Thursday, 26 June 2014

Greek Council of State refuses to abide by foreign res iudicata recognized in Greece

In a rather peculiar situation, the Council of State did not abide by the res iudicata effect of two judgments issued by the Tverskoy District Court in Moscow and recognized by the Athens 1st Instance Court. The Russian decisions declared that the applicants are Greek nationals. The Council of State ruled that the decisions are not binding, even though already recognized in Greece, because the issue of Greek nationality is not to be examined by foreign courts [Council of State 316/2014, unreported]


The facts: By virtue of a 1996 decision of the Western Athens Prefecture, two individuals, born in 1963 & 1967 in Russia, have been granted the Greek nationality by birth, pursuant to Greek Statutes on nationality. Seven years later the above Prefecture received notice from the Greek police, which in turn was informed by the Interpol branch in Georgia, that the passports submitted for acquiring the status of Greek nationals were falsified. As a result, the administrative act was recalled. The persons affected filed an application to annul the second administrative act. They asserted that the prefecture should abide by the res iudicata effect of the Russian decisions, since they have been recognized in Greece. 

The ruling: The Council of State clarified that the issue of an individual’s nationality is governed exclusively by the law of the country in question, that being part of its sovereignty powers. Hence, only Greek courts and authorities are competent to examine the matter. Beyond that, Art. 780 & 323 Greek Code of Civil Procedure [i.e. the provisions dealing with recognition of foreign judgments] are not allowing the recognition of foreign res iudicata regarding matters regulated by Greek legislation as falling into the sovereign powers of the state. The Council of State made also reference to the bilateral treaty on judicial assistance with ex-Soviet Union, still in force between Greece and Russia, mentioning Art. 24 Para. 4, which sets as a prerequisite to recognition that the case should not be subjected to the exclusive competence of state bodies of the country where the judgment is to be recognized or enforced. Finally, with regard to the issue of res iudicata, the Council of State ruled that the Greek State is not bound by the effects of the Russian judgments, since it was not a party in the Moscow proceedings
For the reasons above, the application for annulment was dismissed.

Comments: I don’t think anyone would disagree with this ruling. Allowing foreign courts to decide over matters of undisputable sovereignty for each state (like the nationality issue in the present case) would open the bag of Aeolus. Moroccan courts would grant the Spanish, Algerian courts the French, Libyan courts the Italian nationality, etc etc. Even if one is willing to give the applicants the benefit of the doubt on the falsification issue, the matter extends to much larger proportions, beyond the specific subject matter of the case at hand.

Of course, the problem began by the Athens court giving green light to the Russian judgments. Obviously the court was not aware of the potential ramifications the case would develop. Over the last decade, there has been a flurry of Russian judgments regarding personal status matters, like amendments of first and last names in register-offices, adoptions, declarations of absence, etc. So courts are frequently faced with applications to recognize Russian decisions, because Greek authorities are explicitly asking for such, in order to proceed to respective registrations and issue certificates requested. In the heat of the moment, the Athens court mistakenly considered the nationality issue as part of the personal status agenda in the Greek-Russian judicial assistance treaty. This is evidently not the case, and with this ruling the Council of State draws a clear red line in the recognition of foreign judgments.