Demand for airport charges to go ahead
HIGH COURT JUDGMENTTransportstyrelsen -v- Ryanair Ltd Neutral citation (2012) IEHC 226
Judgment was delivered on May 4th, 2012, by Mr Justice John Hedigan.
An application from Ryanair to dismiss a claim from the Swedish Transport Agency for approximately €1.15 million in security charges imposed on all passengers flying from Swedish airports was refused by the High Court.
The body named in the action translates as the Swedish Transport Agency and it replaced a body whose name translates as the Swedish Civil Aviation Authority. It is claiming security charges which arose as a result of extra security measures at airports following the September 11th, 2001, attacks, which came into force in Sweden on November 18th, 2004, following the enactment of EU legislation.
The charges were to be imposed on all passengers departing from Swedish airports from January 1st, 2005. Ryanair was informed of them in December 2004. It claims that many of the passengers travelling after January 1st, 2005, had booked and paid for their flights before the charges came into operation and said it could not now impose additional charges on them. The plaintiff claimed about €1,150,476 in charges.
Ryanair sought to have the proceedings dismissed on the grounds that the plaintiff was seeking to recover a foreign revenue debt in Ireland and/or that the Irish courts had no jurisdiction to determine the claim.
Ryanair argued that the charges were non- voluntary sums paid to a state agency for the purpose of ensuring the security of the Swedish state. The plaintiff was a state entity seeking to recover a sum allegedly due under Swedish legislation and it was not entitled to sue for this debt in this jurisdiction.
The airline also argued that, even if the Irish courts were not precluded from determining the matter, there was a more appropriate forum, Sweden, in which to pursue the claim.
The Swedish Transport Agency argued that the measures were introduced to establish common rules among member states of the EU in relation to security measures in the aviation sector. These provided that the costs of the measures would be covered by a fee, which would be charged to all air carrier companies that carried passengers. It was clear they were not taxes or revenues as understood by Irish law.
The purpose of the charges was not to raise revenue, but to fund the costs of implementing the security measures required by EU law.
In relation to jurisdiction, the defendant was a company registered in Ireland and whose head office is in Ireland. The court was competent to receive such evidence of foreign law as may be required.
Mr Justice Hedigan said it did not seem to him that the charges were taxes or public law debts. Their purpose was to fund the costs of implementing security controls in Swedish airports as required by EU law. The funds were not kept by the Swedish state but were disbursed to the airports to cover the cost of security controls.
The defendant had engaged with and accepted the jurisdiction of the Irish courts and was precluded from seeking to object to the jurisdiction of the court.
In relation to a Swedish court being a more appropriate forum, Mr Justice Hedigan said the proceedings were at an advanced stage, the plaintiff was a company registered in Ireland and it had taken many steps to register the matter. It would be unfair at this late stage to allow the proceedings to be stated on the basis of forum non conveniens. The defendant was a company registered in Ireland where it had its head office, he said
The application was refused.
The full judgment is on courts.ie.
Gary McCarthy SC and John Donnelly BL, instructed by Hugh J Ward solr, for the plaintiff; Martin Hayden SC and Ross Gorman BL, instructed by Thomas McNamara solr, for the defendant.