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 https://iistl.blog/2022/03/25/the-prestige-20-years-on-cjeu-reference-may-be-withdrawn-at-last-gasp/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  The reference was not withdrawn and on Monday the CJEU gave its decision on the three questions referred [2022] EUECJ C-700/20.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.

EU Port Services Regulation heading for the UK dustbin. Consultation process now running.

The Port Services Regulation 2017/352 Regulation (the PSR), includes provisions in the following areas: market access for port service providers; transfer of undertakings; financial transparency; charges; training and consultation; complaints and appeals.

The PSR has not been popular in the UK. In October 2017 the then shipping minister John Hayes told members of the UK Major Ports Group that the Regulation would be “consigned to the dustbin” in the UK due to Brexit”. But the Port Services Regulation was not immediately repealed. It was supplemented in domestic legislation by practical and procedural provisions in the Port Services Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/575) and in The Pilotage and Port Services (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/671 which covers the situation as from 1.1.21.

The government’s view is that all the areas covered by the Ports Services Regulation are sufficiently covered in the UK by commercial practice within the framework of domestic law. The government intends to repeal the PSR as EU retained law, to revoke The Port Services Regulations 2019, and to amend the Pilotage and Port Services (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, by revoking those parts of the regulations that relate to the PSR and were made to ensure that the EU PSR remained operable after the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

 The government has now opened a consultation period from 22 March – 22 April 2022, https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/repealing-the-eu-port-services-legislation/repealing-the-eu-port-services-legislation#:~:text=The%20government%20has%20signalled%20its,worked%20properly%20for%20the%20UK.

The Prestige, 20 years on. CJEU reference may be withdrawn at last gasp.

The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v The Kingdom of Spain M/T “PRESTIGE” (No. 5) [2022] EWCA Civ 238 (01 March 2022),  concerns a reference to the CJEU by Butcher J, arising out of the longstanding litigation between Spain and the owners’ P&I Club in connection with the Prestige oil spill in 2002. The Club had appealed against an order registering the judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court on 28 May 2019. The appeal was fixed for a two-week trial from 2 December 2020 to determine (i) as a matter of law, whether the judgment entered by Hamblen J constituted a judgment within the meaning of Article 34(3) and, if not, whether that judgment and the arbitration award (and the res judicata to which they give rise as a matter of English law) could be relied upon and (ii) as a matter of fact and law, whether the Spanish Proceedings had breached the human rights of the defendants, including the Club.

Spain made an application seeking the reference of six questions to the CJEU (later adding a seventh) and invited  Butcher J to determine that application at the hearing of the appeal in order to be in a position to lodge any request with the CJEU before “the Brexit cut off”  with the end of the Implementation Period on 31 December 2020. On 21 December 2020 Butcher J then referred three issues to the CJEU.

“(1) Given the nature of the issues which the national court is required to determine in deciding whether to enter judgment in the terms of an award under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, is a judgment granted pursuant to that provision capable of constituting a relevant “judgment” of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3) of EC Regulation No 44/2001?

(2)  Given that a judgment entered in the terms of an award, such as a judgment under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, is a judgment falling outside the material scope of Regulation No 44/2001 by reason of the Article 1(2)(d) arbitration exception, is such a judgment capable of constituting a relevant “judgment” of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3) of the Regulation?

(3)  On the hypothesis that Article 34(3) of Regulation No 44/2001 does not apply, if recognition and enforcement of a judgment of another Member State would be 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, is it permissible to rely on 34(1) of Regulation No 44/2001 as a ground of refusing recognition or enforcement or do Articles 34(3) and (4) of the Regulation provide the exhaustive grounds by which res judicata and/or irreconcilability can prevent recognition and enforcement of a Regulation judgment?”

At the time of making the reference Butcher J had not decided the Club’s human rights argument. That was decided against the Club in May 2021, after the end of the Implementation Period, and could not be referred to the CJEU. The reference, C-700/20, was heard by the CJEU on 31 January 2022 and the opinion of the Advocate General is expected on 5 May 2022, with the judgment of the CJEU to be delivered at any time thereafter.

The Club appealed the decision of Butcher J, and on 1 March 2022 the Court of Appeal held that Butcher J did not have the authority to refer the questions to the CJEU. The necessity test mandated in Art 267 of 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union would only be satisfied if the European law question is conclusive of the issue which the national court has to decide on a particular occasion in accordance with its national procedure. The judge’s discretion as to whether to make a reference only arises once the test of necessity has been satisfied.  That was not the case here as Butcher J had not decided the human rights policy issue raised by the Club. Unless and until that issue had been determined against the Club, the questions referred could not be said to be conclusive or even substantially determinative of the appeal. The questions could have been resolved entirely in Spain’s favour, yet the Club could have won on the human rights issue. Looking at previous CJEU authority in Cartesio Oktato es Szolgaltato bt (Case 210/06) [2009] Ch 354 it was clear that as a matter of national law a reference can be set aside on appeal.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and 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 Court of Appeal indicated that the hearing should take place as soon as possible, and in any event in time for any decision to withdraw the reference to be effective.

Bastille Day. EU Commission’s present to the shipping industry.

Today the EU Commission has issued a 581 page document with a proposed directive amending the 2003 ETS Directive. This is considerably less extensive that the proposed amendment to the 2015 MRV Regulation which is what the EU Parliament voted for last October.

Maritime transport will now fall within the Directive (inserted articles 3g to 3ge) which will apply in respect of: emissions from intra-EU voyages; half of the emissions from extra-EU voyages and; emissions occurring at berth in an EU port. This rows back from the Parliament’s proposed amendments to the 2015 MRV Regulation which would have included all emissions from extra-EU voyages which started from or ended within the EU. The same rules that apply to other sectors covered by the EU ETS should apply to maritime transport with regard to auctioning, the transfer, surrender and cancellation of allowances, penalties and registries (Article 16).  Shipping will enjoy phased entry into the ETS. Shipping companies shall be liable to surrender allowances according to the following schedule: (a) 20 % of verified emissions reported for 2023; (b) 45 % of verified emissions reported for 2024; (c) 70 % of verified emissions reported for 2025; (d) 100 % of verified emissions reported for 2026 and each year thereafter: somewhat different from the inclusion in the ETS as of 1.1.2022 proposed by the EU Parliament. The current MRV Regulation applies only to CO2 emissions and the Commission leaves extension to other gases to a later phase, once the monitoring approaches and emissions factors of these gases has been agreed.

The proposed amending directive includes new definitions for “shipping company” and “administering authority in respect of shipping companies” in Article 3(v) and Article 3(w) respectively.  The person or organisation responsible for the compliance with the EU ETS should be the shipping company, defined as the shipowner or any other organisation or person, such as the manager or the bareboat charterer, that has assumed the responsibility for the operation of the ship from the shipowner and that, on assuming such responsibility, has agreed to take over all the duties and responsibilities imposed by the International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention. This definition is based on the definition of ‘company’ in Article 3, point (d) of Regulation (EU) 2015/757, and in line with the global data collection system established in 2016 by the IMO. This is good news for time charterers who would have become responsible under the Parliament’s proposed amendment to the MRV Regulation.

Still, half a loaf is better than what is currently being served up by the IMO on its GHG reduction menu for international shipping.

The proposed Directive can be found here: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/revision-eu-ets_with-annex_en_0.pdf

Climate Change and International Shipping. Life in the slow lane, and life in the fast(er) lane.

The IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 76), meeting from 10 to 17 June 2021, adopted amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI that will require ships to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

All ships will be required to calculate their Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) following technical means to improve their energy efficiency and to establish their annual operational carbon intensity indicator (CII) and CII rating. Carbon intensity links the GHG emissions to the amount of cargo carried over distance travelled.

Ships will get a rating of their energy efficiency (A, B, C, D, E – where A is the best).  A ship rated D for three consecutive years, or E, is required to submit a corrective action plan, to show how the required index (C or above) would be achieved.

The amendments to MARPOL Annex VI (adopted in a consolidated revised Annex VI) are expected to enter into force on 1 November 2022, with the requirements for EEXI and CII certification coming into effect from 1 January 2023. The first annual reporting will be completed in 2023, with the first rating given in 2024.

A review clause requires the IMO to review the effectiveness of the implementation of the CII and EEXI requirements, by 1 January 2026 at the latest, and, if necessary, develop and adopt further amendments. 

The MEPC also adopted related guidelines to support the implementation of the amendments. 

The guidelines include the 2021 Guidelines on the operational carbon intensity reduction factors relative to reference lines (CII Reduction factor Guidelines, G3). This includes the required reduction (Z) factor, which is set at a rate, relative to 2019, of 11% by 2026 (about a 1.5% annual reduction, as opposed to the 7% annual reduction that would be needed for shipping to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement 2015). This would  be further strengthened after that date, taking into account the review of the measure and latest climate science.

These combined technical and operational measures, referred to as short term carbon intensity measures, are stated as being in line with the ambition of the Initial IMO GHG Strategy, which aims to reduce carbon intensity of international shipping by 40% by 2030, compared to 2008.

The MEPC adopted a work plan on the concrete way forward to make progress with candidate mid- and long-term measures including measures to incentivize the move away from fossil fuels to low- and zero-carbon fuels to achieve decarbonization of international shipping.

A proposal initially considered by MEPC suggested a mandatory levy of $100 per tonne carbon dioxide equivalent on heavy fuel oil will be further considered at the intersessional working group meeting in the context of the adopted workplan along with other proposals for mid-term measures. A proposal to establish an International Maritime Research Board, funded by a tax on oil fuel used by shipping and discussion will resume at the Committee’s next session.

The MEPC also adopted amendments to MARPOL Annex I (addition of a new regulation 43A) to introduce a prohibition on the use and carriage for use as fuel of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by ships in Arctic waters on and after 1 July 2024.

The prohibition will cover the use and carriage for use as fuel of oils having a density at 15°C higher than 900 kg/m3 or a kinematic viscosity at 50°C higher than 180 mm2/s. Ships engaged in securing the safety of ships, or in search and rescue operations, and ships dedicated to oil spill preparedness and response would be exempted. Ships which meet certain construction standards with regard to oil fuel tank protection would need to comply on and after 1 July 2029.

A Party to MARPOL with a coastline bordering Arctic waters may temporarily waive the requirements for ships flying its flag while operating in waters subject to that Party’s sovereignty or jurisdiction, up to 1 July 2029.

Meanwhile the EU is also active with plans regarding the reduction of carbon emissions from international shipping. Its plans for inclusion of international shipping in the emissions trading scheme were due to have been announced this month but will now be announced on July 14, Bastille Day, as part of its ‘Fit for 55’ package.

Strict product liability: information doesn’t count — official (sort of).

If you hoped that since Brexit you could forget about keeping one eye on the decisions of the CJEU, think again. Yesterday in Krone Verlag GmbH (Case 65/20) [2021] EUECJ C-65-20, that court decided an important issue of product liability under the Product Liability Directive, an EU measure that remains essentially in effect here having been enacted as Part I of the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

An Austrian redtop newspaper reader followed the advice contained in an article it ran on home doctoring, and applied a poultice of grated horseradish for several hours to a swollen ankle. She suffered a serious toxic skin reaction because such remedies ought to be applied for only a few minutes. In an unfortunate typo the paper had substituted hours for minutes.

She sued the proprietors, alleging that the newspaper was a defective product under the Directive and that they were therefore strictly liable to her for the consequences of the material contained in it. The owners argued that defective products meant only physically defective products, and did not cover informational defects. Case law in Austria being divided on the point, the Oberster Gerichtshof (ie the Austrian Supreme Court) referred the matter to Luxembourg.

The Euro-court briskly sided with the newspaper proprietors. A bright Euro-line had to be drawn between liability for defective things (strict) and for bad services (fault-based): and a thing did not become defective merely because it happened to be the medium for misleading advice or intellectual content apt to cause harm or injury.

Good news, certainly, for publishers: not only of newspapers, but (more importantly in the commercial context) of instruction books and manuals for maintenance or assembly. These people are it seems now insulated — at least as a matter of our law — from strict liability claims by workers complaining of injury due to incomplete or misleading materials contained in them; they are also safe from strict liability contribution claims by the insurers of employers and others who have been successfully sued by workers and now seek to pass on part of the liability. Equally, in the rare case where mariners rely on a misleading paper chart with untoward results, there can be no question now of liability in the cartographers for injuries resulting.

This judgment was about paper media: but presumably it applies to material on machine-readable media too. It can hardly make a difference whether information is supplied printed on paper or written on to a DVD or USB stick. So there can now be no strict liability suit for instructions supplied on a DVD, or if a DVD fitted into, say, an ECDIS display has a bug in it that causes the display to be wrong. (If material is supplied over the Net no question arises anyway, since then there is no physical medium at all).

A little more difficult is the position of software for operating machines, where there is no element of intellectual content readable by humans: the DVD, for example, that you insert into a device (such as the control unit of a drone submersible) to cause it to run or to transfer necessary operating information to it. If this is misconfigured and causes the device to malfunction and cause injury, is this a defective good? The matter is not absolutely clear. But the stress laid by the Court on the difference between goods and services suggests that here too liability under the Product Liability Directive should be denied. Bad instructions directed at a machine seem more a matter of a defective service than a defect in anything physical: physicality here is confined to the medium on which the instructions happen to be written.

In terms of strict law this decision is not in any way binding on a court in the UK applying the Consumer Protection Act. In practice, however, Brexit or no Brexit, it’s difficult to see the courts here coming to a different conclusion. Particularly since, at least to us at the IISTL, the result reached in Luxembourg seems so overwhelmingly sensible.

Lugano blues?

Unfinished business permeates Brexit. A case in point is jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments. As of the end of last year the regimes which had thitherto featured so large in lawyers’ lives, Brussels I, Lugano and the Brussels Convention, fell away. What remained was the common law rules on jurisdiction and enforcement, tempered only by the much more skeletal 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements, possibly a few hoary pre-EU bilateral treaties on enforcement of judgments, and a vague prospect of the UK joining Lugano as a non-EU state with the agreement of the EU.

The latter possibility has now been scotched; although the other Lugano states (Switzerland, Iceland and Norway) were cool about the idea, the EU Commission on 4 May came out with a de Gaullean Non. For the moment therefore we are stuck with the status quo.

Is this a disaster for UK lawyers, in particular as regards the enforceability of our judgments elsewhere in Europe? Not as much as you might think, even though though it is a reverse, and admittedly proceedings to give effect to judgments may become somewhat untidier and more costly.

First, note that in the EEA outside the EU, Switzerland has a fairly summary native procedure for enforcing foreign (non-Lugano) judgments; and as regards Norway we have dusted off a 1961 agreement and reactivated it.

Turning to the position within the EU, it is worth remembering that one sizeable subset of Commercial Court judgments will remain fairly readily enforceable: namely, those emanating from exclusive English jurisdiction clauses – a very common phenomenon in international trade contracts, and a not unusual one in other cases where English law is chosen by the parties to govern their transaction. This is because the 2005 Hague Convention, already applicable in the UK and throughout the EU (and also in Singapore and Montenegro) mandates enforcement, not only of such clauses, but also of any judgments resulting. The only gaping exceptions here are interim judgments and carriage contracts.

In the mid-term things may moreover get better. The EU is, it seems, well on the way to ratifying the 2019 Hague Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters, a convention to which the UK can also adhere. If and when EU and UK both ratify this Convention, it will require expeditious enforcement of each other’s commercial judgments – and incidentally judicially-approve settlements – rendered against, among others, anyone who has agreed to the jurisdiction of the court rendering the judgment. Its only slightly annoying exception, as in the case of the 2005 Hague Convention, concerns carriage contracts, something apt to exclude bill of lading and voyage charter disputes (though possibly not time charter litigation).

Furthermore, it is worth remembering that the UK’s exclusion from Lugano carries one positive benefit: namely, an escape from its strict and arguably over-dirigiste provisions on jurisdiction. UK courts will thus retain the ability regained in January to decline jurisdiction where there is a good reason to do so without being concerned with the straitjacket imposed by Owusu v Jackson (C-281/02) [2005] E.C.R. I-1383. Conversely, English courts will keep their newly-restored ability to extend to European-domiciled defendants the wide English rules of exorbitant jurisdiction tempered only by forum non conveniens and the court’s discretion to refuse permission to serve out. Further, one suspects much to everyone’s relief, lis alibi pendens in Europe will not, as in Art.27 of Lugano, prevent the English court hearing the case, but merely give it a discretion to do so. The unlamented Italian torpedo fashioned by cases such as Erich Gasser GmbH v MISAT SRL (Case C-116/02) [2003] E.C.R. I-14693, partly but only partly disposed of in Brussels I Recast, will thus be for ever disarmed and its casing given a decent burial on the seabed. And, of course, the anti-suit injunction, a remedy of very considerable use in the practical defence of exclusive jurisdiction and arbitration agreements, is now available against all defendants.

In short, life may be messier for English lawyers without Lugano. But one suspects that it may not be that much unhealthier for the legal business of the English courts. For the moment at least UK Law Plc remains in pretty rude health, and with very decent prospects for the foreseeable future. You’d be foolish if you thought of writing it off any time soon.

EU Proposes a Uniform Approach to the Regulation of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is used in many domains ranging from public sector to health, finance, insurance, home affairs and agriculture. There is no doubt that AI can potentially bring a wide array of economic and societal benefits for nations and humanity as a whole. However, it has been subject of intense deliberation as to how AI can be best regulated given that its applications could potentially have adverse consequences on privacy, dignity and other fundamental human rights of individuals. There is no easy answer to this question and various options have been deliberated over the years. Academics have come up with theories as to which manner of regulation would suit the interest of the society best, whilst various stakeholders (developers and/or users of the technology) have supported different types of regulation alternatives suiting their interests.

On 21 April, the European Commission unveiled its proposal for the regulation of AI in EU (2021/0106 (COD)). This is an important development which will, no doubt, generate significant interest (and debate) and play a role in shaping the regulatory framework not only in the EU but perhaps globally. In a nutshell, the proposed new regulatory regime for AI will be as follows:

  • The regulation lists AI systems whose use is considered unacceptable and accordingly prohibited (Article 5). Such AI practices are: i) those that deploy subliminal techniques beyond a person’s consciousness in order to materially distort a person’s behaviour in a manner that causes or is likely to cause that person or another person physical or psychological harm; ii) those that exploit any of the vulnerabilities of a specific group of persons due to their age, physical or mental disability, in order to materially distort the behaviour of a person pertaining to that group in a manner that causes or is likely to cause that person or another person physical or psychological harm; iii) those that are used by public authorities or on their behalf for the evaluation or classification of the trustworthiness of natural persons over a certain period of time based on their social behaviour or known or predicted personal or personality characteristics, with the social score leading to either or both of the following: a) detrimental or unfavourable treatment of certain natural persons or whole groups thereof in social contexts which are unrelated to the contexts in which the data was originally generated or collected; b) detrimental or unfavourable treatment of certain natural persons or whole groups thereof that is unjustified or disproportionate to their social behaviour or its gravity; and iv) those that use “real-time” remote biometric identification systems in publicly accessible spaces for the purpose of law enforcement (certain exclusions also listed for this).
  • The new regime contains specific rules for AI systems that create a high risk to the health and safety of fundamental rights of natural persons (Title III, Arts 6 and 7). Annex III, lists a limited number of AI systems whose risks have already materialised or likely to materialise in the near future (e.g. biometric identification and categorisation of natural persons; AI systems intended to be used for recruitment or selection of natural persons for employment; AI systems intended to be used by public authorities to evaluate the eligibility of natural persons for public assistance benefits and services and AI systems intended to be used by law enforcement authorities as polygraphs and similar tools to detect the emotional state of a natural person) Article 7 authorises the Commission to expand the list of high-risk AI systems in the future by applying a set of criteria and risk assessment methodology.
  • The proposed regulation sets out the legal requirements for high-risk AI systems in relation to data and data governance, documentation and record keeping, transparency and provision of information to users, human oversight, robustness, accuracy and security (Chapter 2).              
  • Chapter 4 sets the framework for notified bodies to be involved as independent third parties in conformity assessment procedures and Chapter 5 explains in detail the conformity assessment procedures to be followed for each type of high-risk AI system.
  • Certain transparency obligations have been set for certain AI systems (e.g. those that i) interact with humans; ii) are used to detect emotions or determine association with (social) categories based on biometric data and iii) generate or manipulate content (deep fakes)) by virtue of Title IV.
  • Title V encourages national competent authorities to set up regulatory sandboxes and sets a basic framework in terms of governance, supervison and liability.   
  • The draft regulation proposes to establish a European Artificial Intelligence Board which will facilitate a smooth, effective and harmonised implementation of the requirements under this regulation by contributing to the effective corporation of the national supervisory authorities and the Commission and providing advice and expertise to the Commission. At national level, Member States will have to designate one or more national competent authorities and, among them, the national supervisory authority, for the purpose of supervising the application and implementation of the regulation (Title VI).           

There is no doubt in the coming weeks the suitability of the proposed regulation will be rigorously deliberated. For example, civil rights campaigners might possibly argue that the proposed regulation does not go far enough as the it allows several exceptions to the use of “real time” biometric identification systems. Fundamentally, Article 5 of the proposed regulation states that the use of real-time biometric identification systems can be allowed for the “prevention of a specific, substantial and imminent threat to the life or physical safety of natural persons or of a terrorist attack”, the interpretation of which leaves wide discretionary power to the authorities. On the other hand, developers of AI applications might find it troubling that the Commission would have a discretion going forward to treat new applications developed as high-risk making them subject to a demanding compliance regime set out in the proposed regulation.

Obviously, the proposed regulation will not apply in the UK. However, it is important for the relevant regulators in the UK to see what is brewing on the other side of the Channel. We should follow the debates emerging, reactions to it from various interest groups and academics with interest. There might be considerable benefit for the UK to make its move once the path the EU is taken on this issue is settled. This might bring economic advantages and even perhaps a competitive edge (assuming that more efficient regulatory measures are preferred in the UK)!   

No-go Lugano?

The UK’s application, submitted on 8 April 2020, to join the Lugano Convention in its own right appears to be foundering on opposition from the EU. Although the three non-EU Members (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) have expressed support for admitting the UK, the European Commission is less favourably disposed, and its consent is essential if the UK is to become a party to the convention. On 12 April the Commission stated.

“The Commission has conducted a thorough assessment of the request and has discussed it with Member States. It will come forward with a Communication in the coming weeks.

It is worth noting, however, that the Lugano Convention is a tool used within the EU-EFTA/EEA context. The UK has chosen to leave the EU, the Single Market and the Customs Union. It has chosen to have a more distant relationship with the EU than EEA-EFTA countries. These choices have to be taken into account when determining the EU’s position.”

The final decision, however, lies with the European Council, which comprises EU Member State heads of state or government and is expected soon. We wait with bated breath.

No strikeout for Bangladeshi ship scrapping claim: but don’t hold your breath

As we mentioned on this blog last August, these days you have to be careful who you sell an old ship to. In Begum v Maran [2021] EWCA Civ 326 MUK, the English managers of a Liberian ship fit only for scrap, helped arrange her sale to a buyer who paid fairly handsomely. That buyer proceeded (entirely foreseeably) to have her scrapped by a thoroughly dodgy outfit called Zuma in a dangerous and environmentally irresponsible way on a Bangladeshi beach. A worker engaged in stripping the hulk fell to his death. Prospects of recovery from Zuma being low, if for no other reason because of a local one-year statute of limitations during the running of which nothing had been done, his widow sued MUK as of right in England because of its domicile here, alleging negligence. Jay J decided that it was arguable that MUK had owed the man a duty of care, and that the local limitations law might be circumvented, and refused a strikeout. MUK appealed.

The Court of Appeal yesterday allowed the case to go ahead, though only very grudgingly and on a more limited basis than Jay J. The Court was particularly sceptical on the limitation point. Under Rome II, applicable to the claim as it predated Brexit (and still applicable to post-Brexit claims in its domesticated form), the law governing the claim – including on the subject of limitation – was Bangladeshi. This immediately defeated the claimant unless she could escape it. The judge had regarded as possibly plausible a contention that Art.7 of Rome II allowed her to invoke English law because her husband’s death had resulted from environmental damage caused by an event here – namely, MTM’s arrangements for sale of the ship. But this was dismissed on appeal as unarguable: rightly so, since this simply wasn’t an environmental case in the first place. But the court did see it as arguable – just – that the limitation period was so short that an English court might disapply it on public policy grounds under Art.26 of Rome II, and ordered a preliminary issue on the point.

On the substantive points, the widow argued either that MUK had owed her husband a duty of care on the principle of Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562, or that MUK’s sale of the vessel when it should have known that it was likely to be dangerously demolished had created an immediate danger to her husband’s life and thus engendered a duty in respect of the bad practices of his employers Zuma.

Giving the lead judgment, Coulson J was very sceptical on the first point. This wasn’t, he said, a case of a disposal of a dangerous thing, but rather the furnishing of an opportunity for a third party to be negligent in respect of a thing not inherently perilous. Whether this could give rise to a duty his Lordship thought very doubtful indeed – but still not quite implausible enough to justify an immediate strikeout. Our view is that the doubts were fully justified. We normally expect employers to look after their employees; to put a duty on third parties to police the behaviour of contractors they engaged in that respect is to say the least drastic. Should I really have to scrutinise or supervise the employment practices of the builder I employ to extend my house in case one of his workers is hurt? It seems doubtful.

On the second point, the difficulty (a considerable one) was the general rule that people were not generally made responsible for the wrongs of others, however foreseeable. But, said Coulson J, there were possible exceptions where the danger in question had been created by a defendant. And while it seemed unlikely that this would apply here, the law was not absolutely clear and the prospect of persuading a sceptical judge to recognise a duty of care wasn’t dismal enough to deny the widow the chance to argue the toss. Her prospects might be slim, but she was entitled to chance her arm.

This case will possibly be hailed in the liberal media as an advance in the campaign to make big business in Britain take responsibility for the activities of its dodgier partners abroad. But commercial lawyers know better than to engage in chicken-counting. Remember, the claimant here only avoided a strikeout by the skin of her teeth. Her chances of recovering much over and above a nuisance value or reputation-saving settlement remain, it seems fair to say, pretty slim.

Oh, and one more thing. The ability to sue a UK-domiciled company here as of right disappeared with Brussels I Recast in a puff of celebratory Brexit firework smoke at 2300 hours on 31 December last. It follows that, barring swift adherence by the UK to the Lugano convention (increasingly unlikely by all the indications), any future claimant basing their complaint on events in a far-off land with no ostensible connection to England will now also face the prospect of a forum non conveniens application. This may well have an appreciable chance of success. There is, after all, no immediately apparent reason why the English courts should act as the policemen of work practices worldwide, hoewever much sympathy we may feel for a claimant personally.

In short, the boardrooms of corporate Britain, and even more those of their liability insurers, may well see some sighs of relief, if not discreet socially-distant celebrations, in the next few days.