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New judgment of the EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS– CASE OF BIAGINI v. CROATIA
Posted by:European Law Firm

On June 11, 2024, the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter: the European Court) issued a judgment in the case of Biagini v. Croatia, finding that the decision of the Customs Administration requiring payment of a customs debt for the temporary importation of a yacht violated the applicant’s— a professional skipper—right to peaceful enjoyment of property (Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention).

The decision of the Customs Administration requiring payment of the customs debt for the importation of the yacht violated the skipper’s right to peaceful enjoyment of property. At the request of the yacht’s owner (a commercial company from Italy), the applicant transported the yacht from a repair site in Bakar to the port of Opatija. While in transit, maritime police officers notified the Customs Administration, which, in the customs procedure, ordered him to pay customs duties on the import of the vessel amounting to EUR 57,539.00.

Before domestic authorities and courts, the applicant argued that he had not imported the yacht but had merely moved it on the owner’s instructions, and that the customs obligation was imposed on him despite not being the yacht’s owner. He claimed that the Croatian authorities’ decision on the payment of customs duties was unlawful and that such application of domestic law was unforeseeable to him. Before the European Court, he objected that the imposition of the customs debt on him, rather than on the yacht owner, placed an excessive financial burden on him and that the application of domestic law was unforeseeable.

The European Court found that the decision of the Customs Administration on the payment of the customs debt interfered with the applicant’s right to peaceful enjoyment of ownership, but that it was legal because it was based on the relevant provisions of the Convention on Temporary Import,
the Customs Act and corresponding by-laws. At the same time, the application of the provisions of the aforementioned regulations was clear and predictable, and the interference pursued the legitimate goal of ensuring the payment of customs duties.

However, the European Court determined that the applicant was required to pay the customs debt despite not importing the yacht into Croatia and although it was soon returned to Italy. There was no evidence that the applicant had used the yacht for economic or private purposes or had intended to misuse the temporary importation procedure in any other way. It also noted that the customs authorities could have collected the debt directly from the yacht owner, under whose instructions the applicant acted (or from the proceeds of the sale of the yacht), rather than imposing the debt solely on the applicant. However, the domestic authorities did not consider these circumstances, nor did they consider the applicant’s financial situation or the fact that he had been penalized for a customs offense, focusing only on the unlawfulness of the applicant’s actions in domestic proceedings and decisions.

Therefore, it concluded that the supervision by domestic authorities did not meet the requirement of achieving a “fair balance” between the competing interests in this specific case (the need to ensure the payment of customs duties and the protection of the applicant’s property rights), and that the customs decision in question placed an excessive burden on the applicant, significantly affecting his financial situation. For all these reasons, the domestic authorities exceeded the broad margin of appreciation they have in customs matters and failed to achieve a fair balance between the competing interests.

The European Court awarded the applicant EUR 9,914.00 for pecuniary damage, EUR 5,000.00 for non-pecuniary damage, and EUR 7,215.00 for costs and expenses. This judgment is final.

Link to the judgment: https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-234127%22]}

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