International Commercial Law Blog

The Italian mandatory mediation procedure of cross-border and domestic disputes is effective as of 20 March 2011

By Legislative Decree No. 28 dated 4 March 2010 (the “Decree”), the European Mediation Directive 2008/52/EC (the Directive) has been implemented in Italy. The Directive is part of a European-wide initiative to promote and regulate the development of mediation throughout the EU. The Directive itself should apply only to mediation in cross-border disputes, but nothing should prevent Member States from applying such provisions also to internal mediation processes.

The mediation procedures introduced by the Decree, which covers both cross-border and domestic disputes, only apply to claims/rights which can be freely disposed of by the relevant parties (“Diritti Disponibili”) as opposed to rights which cannot be freely disposed of by the relevant individuals (e.g.: Italian family law).

The Decree has introduced two kinds of mediation procedure:

  • a mandatory procedure which applies to any possible litigation in relation to insurance, banking and financial agreements as well as other matters such as joint ownership, property rights, division of assets, hereditary and family law, leases in general, gratuitous loans, leases of going concern, compensation for damages due to car/nautical accidents, medical liability or defamation/libel; and
  • a non-mandatory procedure which applies to any civil and commercial litigation regarding matters other than those listed above.

The mandatory mediation procedure is effective as of 20 March 2011 except for any possible litigation in relation to joint ownership and compensation for damages due to car/nautical accidents which will be effective as of 20 March 2012.

The procedure is mandatory in the sense that from such date all plaintiffs prior to bringing legal proceedings shall have to try to settle disputes falling within this “mandatory” category by mediation. Legal advisers to the relevant parties shall also have a duty to inform their clients about mediation and are under obligation to try to resolve disputes by way of mediation.

The mediation procedures established under the Decree may be brought before any of the mediation organisations mentioned in Article 16 of the Decree and the applicable procedure shall follow the rules applied by the body chosen by the parties.

However, where there are alternative mediation procedures available, the plaintiffs will have the option to use either the procedure as set out in the Decree or the alternatives. Two alternative mediation procedures are currently in force in Italy, which can be used instead of the mediation procedure under the Decree in relation to certain banking and financial disputes (see Legislative Decree No. 179 dated 8 October 2007 and art. 128 bis of the Italian Banking Law).

The European Court of Justice, in its Judgment in joined cases C-317/08, C-318/08, C-319/08, and C-320/08 for a preliminary ruling issued on 18 March 2010, held that EU directives and general principles do not preclude national legislation which imposes prior implementation of an out-of-court settlement procedure, provided that that procedure does not result in a decision which is binding on the parties, that it does not cause a substantial delay for the purposes of bringing legal proceedings, that it suspends the period for the time-barring of claims and that it does not give rise to costs – or gives rise to very low costs – for the parties, and only if electronic means is not the only means by which the settlement procedure may be accessed and interim measures are possible in exceptional cases where the urgency of the situation so requires.

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The rule of unisex premiums and benefits will apply with effect from 21 December 2012

Directive 2004/113/EC prohibits all discrimination based on sex in the access to and supply of goods and services. Thus, in principle, the Directive prohibits the use of gender as a factor in the calculation of insurance premiums and benefits in relation to insurance contracts entered into after 21 December 2007.

By way of derogation, however, the Directive provides that Member States may, as from that date, permit exemptions from the rule of unisex premiums and benefits, so long as they can ensure that the underlying actuarial and statistical data on which the calculations are based are reliable, regularly updated and available to the public. Member States may allow such an exemption only if the unisex rule has not already been applied by national legislation. Five years after the transposition of the Directive into national law (i.e.: 21 December 2012) Member States must re-examine the justification for those exemptions, taking into account the most recent actuarial and statistical data and a report to be submitted by the Commission three years after the date of transposition of the Directive.

In its Judgment in Case C-236/09 Association belge des Consommateurs Test-Achats ASBL and Others v Conseil des ministres, the European Court of Justice first points out that equality between men and women is a fundamental principle of the European Union. Reference is made to Articles 21 and 23 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which prohibit any discrimination on grounds of sex and require equality between men and women to be ensured in all areas and to Article 2 of the Treaty establishing the European Community which provides that promoting such equality is one of the Community’s essential tasks. Similarly, Article 3(2) of the Treaty requires the Community to aim to eliminate inequalities and to promote equality between men and women in all its activities.

In the progressive achievement of that equality, it is for the EU legislature to determine, having regard to the development of economic and social conditions within the European Union, precisely when action must be taken. Thus it was – the Court states – that the EU legislature provided in the Directive that the differences in premiums and benefits arising from the use of sex as a factor in the calculation thereof must be abolished by 21 December 2007 at the latest. However, as the use of actuarial factors related to sex was widespread in the provision of insurance services at the time when the Directive was adopted, it was permissible for the legislature to implement the rule of unisex premiums and benefits gradually, with appropriate transitional periods.

In that regard, the Court notes that the Directive derogates from the general rule of unisex premiums and benefits established by the Directive, by granting Member States the option of deciding, before 21 December 2007, to permit proportionate differences in individuals’ premiums and benefits where, on the basis of relevant and accurate actuarial and statistical data, sex is used as a determining factor in the assessment of risks.

Any decision to make use of that option is to be reviewed five years after 21 December 2007, account being taken of a Commission report, but, ultimately, given that the Directive is silent as to the length of time during which those differences may continue to be applied, Member States which have made use of the option are permitted to allow insurers to apply the unequal treatment without any temporal limitation.

Accordingly, the Court states, there is a risk that EU law may permit the derogation from the equal treatment of men and women, provided for by the Directive, to persist indefinitely. A provision which thus enables the Member States in question to maintain without temporal limitation an exemption from the rule of unisex premiums and benefits works against the achievement of the objective of equal treatment between men and women and must be considered to be invalid upon the expiry of an appropriate transitional period.

Consequently, the Court rules that, in the insurance services sector, the derogation from the general rule of unisex premiums and benefits is invalid with effect from 21 December 2012.

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