Jurisdictional immunity for international organizations is subject to an effective remedy

In a ruling handed down on January 16, 2024, the Paris Court of Appeal rejected the European Space Agency’s defence based on jurisdictional immunity in proceedings before French courts.

In this case, following the suicide of an Agency engineer, the Agency’s Appeals Board ordered the Agency to pay a certain amount to the victim’s parents, on the grounds that his death was linked to his professional situation and constituted a work-related injury, without granting all their claims.

The victim’s family subsequently lodged a criminal complaint with the Public Prosecutor of Paris for moral harassment, failure to assist a person in danger, incitement to suicide and manslaughter.

Claimants requested a waiver of the jurisdictional immunity of the Agency and its staff, as well as the inviolability of their documents. The Director General of the Agency and the Council of Member States responded unfavourably.

The civil parties then applied to the Agency’s Appeals Board to have this decision upheld. However, this request was rejected on the grounds that it had been “brought before an incompetent court“.

In May 2019, following an appeal ruled inadmissible by the European Court of Human Rights for failure to exhaust domestic remedies, claimants brought an action against the Agency before the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance. In particular, they requested that the Court order the Director General and the Chairman of the Board of the Agency to lift the immunities of the Agency and its members.

The court of first instance dismissed this request and claimants appealed, giving rise to the judgment commented hereafter.

The Court of Appeal recalled that jurisdictional immunity, if it is to be compatible with both the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the French view of international public policy, must provide for an effective remedy before an independent court to hear a dispute between a member of the Agency or his heirs and the Agency (recalling the solution adopted by the CJEU in Waite and Kennedy v Germany of February 18, 1999).

The Court of Appeal thus held that the defence based on jurisdictional immunity of the Agency and its staff is admissible only if the claimants have a reasonable alternative to challenge the refusal of the Agency to waive these immunities.

In practice, however, because the Agency’s Appeals Board had declared it had no jurisdiction over this issue, the Court of Appeal found that the absence of a remedy against a decision by the Director of the Agency and by the Council of Member States to refuse to waive jurisdictional immunity was a violation of article 6, paragraph 1 of the ECHR and of international public policy, and dismissed the appeal.

This ruling of the Court of Appeal , therefore, shows that the defence based on jurisdictional immunity is inoperative in the absence of an effective remedy.

CA Paris, Pôle 4 chamber 13, January 16, 2024, no. 20/17725




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