On 18 November 2022, the English High Court handed down a judgment in Ebury Partners Belgium SA v Technical Touch BV  EWHC 2927 (Comm) in favour of an anti-suit injunction against the Belgian proceedings breaching the English exclusive jurisdiction agreement. Mr. Justice Jacobs provided some welcome clarification and confirmation of the principles applicable upon breaches of exclusive jurisdiction agreements in the altered legal landscape post-Brexit. Indeed, the decision might be considered a continuing development following the anti-suit injunction granted by the English Commercial Court against the Spanish court proceedings in QBE Europe SA/NV and another v. Generali Espana de Seguros y Reaseguros  EWHC 2062 (Comm).
A brief glimpse of the factual background
The dispute arose between Ebury Partners Belgium SA/NV (Claimant) and Technical Touch and Jan Berthels (Defendants) in April 2021 following their Relationship Agreement for foreign exchange currency services which was consented to electronically through the claimant’s website. The hyperlink attached to the box ticked by Mr. Berthels (director of the company) would have taken onto the webpage containing a pdf file with the terms and conditions of the claimant applicable to their business dealings. Indeed, Clause 27 entitled “Other important terms” included governing law and exclusive jurisdiction clauses as follows:
“[27.11] This Agreement and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with it or its subject matter or formation, interpretation, performance and/or termination (including non-contractual disputes or claims) shall be exclusively governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales.
[27.12] Each party irrevocably agrees that the courts of England shall have exclusive jurisdiction to settle any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with this Agreement or its subject matter or formation, interpretation, performance and/or termination (including non-contractual disputes or claims). For such purposes, each party irrevocably submits to the jurisdiction of the English courts and waives any objection to the exercise of such jurisdiction. Each party also irrevocably waives any objection to the recognition or enforcement in the courts of any other country of a judgment delivered by an English court exercising jurisdiction pursuant to this Clause 27.12.”
The parties further concluded a Guarantee Agreement signed by Mr. Berthels as a guarantor regarding TT’s obligations to Ebury. The latter agreement also contained English law and choice of court clauses as follows:
“ This guarantee and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with it or its subject matter or formation (including non-contractual disputes or claims) shall be governed by, and construed in accordance with, the law of England and Wales. If any provision hereof or part thereof shall be held invalid or unenforceable no other provisions hereof shall be affected and all such other provisions shall remain in full force and effect.
 Each party irrevocably agrees that subject as provided below, the courts of England and Wales shall have exclusive jurisdiction over any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with this guarantee or its subject matter or formation (including non-contractual disputes or claims). Nothing in this clause shall limit the right of Ebury to take proceedings against the Guarantor in any other court of competent jurisdiction, nor shall the taking of proceedings in any one or more jurisdictions preclude the taking of proceedings in any other jurisdictions, whether concurrently or not, to the extent permitted by the law of such other jurisdiction.”
When TT failed to pay a margin call and further sums under their Relationship Agreement and no amicable settlement was achieved, TT brought the Belgian proceedings to seek negative declaratory relief and challenge the validity of the two agreements under Belgian law. In response to the Belgian proceedings, Ebury brought an action in England as agreed between the parties. In addition, Ebury also applied for a grant of an anti-suit injunction in breach of the exclusive jurisdiction clause.
A short recap of the judge’s legal reasoning and decision
As expressed by Mr. Justice Jacobs, the arguments brought by the parties – Ebury’s application for an anti-suit order, and the Defendants’ applications challenging the court’s jurisdiction or inviting the court not to exercise it, were pretty much different sides of the same coin.
Indeed, by considering the claimant’s application first, the judge swept away the defendant’s counter arguments. It was emphasised that, while it would not have been possible to grant an anti-suit relief upon the presence of the proceedings at an English and any other European Member State court pre-Brexit, the principles applicable upon such a request were already well-settled. In this context, the court particularly underlined Mr. Justice Foxton’s reasonings in QBE Europe SA/NV v Generali España de Seguros Y Reaseguros  EWHC 2062 (Comm) at para . Indeed, the judgment was based on Section 37(1) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 giving power to the court to grant an anti-suit injunction for restraining foreign proceedings when it was required by the ends of justice, therefore, was “just and convenient”, furthermore, a “high degree of probability” about the existence of a jurisdiction was established.
Being the touchstone of the reasoning, and referring to already established prior authorities, the judge rejected the defendants’ application challenging the English court’s jurisdiction and seeking a stay or a relief to that end. It was confirmed that there was a good arguable case for service out (in line with CPR 6.33 (2B) (b), also pursuant to the application of the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements 2005) and the English court had exclusive jurisdiction per the agreements between the parties. Accordingly, there were no strong reasons for the English court to decline its jurisdiction – in contrast, the court was bound to accept its jurisdiction per Article 5 of the Convention.
Significance of the judgment
This decision is of high importance for several reasons: It reiterates the emphasis that has been traditionally placed on party autonomy and authentic consent in English law and practice be it in a conventional or an electronic form by incorporation of the standard terms and conditions which would bring a useful reference point for businesses. Indeed, the Court asserted the principles of English law regarding the dealings in e-commerce and particularly click-wrap agreements.
The judgment also reasserts the termination of the prior authorities preventing the English courts from granting anti-suit injunctions against the proceedings at the European Member State courts (re: West Tankers and Turner Grovit). Indeed, the judgment follows up the Qbe reasoning which was a grand opening of a fresh chapter for anti-suit reliefs post-Brexit. It is worth noting that the availability of such reliefs might also stimulate the European courts to issue similar orders against the English courts bringing the effects of a double-edged sword.
Last but not least, the high value of the judgment derives also from the fact that it addresses the Hague Choice of Court Agreement 2005. While there is still an unreasonable lack of relevant authorities referring to this global convention, the judgment brings hope about more case law and precedents built upon by virtue of the HCCCA 2005.