In Luxembourg, the civil disputes are adjudicated by the civil and criminal branch of the judiciary, which is divided into three instances:
(i) the lower judiciary courts,
(ii) the District Courts and
(iii) the Superior Court of Justice composed of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The courts are totally independent from other branches of power and this independence is ensured by the fact that judges enter the profession by an exam or contest. Furthermore, to be appointed to (higher) positions within the court system, judges are elected by their peers. The decisions rendered by the courts are not binding on other courts. Nevertheless, they are referred to and constitute guidelines, especially for lower courts that will follow cases decided by the superior courts. The Luxembourg courts do not use juries, only professional magistrates.
The very first requirement to be admitted to the Luxembourg Bar is to hold a master’s degree from a law school. The candidate must also attend complementary courses in Luxembourg law (CCDL) and prove he or she has a good knowledge of French, German and Luxemburgish. The candidate is then allowed to practice law as an avocat. After a two-year traineeship, and a successful test, the candidate will pass from the list II of the Bar to the list I and is then allowed to practice law as an avocat à la cour. EU based lawyers may practice in our jurisdiction under their original title (list IV of the Bar). This possibility is open to every lawyer officially registered at the Bar of a member state of the European Union, in possession of a title in accordance with the Directive 98/5/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 February 1998 to facilitate the practice of the profession of lawyer on a permanent basis in a member state other than the one in which the qualification was obtained.
Also, a foreign lawyer may attend and intervene in a hearing solely if he or she is presented to the court by the President of the Bar. There are generally no distinctions between the powers of the different types of lawyers, apart from the fact that only an avocat à la cour can represent parties in civil written proceedings in the district and higher courts.
Luxembourg is a moderately litigious jurisdiction. Indeed, because of the nature of the activities carried on in Luxembourg, which are predominantly oriented towards finance and corporate transactions, many shareholder disputes arise. Likewise, many plaintiffs who have obtained money judgments or arbitral awards will try to enforce them in Luxembourg, as banks or financial institutions will most likely hold assets owned by the defendants. The Luxembourg government does not intervene in the litigation. Currently, there is no reform of civil litigation envisaged.
The caseload is generally pretty heavy, especially in civil and summary proceedings. The reason is that Luxembourg has provided a favourable framework for civil litigation. Luxembourg is often considered as neutral, for instance, by international parties to a joint venture looking for a balanced venue.
Concerning the territorial legal venue of the competent court in civil matters, the parties can agree on a territorially competent court. If no agreement has been made, the main and default criterion to determine the competent court is the defendant’s domicile. In the case where the defendant is a company, the competent court is the court sitting in the judicial district of the company’s head office. However, the law provides some exceptions to this rule, based on the nature of the matter. For example, in real estate matters the competent court is that of the location of the building and in matters of succession, the competent court is that of the place where the deceased was domiciled at the time of death.
Luxembourg is an attractive jurisdiction as, for example:
(i) it does not have a discovery process,
(ii) proceedings are public but documents filed in front of the court are not publicly available and
(iii) documents in English, German and French are accepted without translation and no court fees are due on filing.
If the dispute the Luxembourg court is requested to hear is identical to the one pending before another forum and both courts are competent,the defendant can request that the courts of Luxembourg keep the file on hold (if the other court was first requested to hear the dispute) to avoid the risk of contradictory judgments. If the dispute the Luxembourg court is requested to hear is linked to a dispute pending before another forum, the courts of Luxembourg may, at their discretion, wait until the dispute is decided by the other court, depending on the circumstances.
If court proceedings are initiated despite an existing arbitration agreement, the opposing party has to object and raise the defence in limine litis. Should the opposing party fail to object to the initiation of the court proceedings, the court would not raise the matter independently, and the opposing party would be deemed to have waived the right to raise such defence. If the opposing party objects in limine litis, the court will declare that it is not competent to hear the case.
Courts will not review the merits of the award, except in specific and listed situations. Arbitral awards may be submitted to the courts on the following grounds:
A request to set aside an award is filed. It is necessary to obtain the enforcement order of the award from the president of the District Court first. Such order can be subject to an appeal before the District Court. The judgement of the District Court ruling on the setting aside of the award is subject to appeal before the Court of Appeal. The decision of the Court of Appeal is subject to appeal only on the application of the law before the Court of Cassation, who will not review the facts. The order of the president of the District Court refusing the enforcement of the award may also be subject to appeal. The president of the District Court cannot rule on the merits of the dispute. He can only verify whether or not the award is contrary to national public policy. Foreign awards have to be enforced by an order of the president of the District Court upon request of one of the parties. The grounds for refusing recognition and enforcement are those contained in the New York Convention, unless the award has been rendered in a state which is not a party to the New York Convention. In such case, article 1251 of the NCPC would be applicable.
Anti-suit injunctions are not available in Luxembourg.
The Grand Duke’s legal situation is characterised by the inviolability of his person, meaning that the Grand Duke may not be accused, nor prosecuted. Moreover, he shall in no circumstances appear in court and no one can ask him or her to account for his or her acts. The inviolability implies a complete immunity of the Grand Duke in both criminal and political matters.
Apart from the Grand Duke’s inviolability, the Constitution also guarantees immunity to a member of the parliament. A member of the parliament may not be prosecuted or pursued for his or her opinions, nor may an active member of the parliament, who is guilty of a crime, an offence or a contravention, be arrested or prosecuted for the duration of the parliamentary session, except in cases of flagrante delicto or when the Chamber of Deputies authorised the member of the parliament’s arrest or prosecution.
Luxembourg is a civil law system. Proceedings are initiated by a writ (assignation) instituting the proceedings, which is notified by a bailiff to the defendants. The writ clarifies the basis of the action and of the claim. In civil written proceedings, the court will instruct the case, in other words, it will issue an agenda according to which parties are invited to file their brief within certain time frames, and will schedule hearings to discuss with the parties’ counsels the status of the instruction. This procedure is different in commercial litigation, as no exchange of briefs occurs, this being a purely oral procedure. Indeed, the case will then be set on a specific date on which the parties will expose orally their arguments.
To file a claim, one must have standing to sue as well as a personal interest to sue. The pleading standard is determined by the New Code of Civil Procedure, which requires a clear identification of the plaintiff and of the defendant. The subject of the dispute and the summary of the pleas must also be set out in the writ. If the writ does not contain those indications, it can be declared inadmissible subject to the defendant proving it suffered damage by having his or her defence disorganised.
Answers in civil procedures must be submitted in written form, by a lawyer admitted to the Bar. Once the exchange of briefs has occurred, the magistrate will put an end to submissions and, during a hearing, will summarise orally the parties’ positions, and ask the lawyers if anything should be added. Usually, pleadings are very short, if any. In commercial proceedings, written submissions are not required by the code, but are usually prepared by the lawyers to facilitate the court’s work.
The writ served by the plaintiff is similar to a judicial contract that cannot be modified during the proceedings by new demands or claims.
The plaintiff would then need to serve a new writ. The plaintiff may nonetheless request the court to appoint an expert or hear a witness. Furthermore, the plaintiff may file an additional demand. In regard to the defendants, they are not bound by the judicial contract and can file counterclaims if there is a sufficient link with the writ. Amicus curiae briefs are not foreseen by the New Code of Civil Procedure. Nevertheless, any party claiming a personal interest to intervene can submit a petition motivating its desire to have its say. The court will decide on the admissibility of such intervention in the decision it will render.
Civil courts filings are not publicly available. Judgements are publicly available, but they are anonymised; they are not available online.
Civil hearings are open to the public, but no TV cameras or photographers during the court hearing are allowed, without specific court permission.
The court can render interim assessments on specific procedural issues, or require bonds. Also, on the merits, courts can rule initially that one party committed a breach of contract, and appoint an expert to assess the damage suffered by the other party. If a court is informed that discussions are ongoing between the parties to reach to a settlement, it will agree to stay the proceedings in order for the parties to discuss freely. However, the courts do not have an active role in such discussions. Courts cannot convey the parties to settlement conferences.
The referral to mediation is an option. It is however compulsory, before the litigation, if the parties have contractually agreed to try to settle the issue through a mediation or another form of ADR prior to initiating the proceedings. Indeed, if the defendant raises in limine litis the existence of such a provision which has been disregarded by the plaintiff, the court should declare itself incompetent to take notice of the litigation.
The New Code of Civil Procedure provides a specific framework for emergency proceedings to be admissible:
• in case of emergency and if there is no serious challenge;
• to prevent an imminent damage; and
• to stop a manifestly unlawful act.
Indeed, the judge sitting in interim proceedings is the judge of the evidence and will not consider the merits of the case. The judge will issue an order which is immediately enforceable, notwithstanding an appeal.
See also question 18. The plaintiff must prove that there is an urgency to take a decision and/or that an irreparable damage is imminent, or an unlawful act should be stopped.
In civil matters, the court can render the following decisions:
• a provisional court order: decisions on procedural steps; are not either definitive decisions nor substantive decisions;
• an interlocutory decision: substantive decisions ruled during the proceeding but which don’t close the trial. For example, the court decides that there has been a breach of contract and appoints an expert to determine the quantum of the damages. Final decisions are decisions that close the proceeding.
In written civil proceedings, the court will render its decision once the instruction phase is terminated (that is, when the parties consider that all matters has been discussed in their briefs), and a hearing has taken place during which the parties have presented the arguments laid down in their briefs. In oral proceedings, the court will render its decision after a hearing has taken place during which the parties have presented the arguments laid down in their briefs. Courts can, upon petition, render a decision deciding only on admissibility. It can be compared to a summary judgment motion.
In oral proceedings (proceedings without mandatory assistance by a lawyer), a default judgment can be rendered if the defendant has been duly served the writ at his or her domicile (but did not personally receive it) and has not appeared in front of the court. In written proceedings (proceedings with mandatory assistance by a lawyer), a default judgment can be rendered if the defendant has been duly served the writ at his or her domicile (but did not personally receive it) and has not appointed a lawyer to represent him or her in the proceedings.
Usually it takes a civil court of first instance around 12 to 18 months to render a decision. Commercial cases are usually shorter, as no exchange of briefs occurs. An average time frame would be between four and 12 months.
A third party can become involved in the proceedings voluntarily (standing must be proven) or can be forced to join (if it is in the interest of one party to see this third party join the proceedings, for example, an insurance company that insured the contested claim). It should be noted that only a party to the proceeding is bound by the decision rendered. If a third party is affected by the decision affected, it can intervene by a tierce opposition to dispute a decision rendered without it being a party to the proceedings. The court of first instance will then hear this issue again.
In principle, each party bears the burden of proving the facts it alleges. Disclosure proceedings do not exist in Luxembourg. However, a judge can exceptionally order the disclosure of specific pieces of evidence, at the request of an interested party or at its own initiative, if he or she deems it necessary and only if a commencement of proof has been established by the party requesting such measure.
There are no discovery proceedings, as such in Luxembourg. There is no general obligation to provide evidence harmful to the litigant. Nonetheless, a party may request the judge to order a party to disclose a specific and determined document. The judge may accept or refuse such request based upon the circumstances.
Parties to a dispute can freely file witness statements. Such statements may not be prepared with the help of the parties’ lawyers. The parties can also request the judge to call a witness. The questions to be asked to the witness should be already detailed by the requesting party. If the judge accepts such request, he or she will be the person asking the questions to the witness. The lawyers may not directly question the witness and should always go through the judge.
An expert witness is appointed by the judge when the dispute requires specific technical expertise. The name of the expert can be suggested by the parties. For instance, expert witness can be required to provide his or her opinion on medical issues.
Everybody can be a witness with the exception of:
• people under legal disability such as a minor or adult with mental incapacity or people under criminal conviction;
• the parents and the persons related directly with the parties, and the descendants of the spouse in divorce proceedings;
• the parties to the trial. The sole manager of a company or the chief executive officer are considered as being the company itself and can therefore not be heard as witnesses; and
• persons who can put forward a good reason such as professional secrecy or protection of private life.
The judge can draw all the consequences from the statement of a party or from the failure of a party to testify or act as a witness. But the judge cannot consider this failure as direct or definitive evidence.
Documents filed in front of the court should be in one of the official languages of Luxembourg (French, German or Luxembourgish). However, the courts usually accept documents in English. Foreign law is considered as a fact, which must be proved by the party asserting it. Generally, affidavits by experts are used to this end.
In commercial matters, the proof can be brought by any means. In civil matters, and if the dispute exceeds EUR 2,500, a written proof is necessary.
Only interlocutory and final decisions (see question 20) can be appealed. There are generally two levels of appeal in Luxembourg (Court of Appeal and Court of Cassation). Each level will take several months, depending on the workload of the courts.
The Court of Appeal hears appeals related to the decisions rendered by the District Courts or by the lower judiciary courts, which have ruled upon a matter within their exclusive jurisdiction. The appeal will involve the review of the whole case, both the facts and the application of the law. The Court of Appeal considers the facts of the case that is submitted to it, and may either confirm the decision of the first instance, or may annul totally or partially the resolution of the first instance. The Supreme Court only deals with matters where there was a violation of the rule of law by the judges, without judging the facts of the case.
Each level of appeal (Court of Appeal and Court of Cassation) will take several months, depending on the workload of the courts and the complexity of the case.
Class actions are not available in Luxembourg.
Shareholders cannot initiate a derivative action in the name of the company in which they hold shares, as they are not considered as creditors of the company. A different answer could be envisaged in case they have granted a loan to the company. Derivative actions are actions in which a creditor acts in the name of his debtor against the debtor of his debtor to obtain payment. The payment is made to the debtor who will then proceed to the payment of his creditors according to their ranking.
If a debt is proven, one can obtain an order to pay by filing an ex parte request in front of the President of the District Court. However, if this order is contested, the dispute will be submitted to the judge sitting in summary proceedings. Since this proceeding usually takes several months, this proceeding is not often used.
No, it is not possible to conduct proceedings in a language different from the judicial language.
The whole content of the judgments rendered binds the parties. However, in case of an appeal they are enforceable only if the judgment specifically mentions that it is immediately enforceable (exécution provisoire). Also, conservatory measures may be taken on the basis of a judgment, for example, freezing measures or attachments. Third parties are not bound by the judgment.
To enforce a domestic judgment, one must serve the judgment to the losing party through a bailiff. If the judgment specifies it is immediately enforceable, the successful party can use all legal means to enforce it and specifically can proceed through a bailiff. If the judgment is not immediately enforceable, the successful party must wait until the time period to file an appeal has expired (usually 40 days), but can in the meantime proceed with conservatory measures such as freezing the assets of the opponent.
In case of a European judgment, Brussels I Recast will apply and the decision will be immediately enforceable. For other countries, and assuming that no convention has been signed, the decision will be submitted to the court to obtain an exequatur. Such proceedings will request the filing of briefs and usually take several months.
Costs, not including lawyers’ fees, are usually borne by the losing party. There are no court fees per se to be paid when a case is started. Costs are limited to bailiff fees and translation costs, if applicable.
Two exceptions exist:
• The court can order the lowing party to pay a lump sum to the other party for the costs incurred. This amount is usually low and does normally not exceed a few thousand euros.
• The Supreme Court recently decided that if a proceeding is manifestly spurious and vexatious, the plaintiff may be ordered to pay the other party’s lawyer’s fees.
What other options are available for parties who may not be able to afford litigation?
In Luxembourg, legal aid is available to finance court proceedings and specifically lawyers’ fees. A party who may not be able to afford litigation could turn towards third-party funding.
Lawyers’ fees may not be solely based on the outcome of the litigation. Therefore contingency fees are possible, however, only if the lawyer and his client agree on partial fixed fees and a success fee.
Third-party funding is virtually unknown in Luxembourg. Nevertheless, there are no legal or regulatory obstacles to a third party financing a litigation.
There are no fee scales. The lawyer will determine its fees based on the time spent, the decision issued, the value of the dispute, the result obtained and the reputation of the lawyer. If the fees are disputed, the client can file a request with the Bar for the Bar to determine if these fees seem to be appropriate in view of the dispute.