Following the successful appeals to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Administrative Tribunal (“EBRDAT”) in the cases of Kominek & Others v EBRD (see: EBRD 2013/AT/01 and EBRD 2013/AT/02), Neil Macaulay and Alex Haines of Bretton Woods Law (“BWL”) have secured another victory in the case of Grassi v EBRD (see: EBRD 2016/AT/01). On the 18th January 2016, the EBRDAT allowed Mr Grassi’s (“Appellant”) appeal against the 9th September 2015 decision by the EBRD President adopting the recommendation of the Bank’s Grievance Committee (“GC”). The GC, which sits as the body of first instance in the Bank’s internal justice system and below the EBRDAT, had recommended not to exercise its jurisdiction over all the elements contained in the Appellant’s ‘Request for an Administrative Review Decision’ (“RARD”) on the basis that it had been submitted outside the relevant procedural deadline, and was thus time-barred. The time limit for the submission of the Appellant’s RARD landed on a non-working day (i.e., Saturday) but was submitted the next working day (i.e., Monday). The EBRDAT found that, contrary to the GC’s recommendation and contrary to the Bank’s arguments, the Appellant’s RARD had, in fact, been timely submitted on the Monday, even if, strictly speaking, it came after the Saturday deadline. The EBRDAT had “no hesitation to ‘remedy’ the anomaly in the Grievance Procedures by way of a liberal interpretation” (see: paragraph 33 of the judgment).
The EBRDAT’s judgment adopted the arguments raised by the Appellant, and relied, inter alia, on best practices of other Multilateral Development Banks (“MDBs”) (e.g., the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”) and the African Development Bank (“AfDB”)). The rules of procedure at the Administrative Tribunals of a number of international organisations allow, as do many national systems, for the filing of a grievance on a ‘next working day’, thus preventing the unfair situation that had arisen in the Appellant’s case. The Bank had argued that the procedural rules should be interpreted strictly, despite the apparent prejudice in this case. The EBRDAT, however, relied on a judgment from the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organisation (“ILOAT“) (see: Judgement No. 2882, at consideration 6) and further found that “the Bank’s interpretation is exceedingly pedantic and formalistic, and would unduly hinder the Staff Member from defending his right effectively” (see: EBRD 2016/AT/01, at paragraph 33).
In its judgement, the EBRDAT also took into account of the contra proferentem rule, natural justice, and fairness as a principle of international administrative law. Although the EBRDAT did not take the case of Kominek into account because its facts were different, that case also resulted in the EBRAT criticising the Bank for complicating matters unnecessarily: “Voluminous arguments and numerous documents have been submitted to the Judges, who have read them and concluded that this matter has been treated by the Bank as exceedingly complex when it is in effect quite simple. Indeed, it seems important that ordinary Staff Members perceive that the options for vindicating their rights are straightforward, lest they be intimidated by the ostensible prolixity (and attended costs) of the grievance system” (see: EBRD 2013/AT/01, at paragraph 21).
The latest EBRDAT decision is a victory for common sense: it remedies an exceedingly pedantic and formalistic approach depriving staff members from effectively defending their rights naturally, justly and fairly; it provides useful guidance for the GC on how to interpret the Bank’s internal laws; and it reaffirms the application of general principles of international administrative law to the internal law of the Bank with a view to filling its lacunas.
The BWL IAL team can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org