Non bis in idem: between Menci and bpost – Judgment of the CJEU in the BV case

In the case of BV (C-570/20, 5.5.2022), the CJEU again ruled on the requirements of the non bis in idem principle (prohibition of double jeopardy) laid down in Article 50 of the EU-Charter on fundamental rights. The referring court in this case, the French Court of cassation, had doubts as to whether, basically, the French legislation allowing VAT-related offences to be punished through a combination of a financial administrative penalty of a criminal nature and a custodial sentence was precise enough to comply with the EU law requirements in this area.

What is somewhat surprising in this ruling, from a Convention point of view, is yet again an apparent lack of methodological coherence by the CJEU as regards the exceptions which can be made to the non bis in idem principle in respect of dual proceedings. Whereas the CJEU in its recent Grand Chamber ruling in the bpost case seemed willing to somewhat close the methodological gap between its own Menci jurisprudence and the Strasbourg A and B jurisprudence, the present judgment seems to take a step back in this respect, by not at all referring to either A and B or bpost and even seemingly ignoring the progress achieved by the latter in bringing some more coherence between the Strasbourg and Luxembourg case-law on this issue. All case-law references are indeed to the sole Menci case which, one could have thought, had been complemented or superseded by bpost in the meantime.

In concrete terms, whereas bpost took on board some of the Strasbourg criteria which in Menci had played no role, notably the fact that for a duplication of proceedings to be acceptable, the two sets of proceedings at stake had to be complementary in nature and form a “coherent whole” (§ 49), or indeed that there was to be a “sufficiently close connection in substance and time” between them (§ 53), in the present ruling these elements are completely left out of the enumeration made by the CJEU of the requirements to be fulfilled under Article 52(1) of the EU-Charter (§§ 30-36), despite their importance, as underlined both in bpost and A. and B.

Perhaps one should not read too much into the present judgment, bearing in mind that the focus in BV was on the precision of the domestic legislation. The fact remains, though, that in an area which is already highly complex and has over the years been the subject of a succession of varying approaches, any additional confusion as to the applicable standards should preferably be avoided. From this perspective, a clear indication about the methodological continuity between bpost and BV would have been welcome, thus dispelling the – hopefully false – impression that Menci still looks like the leading case when it comes to dual proceedings in Luxembourg.