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APPLICATION/REQUTE N 8988/80

X . v/BELGIU M
X . c/BELGIQU E

DECISION of 10 March 1981 on the admissibility of the application


DCISION du 10 mars 1981 sur la recevabilit de la requt e

Article 6, paragraph I of the Convention : Not applicable to urgent proceedings


which lead to the adjudication of bankruptcy .

Article 7, paragraph I of the Convention : Not applicable to the adjudication


of bankruptcy by a non-crintinal jurisdiction .

Article 8, paragraph 2 of the Convention : Control of a bankrupt's correspon-


dence considered rtecessan' for the protection of the rights of others and in
some cases for the econontic well-being of the country .

Article 1 of the First Protocol : The adjudication of bankruptcy does not


constitute a deprivation of possessions but a control of its use is accordance
with the general interest .
Article 2, paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Fourth Protocol : Forbidding the
bankrupt from absentirrg himself considered necessa ry for maintenance of
"ordre public" and for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others .

Article 6, paragraphe l, de la Convention : lnapplicable une procdure de carac-


tre provisionnel aboutissant au prononc de la faillite .

Article 7, paragraphe 1, de la Convention : /napplicable au prononc d'une


faillite par une autorit non rpressive.

Article 8, paragraphe 2, de la Convention : Contrle de la correspondance


d'un failli considr comme ncessaire la protection des droits d'autrui,
ventuellernent au bien-tre conomique du pays .

Article 1 du Protocole additionnel : La fail(ite n'est pas une privation des


biens ntais une rglernentation de leur usage conforme l'intrt gnral.

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AAlcle 2, paragraphes 2 et 3, du Protocole N IV : /nterdiction faite un
failli de s'absetuer considre comme ncessaire au maintien de l'ordre public
et la protection des droits et libens d'autrui .

Rsum des faits (English :.see p . 202)

En septembre 1979. le tribunal de commerce d'Anvers a prononc la


faillite d'office du requrant, sans procdure ni audition pralable (art . 442 du
code de commerce) .

Le requrant fit opposition . Celle-ci fut dclare recevable et fonde en


novembre 1979, au terme d'une procdure contradictoire, le requrant ayant
tabli qu'il avait perdu la qualit de cornmerant .

En droit belge . la conespondance du failli est soumise au contrle du


curateur et le failli ne peut s'absenter sans l'autorisation du juge-commissaire
(art . 478 et 482 du code de commerce) .

EN DROIT
1 . Le requrant se plaint de n'avoir pas eu la possibilit de se dfendre et
de prsenter ses arguments devant le tribunal de commerce d'Anvers avant
que celui-ci, agissant d'office, le dclare en faillite .

Il allgue cet gard la violation de l'article 6, paragraphe 1, de la


Convention qui dispose notamment que . toute personne a droit ce que sa
cause soit entendue quitablement, publiquement et dans un dlai raison-
nable, par un tribunal ( . . .) qui dcidera, soit des contestations sur ses droits et
obligations de caractre civil, soit du bien-fond de toute accusation en matire
pnale dirige contre elle
. La dclaration de faillite a pour effet direct de priver l'intress du droi t
de pratiquer les oprations de commerce et d'administrer en personne ses
biens, jusqu' l'homologation d'un concordat ou la liquidation de la faillite,
ou encore, comme en l'espce, jusqu' ce que la mesure ait t mise nant .
Des . droits et obligations de caractre civil ., au sens de l'article 6, para-
graphe 1, ont ainsi t temporairement affects .
Toutefois le juge qui a dclar la faillite d'office, en vertu du pouvoir
exorbitant du droit commun de la procdure que lui a confr la loi du
18 avril 1851, ne saurait tre considr comme engag dans un processus de
. dcision . sur ces droits et obligations de caractre civil . Sa fonction ne
consistait pas dcider d'une contestation mais prendre une mesure de
sauvegarde dans l'intrt des cranciers existants ou potentiels . Les exigences
d'un procs quitable ne devaient pas tre respectes ce stade . En revanche ,

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dans la mesure o elle affectait des droits civils du requrant . cette dcision
initiale pouvait elle-mme donner lieu contestation et sa lgalit devait
pouvoir tre attaque devant un tribunal offrant toutes les garanties de
l'article 6 . paragraphe 1 .

Il suffit de relever cet gard que le requrant a pu . sur opposition,


devenir partie la cause et soumettre le bien-fond de la mesure prise son
gard, pour un examen contradictoire cette fois, au mme tribunal qui, de
l'aveu mme de l'intress, a suivi une procdure parfaitement conforme
l'article 6 . paragraphe 1 .

Il s'ensuit que cette partie de la requte doit tre rejete comme tant
ntanifestentent mal fonde, au sens de l'article 27, paragraphe 2, de la
Convention .
2 . Le requrant se plaint galement de ce que l'ensemble de sa corres-
pondance ait t soumise au contrle du curateur . Il allgue cet gard la
violation de l'article 8, paragraphe 1, de la Convention qui garantit notam-
ment le droit au respect de la vie prive et de la correspondance .
Toutefois cette mesure prvue par la loi, en l'espce l'article 478 du code
belge de commerce, a manifestement pour objet de prvenir des arrangements
occultes du failli avec l'un ou l'autre crancier, au dtriment de la masse . Elle
constitue ainsi une ingrence d'une autorit publique dans l'exercice des droits
invoqus, qui doit tre considre comme ncessaire la protection des droits
d'autrui voire, dans certains cas, au bien-tre conomique du pays au sens du
paragraphe 2 de l'article 8 .

Il s'ensuit que ce grief doit tre rejet en application de l'article 27,


paragraphe 2, pour dfaut manifeste de fondement .

3 . Le requrant se plaint encore d'avoir t condamn pour un fait qui .


dans son chef, ne pouvait l'poque constituer un dlit puisqu'il n'tait pas
commerant . Il invoque ce propos l'article 7, paragraphe 1, de la Convention .
Cette disposition, qui prohibe essentiellement une application rtroactive
de la loi pnale, n'est cependant pas applicable en l'espce .

En effet, la dclaration de faillite prononce par le tribunal de commerce


n'a pas en elle-nime un caractre pnal . C'est la banqueroute . simple ou
frauduleuse, prononce le cas chant par un tribunal rpressif en raison
d'une Fraude, qui aurait ce caractre d'une condamnation pnale . La Commis-
sion relve ce sujet qu'en droit belge la juridiction rpressive est indpen-
dante l'gard des dcisions des tribunaux de commerce . Avant de condamner
un prvenu du chef de banqueroute, elle doit constater expressment que les
lments constitutifs de l'tat de faillite sont runis dans son chef ; elle ne
pourrait se borner justifier l'tat de faillite par un simple renvoi la dcision
du tribunal de commerce (cf . notamment, arrts de la Cour de cassation des
20 juin 1966 . Pasicrisie 1966 . 1, 1347, et 14 avril 1975 . Pasicrisie 1975, I, 796) .

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Il s'ensuit que la requte est, cet gard, incompatible avec lesdispo-
sitions de la Convention et doit tre rejete en application de l'article 27,
paragraphe 2 .
4 . Le requrant se plaint au surplus de l'interdiction qui lui a t faite,
pendant un mois, de s'absenter sans autorisation pralable du juge-commissaire .
Cette interdiction, rsultant de l'article 482 du code de commerce, heurterait
l'article 5 de la Convention et l'article 2 du Protocole N 4 la Convention .

L'interdiction de s' . absenter . ne peut cependant tre assimile, en tant


que telle, une privation de libert au sens de l'article 5, paragraphe 1 . II
s'agit plutt d'une restriction de libert, l'intress demeurant libre au demeu-
rant d'aller et venir dans la limite de l'arrondissement . Il n'est certes pas libre
de quitter son pays, ainsi que le garantit l'article 2, paragraphe 2, du Proto-
cole N 4 . La restriction impose, prvue par la loi, constitue toutefois
l'vidence une mesure ncessaire au maintien de l'ordre public et la protec-
tion des droits d'autrui, au sens du paragraphe 3 de la disposition invoque .

Il s'ensuit que la requte est, sous cet aspect aussi, manifestement mal
fonde au sens de l'article 27, paragraphe 2 .

5 . Le requrant se plaint enfin d'avoir t priv du droit de jouir de ses


biens, en violation de l'article 1 du Protocole additionnel .
Le failli est effectivement dessaisi de l'administration de ses biens . Il
s'agit d'une mesure de sauvegarde pour la dure de la gestion de la faillite .
afin de prvenir des dtournements, dissimulations d'actifs et autres
manoeuvres de mme nature . Le failli est consult par le curateur ; il n'est
pas priv de ses biens mais seulement, titre temporaire, du droit de les
administrer en personne . Cette procdure, ancienne et commune de nom-
breux Etats membres, constitue une rglementation particulire de l'usage des
biens dans l'intrt gnral, prvue par la loi, au sens du paragraphe 2 de
l'article 1 du Protocole additionnel .
Il s'ensuit que ce dernier grief doit encore tre rejet pour dfaut
manifeste de fondement .

Par ces motifs, la Commission


DECLARE LA REQUETEIRRECEVABLE .

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Summary of the facts
In September 1979 the Antwerp Commercial Court adjudica[ed the
applicant bankrupt ex officio. without prior proceedings or hearing (Art . 442
of the Code of Commerce) .

The applicant raised an objection . That remedy was declared admissible


and declared well-founded in November 1979 at the outcome of proceedings in
which the applicant was heard, the applicant having eslablished that he had
lost the quality of trader .

In Belgian law the bankrupt's coffespondence is submitted to corrtrol by


the adtninistrator and the bankrupt cannot absent himself without prior auth-
orisation o(the bankruptcy judge (Arts . 478 and 482 of the Code of cornmerce) .

(TRANSLATION)

THE LA W
1 . The applicant complains that he was not given a chance to defend him-
self and present his case to the Antwerp Commercial Cou rt before the la tt er,
acting ex officio, found him bankrupt .
He alleges violation of Article 6( 1) of the Convention which provides
inter alia that "in the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of
any criminal charge against him, eve ryone is entitled to a fair and public
hearing within a reasonable time by a( . . .) tribunal" .
The immediate effect of an adjudication of bankruptcy is to deprive the
debtor of the right to conduct business and administer his prope rt y in person
until a composition with creditors is confirmed, the bankrupt discharged or
until . as in this case, the adjudication has been set aside . Ce rt ain " civil ri ghts
and obligations" within the meaning of Article 6 (1) were therefore temporarily
affected .
However, the cou rt which adjudicated the applicant bankrupt was acting
ex ofjicio by vi rt ue of powers conferred on it by the Act of 18 April 1851
which constitute an exception from the ordina ry procedure and so it cannot be
considered as having been engaged in the "determination" of such civil rights
and obligations . Its function was not to settle a dispute, but to provide a
safeguard in the interests of the existing or potential creditors . At this stage
the requirements of a fair trial did not apply . On the other hand, in so far as
this initial decision affected the applicant's civil rights, it could itself be
disputed and its legality challenged before a tribunal offering all the guarantees
mentioned in Article 6 (I) .

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It is sufficient to point out in this connection that the applicant was
able, by forming an objection, to become a par ty in the case and require the
measure taken against him to be examined-this time in the p re sence of both
pa rties-before the same cou rt which, as the applicant himself admits, followed
a procedure that complied in eve ry re spect with A rt icle 6 (1) .

It follows that this pa rt of the application must be rejected as being


manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 27 (2) of the Convention .

2 . The applicant also complains that all his correspondence was inspected
by the administrator and alleges in this respect a violation of A rt icle 8(1) of
the Convention which provides inter alia for the ri ght to respect for private life
and correspondence .
However, this measure for which provision is made by A rt icle 478 of the
Belgian Code of Commerce is clearly designed to prevent the bankrupt from
making secret arrangements with one or other of his creditors to the detriment
of the body of creditors . Thus it constitutes interference by a public autho rity
in the exercise of the rights in question and must be regarded as necessa ry for
the protection of the rights of others and even, in some cases, to the economic
well-being of the count ry within the meaning of A rt icle 8 (2) .

It follows that this complaint is manifestly ill-founded and must be


rejected in accordance with A rt icle 27 (2) .

3 . The applicant fu rt her complains of having been convicted of an act


which could not in so far as he was concerned have constituted an offence
since he was not a trader at the time . He relies in this connection on Article 7(1)
of the Convention .
This provision, which is mainly intended to prohibit retrospective appli-
cation of c ri minal law, is not, however, applicable in this case .

Adjudication of bankruptcy by a commercial cou rt is not in itself a


criminal proceeding . On the other hand, a finding of negligent or fraudulent
bankruptcy made by a criminal cou rt on grounds of misconduct would amount
to a criminal conviction . The Commission notes in this connection that under
Belgian law the criminal court is not bound by the decisions of the commercial
cou rt s . Before convicting the accused of negligent or fraudulent bankruptcy, it
must make an explicit finding on the evidence that all the requirements of
bankruptcy are satisfied and it is not sufficient to establish this fact merely by
referring to the commercial cou rt 's decision (see in pa rticular the judgments of
the Court of Cassation of 20 June 1966, Pasicrisie 1966, 1 1347 and of 14 April
1975, Pasicrisie 1975, 1 796) .
It follows that the application is, in this respect incompatible with the
Convention and must be rejected in accordance with Article 27 (2) .

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4 . The applicant complains in addition that he was prevented for a month,
under Article 482 of the Code of Commerce, from absenting himself without
the prior authorisation of the bankruptcy judge, and claims that this restriction
was contrary to Article 5 of the Convention and Article 2 of the Fourth
Protocol .

However, being forbidden to "absent oneself' cannot, as such, be regarded


as being deprived of one's liberty within the meaning of Article 5(1) . It is a
form of restricted liberty which after all leaves the person concerned free to
conte and go within the boundaries of the district . True, he does not have the
freedom, guaranteed by Article 2 (2) of the Fourth Protocol, to leave his
country . But the restriction placed by the law on his freedom is a measure
necessary for the maintenance of "ordre public" and the protection of the
rights of others, within the meaning of paragraph 3 of the above article .

It follows that, in this respect also, the application is manifestiy ill-


founded within the meaning of Article 27 (2) .

5 . Lastly, the applicant complains that he was deprived of the peaceful


enjoyment of his possessions in violation of Article I of the First Protocol .

The bankrupt is, certainly, denied the right to administer his pos-
sessions . This is a safeguard against fraudulent conversion, concealment of
assets and other similar manoeuvres so long as the bankruptcy continues . The
bankrupt is consulted by the administrator ; he is not deprived of his pos-
sessions, but only, temporarily, of the right to administer them in person . This
procedure, which is of early origin and is common to numerous member
states, constitutes a lawful control of the use of property in accordance with
the general interest within the meaning of Article 1, paragraph 2, of the First
Protocol .

It follows that his final complaint must also be rejected as being mani-
festlv ill-founded .

The Commission, therefore ,

DECLARES THE APPLICATION INADMISSIBLE .

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