Brussels I Recast — not as long-arm as you feared

It’s not often that what is essentially a family law case causes commercial lawyers to sigh with relief, but one suspects this may be true of yesterday’s decision of Lavender J in Gray v Hurley [2019] EWHC 1972 (QB).

Under Art.4 of Brussels I Recast, readers will recall that a UK-domiciled defendant has a prima facie right not to be sued anywhere in the EU except in the UK, unless one of the exceptions in the Regulation applies. But what if he finds himself sued in some court outside the EU? Does Art.4 extend to give him a further right not to be sued anywhere in the world except here, and thereby justify the issue by the English courts of an anti-suit injunction to stop the foreign proceedings in their tracks?

In Gray, a supposedly beautiful extra-marital relationship broke up in tears, as is so often the way with such things. There was a good deal of wealth in a number of places to argue about. She being domiciled in England and he resident here, she sued him in the English courts. Meanwhile he sued her in New Zealand, where he had close connections. Having finally established the jurisdiction of the English courts to hear her case, she asked for an anti-suit injunction to stop the New Zealand proceedings, arguing that this was necessary to vindicate her Art.4 right to be sued here, and only here — and for good measure that her human right (to protection of her possessions) would be infringed unless the order went.

Lavender J was having none of it. Art.4 of Brussels I gave her no right analogous to that derived from an exclusive English jurisdiction clause that entitled her to the courts’ intervention in the absence of strong reasons to the contrary; and being sued abroad in respect of one’s assets in an action that had no guarantee of success could not be said to be an attack on one’s possessions sufficient to engage the pretensions of A1P1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It followed that, like any other litigant, if she wanted an anti-suit injunction she had to show that England was clearly most appropriate forum and that there was no countervailing justification for him suing in New Zealand — which she could not.

With respect this seems absolutely right. For one thing there is something odd about the idea of EU law justifying the granting of a peculiarly common-law remedy that fills most EU private international lawyers with horror, and indeed is banned entirely by EU law in the case of EU courts. Admittedly this has not stopped the English courts so holding in respect of the exclusive jurisdiction over employment contracts in what is now Art.22.1 (see Petter v EMC Europe [2015] EWCA Civ 828); but that case is itself controversial, and it is good to see its spread curbed.

More to the point, however, if this claim had succeeded, the effects on comity would have been considerable. Courts in countries outside the EU would not have been gratified to see the English courts issuing anti-suit injunctions almost as a matter of course telling litigants not to proceed there in commercial claims against English-based defendants for no better reason than that the EU, an organisation they were not a member of and owed no allegiance to , disapproved of the proceedings being brought there.

As we said before, we suspect much gentle relief in the commercial legal community, which can now be allowed to get on with business as usual.

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