The Ball is Rolling: The UK to ratify the Hague Judgments Convention?

On 15 December 2022, the UK government published a public consultation paper on the possible ratification of the Hague Judgments Convention 2019 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters (HJC). With the UK-wide call open in all three jurisdictions by 9 February 2023, the Government is seeking expert views from practitioners, academics, businesses, and any other persons with an interest in or who may be affected by cross-border civil and commercial litigation in the UK on its very welcome plan to become a Contracting State to the Convention. Besides the open call and public responses, the officials including experts from the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Private International Law will get involved in the consultation before the publication of the outcomes.

The Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) adopted the HJC on 2 July 2019 – 27 years after the initial proposal of a mixed instrument covering both jurisdiction and recognition and enforcement rules. Indeed, to guarantee the effectiveness of court judgments similar to what the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1958 (the New York Convention) ensured for arbitral awards, the HJC has become a game-changer in the international dispute resolution landscape. As the HCCH announced, “the Convention will increase certainty and predictability, promote the better management of transaction and litigation risks, and shorten timeframes for the recognition and enforcement of a judgment in other jurisdictions.”

In August 2022, with the subsequent ratifications of the Convention by the EU and Ukraine, its entry into force became a long-awaited reality and indeed, the Convention is about to enter into force from 1 September 2023 (see my earlier blog post here: Hague Judgments Convention to enter into force! – The Institute of International Shipping & Trade Law (IISTL) Blog).

As the jurisdiction is well-known for its strong legal traditions and robust private international law rules, the UK instantly enhances its routes of international judicial cooperation to ensure certainty and predictability for citizens and businesses involved in cross-border commercial relationships. Most likely, the EU’s opposition to the UK’s application to ratify the Lugano Convention will impede the ratification of the HJC for the provision of continuing civil judicial cooperation.

The HJC provides recognition and enforcement of judgments given in civil and commercial cases including the carriage of passengers and goods, transboundary marine pollution, marine pollution in areas beyond national jurisdiction, ship-source marine pollution, limitation of liability for maritime claims, and general average. As a complementary instrument to the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements 2005 (HCCCA), the HJC shares the same goals to ensure commercial certainty and access to justice, serve legal certainty and uniformity by providing free circulation of judgments and parties’ autonomy, also, advances multilateral trade, investment, and mobility. The HJC also aims at judicial cooperation and recognition and enforcement of judgments given by the courts designated in the parties’ agreement, other than an exclusive choice of court agreement whereas the HCCCA applies to exclusive jurisdiction agreements and resulting judgments.

The HJC is the only global instrument for mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial disputes. It will significantly contribute to legal certainty in the post-Brexit era with its sister instrument HCCCA. Indeed, it is the UK’s turn to take appropriate measures to accede to the treaty for facilitating the free movement of judgments in civil and commercial cases between the UK and the EU.

Following the analysis, the Government will make its final decision on becoming a Contracting State to the HJC and on whether to make any reservations. If signed and ratified, the Convention would be implemented in domestic law under the terms of the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Act 2020, subject to appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. As provided in Articles 28 and 29 of the HJC, the Convention would enter into force for the UK 12 months after the date it deposits its instrument of ratification.

Further details of the paper and consultation questions are available here: Consultation on the Hague Convention of 2 July 2019 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters (Hague 2019) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

ANTI-SUIT INJUNCTIONS: BACK IN STOCK?

On 18 November 2022, the English High Court handed down a judgment in Ebury Partners Belgium SA v Technical Touch BV [2022] 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 [2022] 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:

“[15] 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.

[16] 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 [2022] EWHC 2062 (Comm) at para [10]. 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.   

Brexit the endgame. Part 2. EU retained law in the maritime sphere.

Further items of maritime EU law that amount to retained law which were implemented through a statutory instrument pursuant to the powers given to the Secretary of State under s2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972.

– The Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution) (Bunkers Convention) Regulations 2006  SI 2006/ 1244 which implemented the Bunkers Convention

– the Merchant Shipping (Carriage of Passengers by Sea) Regulations 2012 which implemented the Protocol to the Athens Convention, pursuant to the powers given to the Secretary of State under s2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, and also applied it to domestic voyages within the UK on board Class A ships on or after 30 December 2016 and Class B ships on or after 30 December 2018.  When the Protocol entered into force internationally on 23 April 2014, the UK ratified the Protocol by means of the Merchant Shipping (Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea) (Amendment) (Order) 2014 no 361 in exercise of the powers conferred by sections 183(4) and (6) and 184(1) and (3) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, and therefore the Protocol itself will remain part of the law of the UK after Brexit. The provision relating to domestic voyages within the UK does, however, constitute retained EU law.

– The Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) (England) Regulations 2015 SI 2015/810 (and equivalent Regulations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales);

– The Merchant Shipping (Compulsory Insurance of Shipowners for Maritime Claims) Regulations 2012, SI 2012 No. 2267.

These will all be subject to the sunset provisions of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022 unless restated by regulation by a relevant national authority no later that 23 June 2026 (the tenth anniversary of the EU referendum).

Brexit, the endgame. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022.

On 22 Sept 2022 the UK Government introduced The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022 which provides for two sunset dates for existing retained EU law. On 31st December 2023, all retained EU law will expire, unless otherwise preserved. Any retained EU law that remains in force after this date will be assimilated in the domestic statute book, by the removal of the special EU law features previously attached to it. The Bill provides a second sunset date by including an extension mechanism for delaying the expiry of specified pieces of retained EU law until 2026. The Bill will also reinstate domestic law as the highest form of law on the UK statute book. In case of conflict with retained EU law domestic law will prevail.

There is very little by way of retained EU law that is relevant to the maritime practitioner. The Brussels Regulation and Lugano Convention both ceased to have effect as at the end of the implementation period. The Port Services Regulation survived but is currently on death row and is the subject of a government consultation as to its repeal.

What does remain, however, are the two conflicts of law regulations, Rome I for contracts and Rome II for tort/delict, both now suitably domesticated as UK law, and also the Rome Convention 1980 which was brought into UK law by the Contracts Applicable Law Act 1990, now amended so that it will continue to apply to existing contracts entered into between 1 April 1991 (the date on which the Rome Convention came into force) and 16 December 2009 (after which Rome 1 replaced the Convention in the relevant EU Member States). 

It is likely that these three pieces of retained law will either be specifically retained, or their expiry delayed until the end of 2026, but who knows? Should they disappear into the sunset, conflicts of law will return to the common law rules for contracts made after the sunset date and the rules in Part III of the Private International Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1995 for torts committed after the sunset date.

Hague Judgments Convention to enter into force!

On 29 August 2019, the European Union deposited its instrument of accession to the Hague Judgments Convention 2019 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters (HJC). On the same day, Ukraine ratified the Convention.

According to Articles 28 and 29 of the HJC, the Convention shall enter into force on the first day of the month following the expiration of the twelve months after the second State has deposited its instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession. On this occasion, the Convention has already two Contracting States, and as a practically effective tool, it will be utilised by commercial parties for the swift resolution of international disputes from 1 September 2023.

The Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) adopted the HJC on 2 July 2019 – 27 years after the initial proposal of a mixed instrument covering both jurisdiction and recognition and enforcement rules. Indeed, with the aim of guaranteeing the effectiveness of court judgments similar to what the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1958 (the New York Convention) ensured for arbitral awards, the HJC has become a game-changer in the international dispute resolution landscape. As the HCCH announced, “the Convention will increase certainty and predictability, promote the better management of transaction and litigation risks, and shorten timeframes for the recognition and enforcement of a judgment in other jurisdictions.”

The HJC provides recognition and enforcement of judgments given in civil and commercial cases including the carriage of passengers and goods, transboundary marine pollution, marine pollution in areas beyond national jurisdiction, ship-source marine pollution, limitation of liability for maritime claims, and general average. As a complementary instrument to the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements 2005 (HCCCA), the HJC shares the same goals to ensure commercial certainty and access to justice, serves legal certainty and uniformity by providing free circulation of judgments and parties’ autonomy, also, advances multilateral trade, investment and mobility. The HJC also aims at judicial cooperation and recognition and enforcement of judgments given by the courts designated in the parties’ agreement, other than an exclusive choice of court agreement whereas the HCCCA applies to exclusive jurisdiction agreements and resulting judgments.

The HJC is the only global instrument for the mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial disputes and it will significantly contribute to legal certainty in the post-Brexit era together with its sister instrument HCCCA. Now, it is the UK’s turn to take appropriate measures to accede to the treaty for facilitating the free movement of judgments in civil and commercial cases between the UK and the EU. Indeed, the EU’s opposition to the UK’s application to ratify the Lugano Convention will most likely impede the ratification of the HJC for the provision of the continuing civil judicial cooperation.

Insurance and P&I: life in Europe just got easier

Whatever you think of Brexit, there can be little doubt that English P&I Clubs have reaped a substantial dividend from it when it comes to jurisdiction. A discreet bottle or two will no doubt be cracked open as a result of Foxton J’s judgment today in QBE Europe SA v Generali España de Seguros y Reaseguros [2022] EWHC 2062 (Comm).

The facts will be entirely familiar to any P&I claims handler. The Angara, a small superyacht insured against P&I risks by QBE UK under a policy later transferred to QBE Europe, allegedly damaged an underwater cable linking Mallorca and Menorca to the tune of nearly $8 million. The cable owners’ underwriters Generali brought a subrogated claim in the Spanish courts against QBE, relying on a Spanish direct action statute (Arts. 465-467 of the 2014 Ley de Navegación Marítima). QBE pointed to a London arbitration clause requiring disputes between insurer and assured to be arbitrated in London, said that if Generali wanted to enforce the policy they had to take the rough with the smooth. This being a post-Brexit suit, they sought an ASI.

Generali resisted. They argued that they were enforcing a direct delictual liability under Spanish law, and that in any case since the arbitration clause merely referred to assured and insurer (and indeed the whole policy excluded any third party rights under the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act 1999) they were unaffected by it.

Pre-Brexit, QBE’s position would have been fairly hopeless: intra-EU ASIs were banned, and furthermore the effect of Assens Havn (Judicial cooperation in civil matters) [2017] EUECJ C-368/16 (noted here in this blog) would have largely pre-empted the matter in the Spanish courts.

But in this, one of the first post-Brexit P&I cases to come to the English courts, QBE won hands down. Solid first instance authority had extended the rule in The Angelic Grace [1995] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 87 (i.e. that very good reasons had to be shown for not granting an ASI to halt foreign proceedings brought in blatant breach of contract) to cases where the person suing was enforcing transferred rights, as where a subrogated insurer sought to take advantage of contractual provisions between its insured and the defendant. That line of decisions applied here: and Foxton J duly followed it, confirmed it and lengthened it by one.

He then asked whether, properly characterised, Generali’s suit was a tort claim or in substance a claim to piggy-back on the policy QBE had issued. His Lordship had no doubt that it was the latter. True, the Spanish direct action provisions disapplied certain limitations in the policy, such as pay to be paid provisions and a number of defences based on misconduct by the assured; but the matter had to be viewed in the round, and overall the cause of action arising under the 2014 Spanish law, being based on the existence of a policy and limited to sums assured under it, was clearly contract-based. It remained to deal with Generali’s further point based on the limited wording of the arbitration clause. Here his Lordship accepted that parties could provide that an arbitration clause in a contract did not apply to those suing under some derivative title, but said that much more would be required to demonstrate such an intent: the mere fact of reference to the original parties to the contract was not nearly enough.

And that was it: having failed to show any substantial reason why the ASI should not go, Generali were ordered to discontinue the Spanish proceedings.

What messages can P&I clubs and other insurers taker away? Three are worth referring to. One is that the enforcement of jurisdiction and arbitration clauses in a European context is now fairly straightforward. Another refers to the specific case of Spain, which altered its direct action statute in 2014: the QBE case has confirmed that under the new dispensation, as much as under the old, an attempt to use direct action as a means of getting at insurers abroad will continue to be be regarded as essentially an attempt to enforce the insurance contract. And third, judges in the UK are unlikely to be very receptive to attempts by claimants desperate to litigate at home to give arbitration or jurisdiction clauses an unnaturally narrow meaning.

Life, in short, has got a good deal easier for P&I interests. Now, where’s that bottle of cava?

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.

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.