The Prestige case. Victory for Spain in the CJEU.

Back in March we noted the reference to the CJEU of three questions regarding the application of Article 34 in the London P&I Club’s appeal against the recognition of the Spanish judgment against it in The Prestige case. https://iistl.blog/2022/03/25/the-prestige-20-years-on-cjeu-reference-may-be-withdrawn-at-last-gasp/

The High Court stayed proceedings and referred three questions to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling:

1. Is a judgment granted pursuant to s.66 of the Arbitration Act 1996 capable of constituting a relevant “judgment” of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3)?

2. Is a judgment falling outside the material scope of Regulation No 44/2001 by reason of the Article 1(2)(d) arbitration exception, capable of constituting a relevant “judgment” of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3)?

3. If Article 34(3) does not apply, can Art 34(1) be relied on as a ground of refusing recognition and enforcement of a judgment of another Member State as being contrary to domestic public policy on the grounds that it would violate the principle of res judicata by reason of a prior domestic arbitration award or a prior judgment entered in the terms of the award granted by the court of the Member State in which recognition is sought?

The Court of Appeal set aside the Judge’s order referring the questions to the CJEU. However, only the referring judge has jurisdiction to withdraw the reference. The Court of Appeal referred to Butcher J, pursuant to CPR 52.20(2)(b), the question of whether, in the light its judgment, he should withdraw the reference he made to the CJEU on 21 December 2020.

  The reference was not withdrawn and on Monday the CJEU gave its decision on the three questions referred [2022] EUECJ C-700/20.

The answer to the first two questions is that Article 34(3) of Regulation No 44/2001 must be interpreted as meaning that a judgment entered by a court of a Member State in the terms of an arbitral award does not constitute a ‘judgment’, within the meaning of that provision, where a judicial decision resulting in an outcome equivalent to the outcome of that award could not have been adopted by a court of that Member State without infringing the provisions and the fundamental objectives of that regulation.

The infringement would be two fold. First, as regards the relative effect of an arbitration clause included in an insurance contract which does not extend to claims against a victim of insured damage who bring a direct action against the insurer, in tort, delict or quasi-delict, before the courts for the place where the harmful event occurred or before the courts for the place where the victim is domiciled (as per the CJEU judgment of 13 July 2017 in Assens Havn, C 368/16, EU:C:2017:546).

Second, as regards the rules on lis pendens in Article 27 which favour the court first seised where there are parallel proceedings between the same parties, and does not require effective participation in the proceedings in question. The proceedings in Spain and in England involved the same parties and the same cause of action, and the proceedings were already pending in Spain on 16 January 2012 when the arbitration proceedings were commenced. It is for the court seised with a view to entering a judgment in the terms of an arbitral award to verify that the provisions and fundamental objectives of Regulation No 44/2001 have been complied with, in order to prevent a circumvention of those provisions and objectives, such as a circumvention consisting in the completion of arbitration proceedings in disregard of both the relative effect of an arbitration clause included in an insurance contract and the rules on lis pendens laid down in Article 27 of that regulation. No such verification took place before either the High Court or the Court of Appeal and neither court made a reference to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling under Article 267 of the CJEU.

The answer to the third question is that Article 34(1) of Regulation No 44/2001 must be interpreted as meaning that, in the event that Article 34(3) of that regulation does not apply to a judgment entered in the terms of an arbitral award, the recognition or enforcement of a judgment from another Member State cannot be refused as being contrary to public policy on the ground that it would disregard the force of res judicata acquired by the judgment entered in the terms of an arbitral award.

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