modifying with retroactive effect the wording of Paragraphs 8 and 12 of the GehG (the Law on Salaries of 1956, Gehaltsgesetz) and acknowledging as full work experience the work period before the age of 18. Since then this is now taken into account for the purpose of determining the advancement reference date. Clearly, after the ECJ’s decision in Hütter the financial impact was considerably relevant for the Austrian State. In order to mitigate the financial impact, the Amended Law stated that those who suffered discrimination under the previous system could make an application to switch to the new system. However, in Schmitzer case it was argued that national legislation neutralises the advantage resulting from the inclusion of periods before the age of 18, also placing at a disadvantage only the civil servants disadvantaged by the previous system. In fact, the extension to the periods for the advancement reference date is likely to apply to them alone. Consequently, the adverse effects of the system existing prior to the Amending Law have not ceased entirely for civil servants.

Mr Schmitzer brought an action before the Verwaltungsgerichtshof (Administrative Court), challenging the decision of the Bundesministerin für Inneres which turned down his request for a review of his remuneration status under Paragraph 8 of the GehG, in the version prior to the Amending Law. The Schmitzer case was brought before the ECJ for a Preliminary Ruling which clarified how the “submission of a request by each interested party, as well as those relating to the extension of advancement periods” served “objectives of procedural economy, of respect for acquired rights and of the protection of legitimate expectations”. Mr Schmitzer, had  worked as a civil servant before turning 18,  claimed that the Amending law was still contrary to Directive 2000/78/EC, as it ingrained the effect of the original law. Thus, the ECJ focused on whether this difference in treatment could be justified in the light of article 6.

The Austrian government argued that the legitimate aim pursued by the Amending law was a “budgetary consideration”. The ECJ considered that although budgetary consideration could underpin a social policy of a Member State, it cannot constitute a self-standing legitimate aim within the meaning of article 6. For this reason, such age-based difference in treatment is not objectively justified as appropriate and necessary.

Conclusion

In the Hütter case, the Court recognized Member States’ freedom to determine public measures to promote the integration of young apprentices into the labour market. This freedom is somewhat ambivalent, as it is subjected to the interpretation of the Court. The Austrian policy that did not consider the work experience before the age of 18 was not objectively justified in relation to article 6. The ECJ decision had serious financial consequences for the State, compared to a trivial monetary detriment for Mr Hütter. In the subsequent Schmitzer case, the amendment of Austrian law was still considered to be unlawfully discriminatory as  ‘budgetary considerations’  cannot justify a measure that maintains indefinitely an age-based difference in treatment which was supposed to be eliminated. For this reason, it was not considered “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, as required by article 6 of the Directive, although considering “budgetary considerations” as transitional arrangements for age discrimination could instead require a closer consideration by the Court.

[1]     Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits any discriminations based on “sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation”, reinforcing in this way the link to fundamental or human rights.

[2]                 Francesca Ferraro, Jesús Carmona, “Fundamental Rights in the European Union. The role of the Charter after the Lisbon Treaty”, (2015) EPRS European Parliamentary Research Service. Available online: <http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/IDAN/2015/554168/EPRS_IDA%282015%29554168_EN.pdf > accessed 21.05.2015

[3]     This is confirmed by the case Kücükdeveci v Swedex GmbH & Co KG [2010] IRLR 346  (concerning employment discrimination) where the Court noted that the Charter have the same legal value as the Treaties, including the horizontal effect

[4]     Article 1 (Purpose) “The purpose of this Directive is to lay down a general framework for combating discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation as regards employment and occupation, with a view to putting into effect in the Member States the principle of equal treatment.”; Article 2 (Concept of discrimination) “ 1. For the purposes of this Directive, the ‘principle of equal treatment’ shall mean that there shall be no direct or indirect discrimination whatsoever on any of the grounds referred to in Article 1”.

[5]               Hütter v Technische Universität Graz [2009] ECR I- 5325 (C-88/08). Judgment of June 18, 2009

[6]                Leopold Schmitzer v Bundesministerin für Inneres [2014] ECR,  Case C-530/13

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Detention of asylum-seekers in the UK: a continuous violation of human rights

Introduction

Immigration detention is the detention of migrants who are seeking entry to a territory, or awaiting deportation, removal, or return from a territory.1 It might affect, inter alia, asylum-seekers; for this reason, EU law and international law have developed standards of protection for the human rights involved, with a special focus on applicants for international protection.

In the UK, immigration detention concerns, in the majority of cases, persons who have sought asylum at some stage during their immigration processes.2 The present post explores how the UK legal system deals with their detention and concludes that the current UK regime infringes the standards of protection set out by EU law and international law on many grounds, and it is in urgent need of reformation.

EU law

The main instruments of EU law regulating the detention of third-country nationals (TCN) applying for international protection are the Reception Conditions Directives3 and the recast Reception Conditions Directives.4 The recast Directives provide detailed rules, allowing for the detention of asylum-seekers only in a limited number of case,5 and only when other, less coercive measures cannot be effectively applied instead.6 They impose specific procedural guarantees on the decision to detain,7 and they require detention to be applied ‘only for as short a period as possible’.8 The UK has not opted in: thus, it is only bound by the less detailed regime provided by the Reception Directives.

Under the Reception Directives, TCNs applying for international protection cannot be considered as ‘illegally staying’ in the EU.9 Limitation to their freedom of movement is allowed only in exceptional circumstances.10 Member States have the duty to provide them with living conditions that are ‘adequate for the health of applicants and capable of ensuring their subsistence’.11 They must also ensure that applicants receive the necessary health care,12 and that persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious acts of violence are granted the necessary treatment.13

It is to be noted that, in implementing EU directives, member states should be guided by the relevant principles enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.14 The Charter acknowledges the right to asylum:15 however, the European Court of Justice has not pronounced itself, yet, on the implications of this right.

International law

The most important international instrument regulating asylum is the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugee (RC).16 The Convention precludes the imposition of penalties against refugees coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened, on the mere account of their illegal entry or presence in the State Party.17 More generally, international law is inspired by the principle that ‘seeking asylum is not an unlawful act’.18 Accordingly, the restriction of asylum-seekers’ right to liberty cannot be arbitrary, and must have a ‘legitimate purpose’ (namely: protection of public order, public health, and national security).19 The decision to detain must be taken on a case-by-case basis, with an assessment of whether it is necessary, reasonable in all the circumstances and proportionate to the purpose.20 Furthermore, national laws must establish a temporal limit for detention.21

In terms of regional Human Rights law applicable to the UK, it is noteworthy that the right to asylum is not enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR)22or its Protocols, and no specific provision regulates the detention of asylum seekers.23 However, even if States Parties have the ‘right to control the entry, residence and expulsion of aliens’,24 they must still exercise this right in compliance with their human rights obligations.25 This includes Article 3 ECHR, which provides that no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.26 When assessing which conditions of detention amount to ill-treatment, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) generally applies greater protection to ‘extremely vulnerable’ persons (such as asylum-seekers).27 Thus, applicants for international protection benefit from additional guarantees under the ECHR system.

UK law

In the UK, the detention of an asylum-seeker can be either criminal or administrative in nature. Under Section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971, any foreigner who ‘knowingly enters the United Kingdom in breach of a deportation order or without leave’ has committed a criminal offence. The Immigration Act also gives immigration authorities the discretional power to decide whether to detain migrants pending an examination of their qualification for entry or their removal or departure from the UK.28

The wide discretionary powers conferred upon UK administrative authorities on immigration detention are partly limited by the ‘Hardial Singh’ common law principles.29 However, there are still other issues, such as the absence of a fixed limit on the time that a person (even an asylum-seeker) may be held in immigration detention.30 In the absence of such a limit, the High Court has found that detention for a significant number of years was not unlawful.31 Moreover, there is no automatic or independent review of the appropriateness, lawfulness, or length of detention,32 and migrants subjected to administrative detention are not automatically brought to court with the opportunity to apply for bail.33

After the 1990s, successive Governments have applied a restrictive immigration regime.34 In the 2000s, the Labour Government expressly declared its intention to ‘introduce a new asylum process, detaining more people’,35 and launched the use of a ‘detained fast-track’ for asylum procedures, targeting ‘failed’ asylum seekers.36 The fast track procedure has now been extended to all claimants for asylum whenever ‘it appears that a quick decision is possible’.37 Obviously, this has radically increased the number of detention cases. 38 Indeed, since this extension, the UK has detained more asylum seekers and for longer periods than any other European State, except Greece.39

UK law and EU/international standards

Although the UK is the European country with the highest number of claimants for asylum protection, its legal system does not comply with many obligations under EU law and international law.

The first issue is the qualification of illegal entry as a criminal offence: all migrants, including applicants for international protection, can be held criminally responsible simply for entering the UK without leave. This provision clearly violates the UN Refugee Convention, which prohibits the imposition of penalties against asylum-seekers on the mere account of their illegal entry or presence in a State Party.40 It also runs counter to EU law, under which applicants for international protection cannot be considered as illegally staying in the territory of the EU, until the end of the procedure examining their application.41

The second issue is the indiscriminate detention of all illegal migrants under the immigration authorities’ wide discretionary powers. The ECtHR has held that the UK policy of assimilating the detention of asylum-seekers to the detention of all other migrants does not, per se, constitute a violation of their right to liberty and security.42 Furthermore, since the UK has not opted in to the recast Reception Directives, it is not bound by the EU provisions requiring Member States to use immigration detention only as a measure of ‘last resort’.43 However, the indiscriminate detention of asylum-seekers under the ‘fast-track’ procedure runs counter to the EU provisions requiring Member States to provide asylum-seekers with adequate living conditions.44 It also violates international law, under which the decision to detain should always be made on a case-by-case basis, with an assessment of whether it is necessary, reasonable in all the circumstances and proportionate to the purpose.45 In fact, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the UK practice of approving detention for the sole purpose of processing asylum applications.46

A third issue relates to the conditions of detention, which are suspected of being degrading and inappropriate.47 International and domestic NGOs have reported that, at the time of being detained, migrants were not told whether there was judicial scrutiny of their detention48 and were not given adequate access to legal representation or funding.49 Additionally, the use of gender-mixed accommodation puts women at risk of sexual violence, and creates distinct problems for children. 50

A fourth issue is that in the UK there is no fixed limit to the time a person may be held in immigration detention. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has urged the UK to ‘introduce a limit for immigration detention and take all necessary steps to prevent cases of de facto indefinite detention’.51 However, no limit has been introduced, either in statute or in case law.

Conclusion

The current UK regime on the detention of asylum-seekers is very poor. Despite clear European and international standards, there is an absence of minimum procedural and substantive safeguards for asylum-seekers. In addition, the State’s unwillingness to opt in to the recast Reception Directives allows situations which, in most EU member states, would be regarded as violations of EU law.

This year, a cross party-group of MPs has ‘called for an end to the indefinite detention of migrants, warning that too many people are being unnecessarily detained, under a system they deemed to be “expensive, ineffective and unjust”’.52 One cannot but share this opinion and hope that future UK governments will work concretely to guarantee better compliance with EU and international obligations. At the same time, the UK should opt in the recast Reception Directives, and bring its regime in line with current EU standards.

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Human rights outcasts: seriously-ill migrants as beyond the reach of European protective legal regimes

Illegal aliens suffering from a life-threatening illness have been excluded from the protection of article 3 (right to personal integrity) of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and of the European Council Directive 2004/83/EC.[1] This post examines the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)’s and the European Court of Justice (ECJ)’s positions regarding medical asylum seekers and some of the contradictions emerging from the ECtHR case-law.

The case of S.J. v. Belgium originated in the Belgian Alien Office’s decision to expel Ms S.J., a Nigerian young mother of three, in 2010.[2] Upon her arrival in Belgium in 2007, Ms S.J. was diagnosed with a serious immune system deficiency requiring antiretroviral treatment. She was closely monitored for the following years and as a result her state of health was stabilised. As she had no realistic prospect of obtaining access to the appropriate medical treatment in Nigeria, Ms S.J. requested the ECtHR to declare that her deportation would violate article 3 of the ECHR since it would expose her to a premature death in conditions of acute physical and mental suffering. On 27 February 2014, relying on the principle established in N. v. UK, the ECtHR Chamber ruled that Ms S.J.’s expulsion would not breach article 3.[3] Nonetheless, the Belgian government eventually decided to grant her indefinite leave to remain in Belgium on account of the strong humanitarian considerations characterising her situation.[4] Accordingly, the Grand Chamber struck the case out on 19 March 2015, without departing from the Chamber’s finding of non-violation of article 3.[5]

In his dissent to the Grand Chamber decision, Judge Pinto de Albuquerque strongly criticised the ECtHR’s approach in medical asylum cases and called upon the Court to revisit the ‘unfortunate principle’ laid down in N. v. UK (2008).[6] This case concerned an HIV-infected young Ugandan woman threatened with expulsion from the UK.[7] The Grand Chamber found that her removal to Uganda would not breach article 3 on the basis of the following considerations:

Aliens who are subject to expulsion cannot in principle claim any entitlement to remain in the territory of a Contracting State in order to continue to benefit from medical, social or other forms of assistance and services provided by the expelling State. The fact that the applicant’s circumstances, including his life expectancy, would be significantly reduced if he were to be removed from the Contracting State is not sufficient in itself to give rise to breach of Article 3. The decision to remove an alien who is suffering from a serious mental or physical illness to a country where the facilities for the treatment of that illness are inferior to those available in the Contracting State may raise an issue under Article 3, but only in a very exceptional case, where the humanitarian grounds against the removal are compelling.[8]

The only case where the ECtHR found the circumstances sufficiently exceptional to conclude that the applicant’s removal would be contrary to article 3 was D. v. UK (1997).[9] The applicant was in an advanced stage of Aids and his short life expectancy was contingent on the continuation of the medical treatment available to him in the UK. He was close to death and had formed a bond with the carers who supported him through the end of his life. As he did not have any familial, social or other support in his country of origin, St Kitts, where the adequate medical treatment for his illness was not available, the ECtHR held that his deportation would violate article 3.[10] This case contrasts with subsequent medical asylum cases where the ECtHR found that the circumstances of the applicants were not sufficiently distressing for an issue under article 3 to arise if they were expelled.[11] Their situations were distinguished from D. v. UK on the basis that their illness had not reached a critical stage or that family members could take care of them in their country of origin.[12]

It appears from this case-law that the expulsion of seriously-ill aliens may only raise an issue under article 3 where their illness is so advanced that their death is imminent. As long as their health condition is stable at the time of the proposed removal and they are fit to travel, the ECtHR does not consider as a relevant factor the impossibility in fact of accessing adequate medical treatment in the receiving state, even though this circumstance would most likely cause the applicant’s premature and painful death. In N. v. UK, for instance, N. contended that she would not be able to afford the necessary treatment in Uganda and the Court recognised that without such treatment her state of health would rapidly deteriorate, causing her intense suffering.[13] Yet, her circumstances were not found sufficiently compelling to prevent her expulsion and she died within a few months of her return to Uganda.[14]

The ECtHR has established that article 3 requires Convention states not to remove persons under their jurisdiction to countries where they would be at risk of being exposed to inhuman or degrading treatment.[15] However, the Court has distinguished between situations where the prohibited treatment would emanate from the intentional acts or omissions of public authorities and those where the serious harm would stem from a naturally-occurring disease and the lack of resources to treat it in the receiving country.[16] This distinction is difficult to reconcile with the absolute nature of the prohibition contained in article 3.[17] It seems that it should not matter whether the suffering of an individual arises from an intentional act or a natural condition as long as it reaches a certain degree of gravity and can be prevented by the act of a Convention state. Indeed, even if a state’s responsibility is not engaged on the basis of the deficiencies of its health system, the actions subject to scrutiny under the ECHR are not those of the receiving state but of the expelling state. As pointed out by Judge Power-Forde in her dissent to S.J. v. Belgium (2014), the ‘crucial fact’ that will precipitate the suffering and death of the applicant is not the failure of the receiving country’s health system but the implementation of the removal decision by the expelling state.[18] Pursuant to the rationale of article 3 in removal cases, i.e. protecting individuals from exposure to inhuman or degrading treatment outside the Convention system, the expulsion of aliens to a country where they run a real risk of suffering such treatment should engage the responsibility of the expelling state even though the serious harm is not strictly imputable to the receiving state.

The distinction made by the ECtHR on the basis of the source of the prohibited harm has brought it to adopt contradictory approaches in cases concerning the extradition of prisoners and in medical asylum cases.[19] This difference of treatment is apparent when comparing Aswat v. UK (2013) and S.J. v. Belgium (2014)[20]. In the former, a mentally-ill suspected terrorist whose extradition was requested by the United States claimed that his transfer would expose him to a more hostile prison environment which could result in the deterioration of his mental and physical health. The Court agreed and held that his extradition would engage the responsibility of the UK under article 3.[21] By contrast, in the latter, although it was established that the medical treatment upon which the applicant’s life and personal integrity depended would only be available in her home country at considerable costs, which she could not afford, the Court did not find that her removal would violate article 3.[22]

Migrants suffering from life-threatening conditions are not only excluded from the protection of article 3 ECHR but also from the protective regime granted to refugees and persons otherwise in need of international protection by the EC Directive 2004/83/EC.[23] In M’Bodj v. État belge (2014), the Belgian Constitutional Court requested a preliminary ruling by the ECJ on the question whether aliens suffering from a serious health condition should be included in the category of persons protected by this Directive.[24] The ECJ ruled that, for the Directive to apply, the serious harm to which an alien would be exposed upon removal to his home country ‘must take the form of conduct on the part of a third party and that it cannot therefore simply be the result of general shortcomings in the health system of the country of origin.’[25] Accordingly, it was held that Directive 2004/83/EC does not protect seriously-ill aliens whose state of health is in risk of deteriorating if they are expelled, unless they are intentionally deprived of treatment in the receiving state.[26]

The situation of illegal migrants suffering from a life-threatening condition in countries in which they have been refused asylum is very precarious. However, rather than extending the protective scope of human rights and EU law to afford a minimum level of protection to those vulnerable people, the ECtHR and the ECJ have accepted that European member states have the right to deport them even where such a course of action would in all likelihood bring about their death in dire conditions. It is to be hoped that the ECtHR will align its medical asylum case-law with the protective standard of article 3 as elaborated in other removal cases. The lowering of the very high gravity threshold required for article 3 to be engaged in medical asylum cases could have an impact on the ECJ’s interpretation of serious harm under Directive 2004/83/EC and on the domestic law of Convention states. Such a step is needed to prevent persons like N. being sent to their death with the sanction of European human rights law.

[1] Council Directive 2004/83/EC of 29 April 2004 on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted OJ L 304/12.

[2] S.J. v. Belgium App no 70055/10 (ECtHR, 19 March 2015).

[3] S.J. c. Belgique App no 70055/10 (ECtHR, 27 February 2014).

[4] S.J. (n 2) para 56.

[5] ibid para 61.

[6] ibid para 1.

[7] N. v. the United Kingdom (2008) 47 EHRR 39.

[8] ibid para 42.

[9] D. v. the United Kingdom (1997) 24 EHRR 423; see also B.B. v France App no 47/1998/950/1165 (ECtHR, 7 September 1998) where the European Commission of Human Rights had found that the expulsion of the applicant would violate article 3.

[10] ibid para 51-53.

[11] S.C.C. v. Sweden App no 46553/99 (ECtHR, 15 February 2000); Bensaid v. the United Kingdom (2001) 33 EHRR 10; Arcila Henao v. the Netherlands App no 13669/03 (ECtHR, 24 June 2003); Ndangoya v. Sweden App no 17868/03 (ECtHR, 22 June 2004); Amegnigan v. the Netherlands App no 25629/04 (ECtHR, 25 November 2004); N (n 6); Yoh-Ekale Mwanje c. Belgique (2013) 56 EHRR 35; S.J. (n 3).

[12] See N. (n 7) paras 32-41.

[13] N. (n 7) paras 47-48.

[14] ibid para 50-51; see S.J. (n 3), Opinion dissidente de la Juge Power-Forde p 39 and S.J. (n 2), Dissenting Opinion of Judge Pinto De Albuquerque para 2.

[15] Soering v. UK (1989) 11 EHRR 439 paras 90-91; Vilvarajah and Others v. UK (1991) 14 EHRR 248 para 103; Chahal v. UK (1996) 23 EHRR 413 para 79-81; Ahmed v. Austria (1997) 24 EHRR 278 para 39; H.L.R. v. France (1998) 26 EHRR 29 para 34; Salah Sheekh v. the Netherlands (2007) 45 EHRR 50 para 135; Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy (2012) 55 EHRR 21 para 114.

[16] D. (n 9) para 49; N. (n 7) para 43.

[17] See Pretty v. the United Kingdom (2002) 35 EHRR 1 paras 49-52.

[18] S.J. (n 3) p 40-41.

[19] See previous post discussing Trabelsi v Belgium.

[20] Aswat v the United Kingdom (2013) 58 EHRR 1; S.J. (n 3), see Opinion dissidente de la Juge Power-Forde p 41-42..

[21] Aswat (n 19) para 57.

[22] S. J. (n 2) paras 123 and 126.

[23] Council Directive 2004/83/EC of 29 April 2004 on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted OJ L 304/12.

[24] C‑542/13 Mohamed M’Bodj v. État belge (ECJ, 18 December 2014).

[25] ibid para 35.

[26] ibid para 41.

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