Case C-96/04, Standesamt Stadt Niebüll

Last Thursday, the Court reiterated that a national court may refer a question only “if there is a case pending before it and if it is called upon to give judgment in proceedings intended to lead to a decision of a judicial nature.”

Case C-96/04 concerned the child Leonhard Matthias, born in 1998 to parents Dorothee Paul and Stefan Grunkin. Some months after his birth, the surname ‘Grunkin-Paul’ was entered by his parents on his Danish birth certificate by virtue of an administrative certificate, issued in accordance with Danish law.

The Registrar’s Office in Germany refused to recognise this surname on the ground that German legislation does not allow a child to bear a double-barrelled name composed of his father and mother’s surnames.

The Registrar’s Office brought the matter before the Amtsgericht Niebüll, which task it is to designate either the parent who will have the right to choose the child’s surname, or, if that choice is not exercised, whose own surname it will be given.

The Amtsgericht Niebüll referred the question whether the relevant German legislation violated Article 12 and 18 EC.

Prior to the present procedure, Leonhard Matthias’s parents had already asked the German authorities to recognise the surname given to him in Denmark, and challenged their refusal in the German courts, but their challenge was dismissed at last instance on 7 January 2003.

The Court has already articulated several criteria in order to determine whether a body making a reference is a court or tribunal in the sense of Article 234 EC, such as whether the body is established by law, whether it is permanent, whether its jurisdiction is compulsory, whether its procedure is inter partes, whether it applies rules of law and whether it is independent (see case law mentioned below).

The Court held that, even though perhaps meeting some of this conditions, the Amtsgericht Niebüll essentially had a purely administrative function. Therefore, the Court had no jurisdiction to answer the question referred.

The Court also took into account that even though there was a dispute between the parents and the administration, that dispute was already settled at last instance.

Nor was there a dispute between the parents “since they are in agreement about the name they wish to give to their child, namely the double-barrelled name composed of their respective surnames.” (para. 19)

Text of Judgment

Relevant case law: