Judgment No. III. ÚS 3725/13 – the first decision of the Constitutional Court in the matter of bank fees

25 April 2014

The applicant filed a constitutional appeal against a judgment of Prague 4 District Court on her action against the Česká spořitelna a.s. bank concerning alleged unjust enrichment in the amount of 7.200 CZK (262 EUR). The alleged unjust enrichment consisted of monthly installments of 150 CZK (5.50 EUR) paid for administration of a loan account. The appellant argued that it was not clear what services, if any, she was getting for her money. She relied on a 2011 verdict by the German Supreme Court which ruled that such fees were unlawful. The Prague 4 District Court rejected her action and ordered the appellant to pay the costs of the proceedings. In her constitutional appeal, the appellant requested the Constitutional Court to intervene in the courts’ decision-making on such bank fees and to unify their case-law or to give them certain guidelines.

In its judgment delivered on 10 April 2014, the Third Chamber of the Constitutional Court (Justice Jan Filip served as the Judge Rapporteur) emphasized that it decided on constitutionality of the alleged interference with fundamental rights of the appellant, not on the “policy” of bank fees. After all, the constitutional appeal was not joined by the request to review constitutionality of respective statutes regulating this area of consumer law. The Constitutional Court thus assessed the de minimis nature of the merits of the dispute, the request to unify the case-law of ordinary courts by the Constitutional Court in cases where this cannot be carried out by the highest court in the system of ordinary courts, the problem of constitutional protection of consumers as so-called weaker parties and the issue of costs of proceedings. The Constitutional Court found no violation of the appellant’s constitutionally guaranteed rights in these areas. It observed that the appellant had signed the contract of her own free will, knowing the conditions stipulated and that the bank’s policy had not in any way violated her rights as a client. The court could only intervene if one party in a contract were to unilaterally determine contractual conditions which the other party would be obliged to accept, which was not the case in question.