Rights of the defence and mutual recognition of financial penalties: judgment by the CJEU in the case of Prokuratura Rejonowa Łódź-Bałuty

In the case of Prokuratura Rejonowa Łódź-Bałuty (C-338/20, 6.10.2021), which concerned Framework Decision 2005/214 on the application of the principle of mutual recognition to financial penalties, the CJEU drew on the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights on the scope of Article 6 of the Convention (fair trial) in order to conclude, by reference to Article 52(3) of the EU-Charter, that addressees of financial penalties falling within the scope of Framework Decision 2005/214 are entitled to rely on the fundamental rights enshrined in the second paragraph of Article 47 and Article 48(2) of the EU-Charter, notably the right to be informed in a language which they understand of the essential elements of a decision imposing such a financial penalty (§§ 29-30). The CJEU furthermore relied on the case-law of the Strasbourg Court in identifying these essential elements (§§ 35-38).

That being so, the CJEU ruled that the competent authority of the executing Member State may, on the basis of Article 20(3) of Framework Decision 2005/214, oppose the recognition and execution of a decision imposing a financial penalty on the addressee thereof where that decision is notified to him or her without a translation of these essential elements into a language which he or she understands and without giving him or her, where appropriate, the possibility of obtaining such a translation (§ 40).

In this connection, the CJEU recalled that according to Article 3 of Framework Decision 2005/214, that Framework Decision shall not have the effect of amending the obligation to respect fundamental rights and fundamental legal principles as enshrined in Article 6 TEU. For this reason, Article 20(3) of that framework decision indeed provides that the competent authority of the Member State of execution may refuse to recognise and execute a decision requiring payment of a financial penalty in the event of infringement of fundamental rights or fundamental legal principles (§ 26).

One may however wonder why the EU legislature has made the refusal to recognise and execute such a decision only optional (“may refuse”) and not mandatory (“shall refuse”). It may be due to the fact that Article 20(3) refers to situations giving rise “to an issue that fundamental rights or fundamental legal principles as enshrined in Article 6 of the Treaty may have been infringed”, thus suggesting some uncertainty as to whether those rights and principles have indeed be breached in the concrete circumstances of the case. By contrast, the CJEU in § 26 refers to situations apparently not giving rise to such uncertainty (“in the event of infringement of fundamental rights or fundamental legal principles”). Maintaining the optional character of a refusal to recognise and execute a decision imposing a financial penalty in such circumstances would not appear entirely consistent with the mandatory principle stated in Article 3 of the Framework Decision (“shall not”), referred to above.

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