12 avr. 2011

ECHR supports an insolvent borrower attacked by his bank, and strikes "unless" judgements

Mr Félix Chatellier (case 34658/07) was a shareholder of company R. that faced certain difficulties in 1990s. Therefore, he borrowed under his personal name about EUR 762 000 (FRF 5 000 000) from the B. bank in 1993. However, due to the insolvency, the Bordeaux Tribunal of Commerce ordered him to pay EUR 625 654.10 under the annual interest of 10,4 % in 2004. The French fiscal authorities claimed EUR 292 926, and the monthly revenue of his household at the respective time was EUR 2 600 (§§ 7, 11, 14).

Mr Chatellier appealed the judgement, however the bank made an application for “unless judgement”, and the case preparing judge (conseiller de la mise en état) rejected the appeal due to non-payment of the sum ordered by the Bordeaux Tribunal of Commerce. The Bordeaux judges believed that the fact that he allegedly had not paid EUR 292 926 showed that he had certain savings or some hidden money (§ 15).

Why do I talk about this case?

1) The ECHR unanimously rejected this reasoning in declaring the coverage of civil/fiscal cases by the presumption of innocence, which plays a role here because Article 6(1) of the Convention implies it (§ 43).

2) The ECHR imposes the duty of formal proofs for adoption of an “unless” judgement (§ 42). Thus, Strasbourg reduces the scope of use of these judgements.

3) One may observe a political victory of a lower incomes person against a bank.

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