Excessive English Costs Orders and Greek Public Policy
Dr. Apostolos Anthimos is attorney at law at the Thessaloniki Bar, Greece. He holds a Ph.D. in International Civil Litigation and is a visiting lecturer at the International Hellenic University.
Two recent Court of Appeal rulings in Greece have demonstrated the significance of the public policy clause in international litigation and arbitration. Both judgments are dealing with the problem of recognition and enforcement of ”excessive” costs awarded by English courts and arbitration panels. The issue has been brought several times before Greek courts within the last decade. What follows, is a brief presentation of the findings, and some concluding remarks of the author.
I.a. In the first case, the Corfu CoA refused to grant enforceability to a costs order and a default costs certificate of the York County Court on the grounds that Greek courts wouldn’t have imposed such an excessive amount as costs of the proceedings for a similar case in Greece. In particular, the court found that, granting costs of more than £ 80,000 for a case, where the amount in dispute was £ 17,000, contravenes Greek public policy perceptions. Thus, the amount of £ 45,000 + 38,251.47 was considered as manifestly disproportionate and excessive for the case at hand. Consequently, the CoA granted exequatur for the remaining sums, and refused recognition for the above costs, which could not be tolerated by a court of law in Greece.
I.b. In the second case, the Piraeus CoA recognized an English arbitral award despite allegations made by the appellant, that the award’s order for costs contravened public policy. In this case the amount in dispute was in the altitude of nearly $ 3 million, whereas the costs granted did not exceed £ 100,000. The court applied the same rule as in the previous case, and found that the costs were not disproportionate to the case at stake.
II. As already mentioned above, those decisions are the last part on a sequence of judgments since 2005. Free circulation of English judgments is generally guaranteed in Greece; the problem starts when English creditors seek to enforce the pertinent costs orders. For Greek legal views, it is sheer impossible that costs exceed the actual amount in dispute in the main proceedings. This was reason enough for the Supreme Court (Areios Pagos = AP) to establish the doctrine of public policy violation, on the occasion of an appeal against a judgment of the Athens CoA back in 2006 [AP 1829/2006, Private Law Chronicles 2007, p. 635 et seq.]. The Supreme Court held, that granting enforceability to similar orders would violate the principle of proportionality, which is embedded both in the Greek Constitution and the ECHR. At the same time, it emphasized that the excessive character of costs impedes access to Justice for Greek citizens, invoking again provisions from the Greek Constitution (Art. 20.1) and the Human Rights Convention (Art. 6.1). The reasoning of the Supreme Court is followed by later case law: In an earlier judgment of the Corfu CoA [Nr. 193/2007, Legal Tribunal 2009, p. 557 et seq.] the court reiterated the line of argumentation stated by the Supreme Court, and refused to grant exequatur (again) to an English order for costs. Two years later, the Larissa CoA [Nr. 484/2011, unreported], followed the opposite direction, based on the fact that costs were far lower than the amount in dispute.
In regards to foreign arbitral awards, mention needs to be made to two earlier Supreme Court judgments, both of which granted enforceability and at the same time rejected the opposite grounds for refusal on the basis of Art. V 2 b NYC. In the first case [AP 1066/2007, unreported], the Supreme Court found no violation of public policy by recognizing an English award, which awarded costs equivalent to half of the subject matter. A later ruling [AP 2273/2009, Civil Law Review 2010, p. 1273 et seq.] reached the same result, by making reference to the previous exchange of bill of costs particulars, for which none of the parties expressed any complaints during the hearing of the case before the Panel.
In conclusion, it is obvious that Greek courts are showing reservation towards those foreign costs orders, which are perceived as excessive according to domestic legal standards. This stance is not unique, taking into account pertinent case law reported in France and Argentina [for the former, see Cour de Cassation 1re Chambre civil, 16.3.1999, Clunet 1999, p. 773; for the latter see Kronke / Nacimento / Otto / Port (ed.), Recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards – A global commentary on the New York Convention (2010), p. 397, note 245]. The decisive element in the courts’ view is the interrelation between the subject matter and the costs: If the latter is higher than the former, no expectations of recognition and enforcement should be nourished. If however the latter is lower than the former, public policy considerations do not usually prevail.
Final point: As evidenced by the case law above, it is clear that the Greek jurisprudence is applying the same criteria for foreign judgments and arbitral awards alike, irrespective of their country of origin. As far as the latter is concerned, no objections could or should be raised. However, making absolute no distinction between foreign judgments emanating from EU – Member States and non-Member States courts seems to defy the recent vivid discussion that predominated during the Brussels I recast preparation phase (2009-2012). Fact is, that public policy survived in the European context, and will continue playing a significant role in the new era (Regulation 1215/2012). Still, what is missing from Greek case law is an effort to somehow soften the intensity of public policy control in the EU landscape. Whatever the reason might be, a clear conclusion may be reached: Greek case law gives back to public policy a Raison d’être, demonstrating the importance of its existence, even when judicial cooperation and free circulation of judgments are the rules of the game.