Northern Cyprus and the Acquis Communautaire

by Veronika Gaertner on February 23, 2008

The Court of Appeal (Civil Division) has referred an interesting reference for a preliminary ruling to the ECJ on the application of the Brussels I Regulation with regard to judgments relating to land in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (Meletis Apostolides v David Charles Orams, Linda Elizabeth Orams, C-420/07):

1. In this question,

the term “the Government-controlled area” refers to the area of the Republic of Cyprus over which the Government of the Republic of Cyprus exercises effective control; and

the term “the northern area” refers to the area of the Republic of Cyprus over which the Government of the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control.

Does the suspension of the application of the acquis communautaire in the northern area [ by Article 1(1) of Protocol No 10 of the Act of Accession 2003 of Cyprus to the EU preclude a Member State Court from recognising and enforcing a judgment given by a Court of the Republic of Cyprus sitting in the Government-controlled area relating to land in the northern area, when such recognition and enforcement is sought under Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters1 ("Regulation 44/2001"), which is part of the acquis communautaire'?

Does Article 35(1) of Regulation 44/2001 entitle or bind a Member State court to refuse recognition and enforcement of a judgment given by the Courts of another Member State concerning land in an area of the latter Member State over which the Government of that Member State does not exercise effective control? In particular, does such a judgment conflict with Article 22 of Regulation 44/2001?

3. Can a judgment of a Member State court, sitting in an area of that State over which the Government of that State does exercise effective control, in respect of land in that State in an area over which the Government of that State does not exercise effective control, be denied recognition or enforcement under Article 34(1) of Regulation 44/2001 on the grounds that as a practical matter the judgment cannot be enforced where the land is situated, although the judgment is enforceable in the Government-controlled area of the Member State?

4. Where -

a default judgment has been entered against a defendant;

the defendant then commenced proceedings in the Court of origin to challenge the default judgment; but

his application was unsuccessful following a full and fair hearing on the ground that he had failed to show any arguable defence (which is necessary under national law before such a judgment can be set aside),

can that defendant resist enforcement of the original default judgment or the judgment on the application to set aside under Article 34(2) of Regulation 44/2001, on the ground that he was not served with the document which instituted the proceedings in sufficient time and in such a way as to enable him to arrange for his defence prior to the entry of the original default judgment? Does it make a difference if the hearing entailed only consideration of the defendant's defence to the claim.

5. In applying the test in Article 34(2) of Regulation 44/2001 of whether the defendant was "served with the document which instituted the proceedings or with an equivalent document in sufficient time and in such a way as to enable him to arrange for his defence" what factors are relevant to the assessment? In particular:

Where service in fact brought the document to the attention of the defendant, is it relevant to consider the actions (or inactions) of the defendant or his lawyers after service took place?

What if any relevance would particular conduct of, or difficulties experienced by, the defendant or his lawyers have?

(c) Is it relevant that the defendant's lawyer could have entered an appearance before judgment in default was entered?

The background of the case was as follows: Mr. Apostolides, a Greek Cypriot, owned land in an area which is now under the control of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is not recognised by any country save Turkey, but has nonetheless de facto control over the area. When in 1974 the Turkish army invaded the north of the island, Mr. Apostolides had to flee. In 2002, Mr. and Mrs. Orams (British citizens) purchased part of the land which had come into the ownership of Mr. Apostolides. In 2003, Mr. Apostolides was - due to the easing of travel restrictions - able to travel to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and saw the property. In 2004 he issued a writ naming Mr. and Mrs. Orams as defendants claiming to demolish the villa, the swimming pool and the fence they had built, to deliver Mr. Apostolides free occupation of the land and damages for trespass. Since the time limit for entering an appearance elapsed, a judgment in default of appearance was entered on 9 November 2004. Subsequently, a certificate was obtained in the form prescribed by Annex V to the Brussels I Regulation. Against the judgment of 9 November 2004, an application was issued on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Orams that the judgment be set aside. This application to set aside the judgment, however, was dismissed by the District Court at Nicosia on the grounds that Mr. Apostolides had not lost his right to the land and that neither local custom nor the good faith of Mr. and Mrs. Orams constituted a defence.

On the application of Mr. Apostolides to the English High Court, the master ordered in October 2005 that those judgments should be registered in and declared enforceable by the High Court pursuant to the Brussels I Regulation. However, Mr. and Mrs. Orams appealed in order to set the aside the registration, inter alia on the ground that the Brussels I Regulation was not applicable to the area controlled by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus due to Art. 1 of Protocol 10 to the Treaty of Accession of the Republic of Cyprus to the European Union.

This article reads as follows:

1. The application of the acquis shall be suspended in those areas of the Republic of Cyprus in which the government of the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control. [...]

Jack J (Queen´s Bench Division) allowed the appeal on 6 September 2006 by holding inter alia

that the effect of the Protocol [10 of the Treaty of Accession of the Republic of Cyprus] is that the acquis, and therefore Regulation No 44/2001, are of no effect in relation to matters which relate to the area controlled by the TRNC [i.e. the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus], and that this prevents Mr Apostolides relying on it to seek to enforce the judgments which he has obtained. (para. 30)

Subsequently, Mr. Apostolides lodged an appeal against the judgment of the Queen’s Bench Division at the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal decided to refer the above cited questions to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling according to Art. 234 EC-Treaty.

The outcome of the case is both of general significance since it concerns the ambit of the application of the acquis communautaire and of particular relevance for comparable cases since – depending on the Court’s ruling – it may have consequences for other Greek Cypriots who have lost their property in Northern Cyprus.

The decision of the Queen’s Bench Division of 6 September 2006 can be accessed via Westlaw, [2006] EWHC 2226 (QB).

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