Republic of Estonia

JurisdictionFrance
CourtCourt of Cassation (France)
France, Court of Cassation (First Civil Chamber).

(Grgoire, President; Lemontey, Rapporteur; Lupi, Advocate-General)

Republic of Estonia

State immunity Immunity from jurisdiction Dispute over property rights Building used as diplomatic mission by foreign State Application by another foreign State aimed at obtaining recognition of property rights over building Whether municipal courts may invoke immunity ex officio on behalf of foreign State Whether municipal courts required to determine whether foreign State is likely to assert immunity in subsequent proceedings

Diplomatic relations Immunity Inviolability of premises of diplomatic mission Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, Articles 22 and 31 Scope of application The law of France

Summary: The facts:1On 11 March 1990 the Republic of Estonia declared its independence from the Soviet Union. Its independence was recognized by the Supreme Soviet on 27 August 1991, following a failed coup d'tat in the Soviet Union which led to the break-up of the Union into its constituent States. The Republic of Estonia then lodged an application before the French courts for the appointment of a court official to establish the identity of the occupants of a building in Paris which, it claimed, had been purchased and then used as its diplomatic mission from 1935 until 1939, prior to its annexation by the USSR. At first instance, and on appeal, the French courts dismissed the application as inadmissible on the ground that it was contrary to the principles of the inviolability of diplomatic premises and the immunity of diplomatic agents enshrined in Articles 22 and 31 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, as well as the jurisdictional immunity of foreign States. The Republic of Estonia appealed to the Court of Cassation.

Held:The appeal was allowed and the case was remitted for a decision on the merits to the Court of Appeal of Versailles.

(1) The jurisdictional immunity of foreign States was not absolute. It could only be invoked by a State which believed that it was entitled to rely upon it, where it had not waived its right to do so. The Court of Appeal had held that the application at issue, which sought in due course to obtain recognition of property rights over the premises at issue, violated the jurisdictional immunity of a foreign State. However, the Court of Appeal had wrongly substituted its own assessment for that of the State which would be the defendant in any subsequent proceedings...

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