Brussels Labour Court of Appeal, Sipos Szabo v North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Kingdom of Belgium, 2018/AB/22, 28 October 2020
The case concerned a medical doctor who claimed an entitlement under NATO’s Civilian Personnel Regulation (CPR) to an indefinite contract and had brought its claims before NATO’s Administrative Tribunal. NATO’s Tribunal ruled it had no jurisdiction to entertain the claims because the plaintiff concluded successive sui generis contracts that NATO was entitled to offer. Those contracts did not bring the plaintiff within the realm of the CPR, while the jurisdiction of NATO’s Tribunal is limited to alleged breaches of the CPR. The plaintiff brought her claims before Belgian courts, host nation of NATO, and argued on the basis of ECtHR case-law relating to the interplay between the right to a judge and International Organizations’ immunity that NATO’s immunity must be set aside because she did not have access to an effective remedy within NATO’s legal system as NATO’s Tribunal declared itself without jurisdiction and arguably did not consider the merits of her claims. NATO’s immunity was upheld before Brussels’ Labour Tribunal and, on appeal, by the Brussels Labour Court of Appeal which agreed with NATO that the plaintiff’s argument was based on a wrong premise, that NATO’s internal justice system was effective and independent, that the plaintiff was heard and received an articulated legal answer to her claims following due process.
Brussels Court of Appeal, Prosecutor v A.I., B.H. et al., 2017 FC 1, 26 February 2019
The case concerned several individuals accused of terrorist offences on account of their alleged involvement in a terrorist group operating in Chechnya. The Court held that Article 6(3)(a) ECHR (the right to a fair trial) does not imply that the indictment must state all the concrete information from which the existence of the personal involvement of the accused can be derived. In casu, the charges were sufficiently clear and unambiguous. The Brussels Court of Appeal held, however, that there were no indications that the defendants were indeed guilty of the crimes charged. Accordingly, there was no need to inquire whether the ‘terrorism exception’ of Article 141bis of the Belgian Criminal Code, relating to acts of armed forces during an armed conflict, was applicable.
Supreme Court, M.R. v La Posterie, Nr. C.16.0039.N, 28 October 2016
The Belgian Supreme Court adjudges that the immunity of jurisdiction of a member of the United States Permanent Representation to NATO (as per Article XII of the Ottawa Agreement and Articles 29-31 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR)) does not violate the right of access to court (Article 6 ECHR). In a case involving a dispute over the payment of rent arrears, the lower court had previously held that such immunity would violate the right of access to court, in light of the fact that the proceedings would “in no way compromise” the proper functioning of the US Permanent Representation or NATO itself. According to the Supreme Court, however, this approach was not legally justifiable. The Supreme Court further recalls that lawsuits regarding the lease of a private home do not fall within the exception to immunity from jurisdiction under Article 31 (1) (a) VCDR.
Belgian Supreme Court, NML Capital Ltd v Republic of Argentina, Nr. C.13.0537.F, 11 December 2014
According to the Court, the right of access to court, as enshrined in Article 6 ECHR, cannot be invoked to force a State to set aside the customary rule of immunity from execution, which seeks to ensure the proper functioning of diplomatic missions and to promote friendly relations between sovereign States. The Court rejects the argument that immunity from execution must be set aside when no alternative means of legal redress are available.
Labour Court of Appeal Brussels, Confederation of Christian Trade Unions and General Federation of Labour of Belgium v United States, A.R. 2010/AB/1214, 3 May 2012
The jurisdictional immunity of states is a rule of customary international law that prohibits the jurisdictions of one state from exercising its jurisdictional power over another state that has not consented. However, this immunity is limited: it concerns acts relating to sovereignty, not administration. In principle, the states may not invoke jurisdictional immunity before a court of another state in proceedings relating to employment contracts. However, no exception to the states’ jurisdictional immunity is provided for collective labor relations. Disputes concerning the regulations on the establishment of works councils are collective and not individual. The primacy of access to justice (Article 6 of the ECHR) over the rule of jurisdictional immunity and immunity from execution presupposes that the person against whom the immunity is asserted does not have other reasonable means of effectively obtaining the protection of the rights guaranteed to him by the ECHR. What matters in this regard is not that an action can be brought in the state of residence of the plaintiffs or that certainty is provided as to the application of the law of that state by the foreign jurisdiction, but that that jurisdiction (or the body of the international organization to which an internal action can be brought, as in the cases submitted to the Supreme Court) provides the guarantees of impartiality and independence of the court.