C-467/05, Dell'Orto

In this case, the Court was asked to clarify whether Council Framework Decision 2001/220/JHA of 15 March 2001 on the standing of victims in criminal proceedings in conjunction with Council Directive 2004/80/EC of 29 April 2004 relating to compensation to crime victims required funds embezzled from a public limited company which had suffered harm to be repaid in criminal proceedings.

In particular the question arose whether, contrary to the definition contained in Article 1(a), the concept of victim in the Framework Decision not only covered natural persons but should be extended to legal persons.

In this respect, the referring court relied on the directive, which did not contain any definition of victims.

In accordance with the Court’s findings in Pupino on the principle of the conformity of interpretation in relation to Framework Decisions, the national Court wished to interpret national law so as far as possible in the light of the wording and purpose of the Framework Decision in order to attain the result which it pursued and thus comply with Article 34(2)(b) EU.

However, several governments which had submitted observations questioned the admissibility of the reference for a preliminary ruling.

The United Kingdom Government, for instance, submitted that the reference for a preliminary ruling was inadmissible because it was based on Article 234 EC, whereas the interpretation sought concerned the Framework Decision, hence an act adopted under Title VI of the EU Treaty.

It argued that, in such a case, the reference should be based exclusively on Article 35(1) EU, whereas Article 234 EC was not applicable.

The Court, however, held that the system under Article 234 EC was capable of being applied to the Court’s jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings by virtue of Article 35 EU, subject to the conditions laid down by that provision. (see also Case C-105/03 Pupino [2005])

The fact that the order for reference did not mention Article 35 EU, but refered to Article 234 EC, could not of itself make the reference for preliminary ruling inadmissible.

The Court argued that this conclusion was reinforced by the fact that the Treaty on European Union neither expressly nor by implication laid down the form in which the national court must present its reference for a preliminary ruling.

The Netherlands Government questioned the admissibility of the reference for a preliminary ruling on the ground that the factual and legislative context was not defined sufficiently in the order for reference.

The Court, however, held that the presumption that questions referred by national courts for a preliminary ruling were relevant might be rebutted only in exceptional cases, namely where:

(1) the interpretation which was sought referred to in the questions bore no relation to the actual facts of the main action or to its purpose

(2) the problem was hypothetical

(3) the Court did not have before it the factual or legal material necessary to give a useful answer to the questions submitted to it

The Court held that the need to provide an interpretation of Community law which would be of use to the national court presupposed that the latter set out the factual and legislative context of the questions it was asking or, at the very least, explained the factual circumstances on which those questions were based.

In that regard, it was essential that the national court should give at the very least some explanation of the reasons for the choice of the provisions of Union law which it required to be interpreted and on the link it established between those provisions and the national legislation applicable to the dispute (see, with regard to Article 234 EC, Case C-295/05 Asemfo [2007]).

Furthermore, the information provided in orders for reference must not only be such as to enable the Court to reply usefully but must also enable the governments of the Member States and other interested parties to submit observations pursuant to Article 23 of the Statute of the Court of Justice (see, inter alia, Case C-303/05 Advocaten voor de Wereld [2007]).

The Court held that the order for reference set out the underlying facts of the main action and the provisions of applicable national law which were directly relevant and it explained the reasons why the court making the reference was seeking an interpretation of the Framework Decision, and also the link between the latter and the national legislation applicable in the matter. The reference for a preliminary ruling was therefore admissible.

As to the substance of the case, the Court held that the Framework Decision must be interpreted as meaning that, in criminal proceedings and, in particular, in enforcement proceedings following a judgment which resulted in a final criminal conviction, such as those in the main action, the concept of ‘victim’ for the purposes of the Framework Decision did not include legal persons who had suffered harm directly caused by acts or omissions that were in violation of the criminal law of a Member State.

Text of Judgment