Summaries of judgments

 

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judge and référendaires of the CJEU (Nuno Piçarra, Mariana Tavares and Sophie Perez)
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Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 12 November 2019, Zubair Haqbin v Federaal Agentschap voor de opvang van asielzoekers – Case C-233/18, EU:C:2019:956

Reference for a preliminary ruling — Applicants for international protection — Directive 2013/33/EU — Article 20(4) and (5) — Serious breaches of the rules of the accommodation centres as well as seriously violent behaviour — Scope of the Member States’ right to determine the sanctions applicable — Unaccompanied minor — Reduction or withdrawal of material reception conditions

Facts

The Court of Justice ruled for the first time on the scope of the right conferred on Member States by Article 20(4) Directive 2013/33/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (OJ 2013 L 180, p. 96). The request for a preliminary ruling has been made in proceedings between Z. Haqbin and the Federaal Agentschap voor de opvang van asielzoekers (Federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers, Belgium) concerning a claim for compensation brought by the former following a decision to temporarily excluded him from material reception conditions.

Z. Haqbin, of Afghan nationality, arrived in Belgium as an unaccompanied minor and lodged an application for international protection on December 2015. He was then hosted in a reception centre. In that centre, Z. Haqbin was involved in a brawl with other residents of various ethnic origins. Following that brawl, the director of the reception centre decided to exclude Z. Haqbin for a period of 15 days from material aid in a reception facility. During that period of exclusion (between April and May 2016), Z. Haqbin, according to his own statements, spent his nights in a park in Brussels and stayed with friends.

Z. Haqbin lodged an application to suspend the exclusion measure referred above. That application was dismissed for lack of extreme urgency, since Z. Haqbin had failed to show that he was homeless. Z. Haqbin then brought an action seeking cancellation of that measure and compensation for the damage suffered. The referring court before which Z. Haqbin lodged an appeal against the first-instance ruling that dismissed his action, asked the Court of Justice whether it was possible for the Belgian authorities to withdraw or reduce material reception conditions in respect of an applicant for international protection in Z. Haqbin’s situation. Moreover, with regard to his particular situation, the question arose as to the conditions under which such a sanction can be imposed on an unaccompanied minor.

Decision

Article 20(4) of Directive 2013/33 states that Member States may determine ‘sanctions’ applicable to serious breaches, by the applicant, of the rules of the accommodation centres as well as to seriously violent behaviour of the applicant. In that regard, the Court of Justice clarified that the ‘sanctions’ referred to in Article 20(4) of Directive 2013/33 may, in principle, concern material reception conditions. However, such sanctions must, in accordance with Article 20(5) of the directive, be objective, impartial, motivated and proportionate to the particular situation of the applicant and must, under all circumstances, ensure a dignified standard of living according to Article 1 CFREU.

Therefore, a sanction that is imposed exclusively on the basis of one of the reasons mentioned in Article 20(4) of Directive 2013/33 and consists in the withdrawal, even if only a temporary one, of the full set of material reception conditions or of material reception conditions relating to housing, food or clothing would be irreconcilable with the requirement, arising from Article 20(5) of the directive, to ensure a dignified standard of living for the applicant, since it would preclude the applicant from being allowed to meet his or her most basic needs. Such a sanction would also amount to a failure to comply with the proportionality requirement under Article 20(5) of Directive 2013/33, in so far as even the most stringent sanctions, whose objective is to punish, in criminal law, the breaches or behaviour referred to in Article 20(4) of the directive, cannot deprive the applicant of the possibility of meeting his or her most basic needs. The Court added that Member States are required to guarantee continuously and without interruption a dignified standard of living and that the authorities of the Member States are required to ensure, under their supervision and under their own responsibility, the provision of material reception conditions guaranteeing such a standard of living, including when they have recourse, where appropriate, to private natural or legal persons in order to carry out, under their authority, that obligation.
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