C-399/11 Stefano Melloni v Ministerio Fiscal [2013]

C-399/11 Stefano Melloni v Ministerio Fiscal [2013]

C-399/11 Melloni v Ministerio Fiscal [2013] is an important EU law case establishing that member states cannot restrict the application of EU law by invoking higher levels of fundamental rights protection.

Stefano Melloni, the subject of the case, had fled bail in Italy and was later recaptured in Spain under a European Arrest Warrant. He had been convicted in absentia in Italy for fraudulent bankruptcy and sentenced to 10 years. The issue arose as to whether Melloni was entitled to have his conviction reviewed upon arrest in Spain. Spanish constitutional law conditionalised the surrender of individuals convicted in absentia on their ability to have their convictions reviewed, in line with the right to a fair trial. However, an EU framework decision stated that such a review was not necessary if the person had been represented by lawyers in absentia during the trial.

The core legal question was whether Article 53 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights allows member states to provide higher levels of rights protection under their national constitutions than under EU law, thereby potentially restricting the application of EU law.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) held that the EU Directive had primacy over Spanish constitutional law. Melloni was not entitled to have his conviction reviewed upon arrest. The interpretation of Article 53 indicated that member states cannot invoke higher levels of fundamental rights protection than under EU law to restrict the application of EU law.

The judgment emphasised that allowing a member state to apply a standard of protection under its national constitution that is higher than that derived from the Charter, and giving it primacy over EU law, would undermine the principle of the primacy of EU law. It would enable a member state to fully disapply EU rules while complying with the Charter.

The ECJ clarified that when EU law requires national implementing measures, national courts remain free to apply national standards of human rights protection. However, this is allowed only if the level provided for by the Charter is not compromised, and the principle of supremacy of EU law is not violated.

The Framework Decision, which exempted a review of convictions in certain cases, was deemed compatible with the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The judgment reinforced the principle that EU law holds primacy, but member states are free to provide higher standards of protection, as long as they do not compromise EU law and the principles enshrined in the Charter.
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