The Court of Justice handed down an important judgment in Case C-164/07 James Wood v. Fonds de garantie des victimes des actes de terrorisme et d'autres infractions stating that EU law prohibits any discrimination on grounds of nationality which results in citizens of other member States who live and work in France being excluded from receiving compensation from a French state fund intended to help victims of crimes.
The sad story is as follows. James Wood, an Englishman, lived, worked and paid taxes in France for more than 20 years. He had three children with his partner, a French national. Their three children were also French nationals. Tragically, their eldest daughter died in a road traffic accident in Australia.
France has a statutory Guarantee Fund to compensate the victims of terrorism and other crimes. The Wood family brought a claim before the Compensation Board which administered the Guarantee Fund for an assessment of the non-material damage suffered by the family. The Guarantee Fund agreed to award a sum in compensation for the loss of the eldest child but excluded the father of the deceased on the grounds that if the crime is committed outside France, the claimant must have French nationality, which Mr Wood did not. Mr Wood challenged that decision before a French court which then referred a question to the Court of Justice on the compatibility of the French legislation with EC law.
The Court of Justice held that EC law precludes legislation of a member State which excludes nationals of other member States who live and work in its territory from the grant of compensation intended to make good losses resulting from offences against the person where the crime in question was not committed in the territory of that State, on the sole ground that they do not have the nationality of that State.
The Court recalled that Mr Wood, a British national, has exercised his right to freedom of movement for workers within the meaning of Article 39 EC or freedom of establishment within the meaning of Article 43 EC by living and working in France for more than 20 years. Therefore, Mr Wood’s situation falls within the scope of application of the EC Treaty and he may rely on his right not to suffer discrimination by reason of his nationality.
It also recalled its settled case-law that the principle of non-discrimination requires that comparable situations must not be treated differently and that different situations must not be treated in the same way. Such treatment may be justified only if it is based on objective considerations independent of the nationality of the persons concerned and is proportionate to the objective being legitimately pursued (see Case C-148/02 Garcia Avello, paragraph 31).
The Court found that as regards the loss of his daughter and the resulting damage, Mr Wood is in a comparable situation to that of his partner, Mrs Arraitz, the mother of the poor girl. Thus, under the national provision at issue in the main proceedings, the only aspect of their position regarding their right to compensation which differs is their nationality. Only Mrs Arraitz, received compensation because of her French nationality while Mr Woods did not.
The Court concluded that this difference in treatment, based expressly and solely on the nationality of Mr Wood, constitutes direct discrimination, prohibited by Article 12 EC. The French Government itself admitted that in a case such as this there are no reasons capable of justifying such difference in treatment.
Note too that the Court of Justice dealt with the reference in just over a year.