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.

The anti-suit injunction and state immunity.

UK P&I Club NV and Another v República Bolivariana de Venezuela (The RCGS Resolute) – [2022] EWHC 1655 (Comm), raises, for the first time, the question of the effect of a claim to state immunity when a party claims an anti-suit injunction against a State.

A Venezuelan navy patrol intercepted a cruise liner, ‘Resolute’, in March 2020. A collision resulted and the navy vessel suffered hull damage and eventually sank. ‘Resolute’ was insured by UK P&I Club NV, a subsidiary of United Kingdom Steam-Ship Assurance Association. The Club’s Rules contained the two usual provisions relating to coverage: a “pay to be paid” clause under which liability to provide indemnity was postponed until actual payment of damages by the owners; and an English law and London arbitration clause.

In 2020 Venezuela brought civil claims in the courts of Dutch Curaçao and Venezuela against Resolute, the owners, head managers and the Clubs. The Clubs obtained an ex parte interim anti-suit injunction against Venezuela in the High Court and then sought a permanent anti-suit injunction against Venezuela to restrain it from pursuing both sets of foreign proceedings, on the basis that its direct action claim against them was subject to London arbitration.

Sir Ross Cranston held that Venezuela’s claim against the Clubs had been made under local legislation permitting a direct action. If the local law treats the claim as derived from the insurance policy the arbitration clause would be binding. He concluded that this was the case here and by pursuing judicial proceedings Venezuela was in breach of the arbitration clause. This was a ‘quasi-contractual’ claim which would be treated in the same way as a contractual claim. The court would ordinarily exercise its discretion to restrain the pursuit of proceedings brought in breach of an arbitration or jurisdiction clause, unless the injunction defendant could show strong reasons to refuse the relief.

However, there was the question of state immunity to consider. Although the commercial activity exception in s.3(1)(a) and the arbitration exception in s9(1)(a) of the State Immunity Act 1978 applied and meant that Venezuela did not have adjudicative immunity, it did have enforcement immunity under section 13(2)(a) which clearly states “relief shall not be given against a State by way of injunction …” Adjudicative immunity and enforcement immunity were separate and did not stand or fall together.

Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights applied in that s.13(2) deprived the Clubs of a remedy otherwise available to them. However Article 6 was not infringed as under customary international law there was no generally recognised right to an anti-suit injunction and section 13(2)(a) lies within the range of possible rules consistent with current international standards. Section13(2)(a) could also be justified as well by reference to legitimate domestic policy, if pursued by proportionate means.

Sir Ross Cranston noted [124]: “Finally, the fact that the Clubs will not have an injunction preventing parallel proceedings does not render worthless their right to have Venezuela’s claims determined by way of London arbitration. As well as an order to this effect, there may also be supportive remedies available to the Clubs including, at least in a contractual context, the compensation for breach of the arbitration agreement and declaratory relief which the Clubs are seeking in the arbitration, and which could be relied upon to resist enforcement of any judgment which Venezuela obtains in the foreign proceedings.”

The position may be different in respect of an anti-suit injunction ordered by arbitrators pursuant to their powers under s48(5) of the Arbitration Act 1996. In The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v The Kingdom of Spain [2020] EWHC 1582 (Comm) Henshaw J held that this was a matter for the arbitrators at first instance, but stated [188]:  “I consider the better view to be that SIA section 13 governs the exercise but not the existence of the court’s power to grant an injunction, and that AA 1996 section 48 permits an arbitrator to grant an injunction against a state.”

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.

Nineteen years on — the Prestige saga, continued

Nearly twenty years after the VLCC Prestige broke up and sank off the Galician coast, spreading filth far and wide, Spain and France remain locked in battle with the vessel’s P&I club Steamship Mutual. Put briefly, they want to make Steamship pay out gazillions on the basis of judgments they have obtained locally on the basis of insurance direct action statutes. Steamship, by contrast, refers to the Prestige’s P&I entry, and says that both states are bound by “pay to be paid” clauses and in any case have to arbitrate their claims in London rather than suing in their own courts.

The background to the latest round, The Prestige (Nos 3 and 4) [2021] EWCA Civ 1589, is that Steamship, having got a declaratory arbitration award in its favour substantiating the duty to arbitrate, which it has transmuted into a judgment under s.66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, now wants to take the battle to the enemy. It wants (a) to commence another arbitration claiming damages for breach of the original arbitration agreement, reckoned by the damages and costs represented by the court proceedings in France and Spain; (b) damages for those states’ failure to abide by the declaratory award; and (c) damages for failure to abide by the s.66 judgment. Spain and France resist service out on the basis that they are entitled to state immunity, and that the claims based on the award and the judgment must in any case fail.

The High Court held, in two different proceedings (see here and here), that sovereign immunity did not apply; that claims (a) and (b) succeeded; and that claim (c) failed because of the effect of the insurance provisions in what is now Articles 10-16 of Brussels I Recast (this being, of course, a pre-Brexit affair). Both sides appealed, and the appeals were consolidated.

On sovereign immunity the Court of Appeal have now sustained the judgment of non-applicability and as a result allowed claim (a) to go ahead. They have equally upheld the first instance judgment against Steamship on claim (c): although in name a claim under a judgment this is, it says, still in substance a claim by an insurer against its insured which, under what is now Art.14 of Brussels I Recast, can only be brought in the domicile of the latter. On claim (b), however, it has held (contrary to an earlier suggestion in this blognostra culpa, we can’t be right every time) that while the jurisdiction rules of the Brussels regime do not stand in the way, the claim is bound to fail. The award being merely declaratory, there can be no duty to perform it because there is nothing to perform, and hence no liability for disregarding it.

The arbitration will now therefore go ahead. Assuming it leads to an award in Steamship’s favour, Steamship will then no doubt seek New York Convention enforcement and/or get a s.66 judgment which they will oppose to any attempt by France and Spain to get judgment here, and doubtless also try to weaponise in order to get their Spanish and French costs back. (Meanwhile they may rather regret not having asked in the original arbitration proceedings for a positive order not to sue in France or Spain, rather than a mere declaration: but that’s another story.)

There’s little to add at this stage. But there is one useful further confirmation: s.9 of the State Immunity Act, removing state immunity in the case of a written agreement to arbitrate, applies not only to a direct contractual obligation to arbitrate, but also to an indirect duty to do so Yusuf-Cepnioglu-style. Useful to know.

Will France and Spain now come quietly, thus putting an end to this saga (which has already appeared in this blog here, here, here, here and here)? It’s possible, but We’re not betting. We have a sneaking suspicion that the events of November 2002 may well continue to help lawyers pay their children’s school fees for some little time yet.

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.

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.

Another bad week for Shell. Supreme Court allows Okpabi appeal

Yesterday, the Supreme Court, for whom Lord Hamblen gave judgment, allowed the appeal in the Okpabi Nigerian oil spill case against Shell’s UK parent, Royal Dutch Shell, Okpabi & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Anor [2021] UKSC 3 (12 February 2021). This comes shortly after the decision of the Dutch Court of Appeal in parallel proceedings involving oil spills in other parts of Nigeria with claims against Shell’s Dutch parent and its Nigerian subsidiary.

The Supreme Court criticised the approach of both the court at first instance and of the Court of Appeal in allowing what was in effect a mini-trial based on the voluminous evidence before the Court. This was incorrect for interlocutory proceedings. Legally, in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Vedanta  which was given after the Court of Appeal’s judgment in Okpabi, various errors of law were apparent in the approach of the majority of the Court of Appeal.

The case made against RDS was that it owed the claimant a common law duty of care because, as pleaded, it exercised significant control over material aspects of SPDC’s operations and/or assumed responsibility for SPDC’s operations, including by the promulgation and imposition of mandatory health, safety and environmental policies, standards and manuals which allegedly failed to protect the appellants against the risk of foreseeable harm arising from SPDC’s operations. The issue of governing law pointed to the application of Nigerian law under the Rome II Regulation and it was agreed that the laws of England and Wales and the law of Nigeria wee materially the same.  The majority of the Court of Appeal (Simon LJ and the Chancellor) held that there was no arguable case that RDS owed the appellants a common law duty of care to protect them against foreseeable harm caused by the operations of SPDC. Sales LJ delivered a dissenting judgment in which he explained why he considered there was a good arguable case that RDS did owe the appellants a duty of care.

The pleaded case and the legal argument in the courts below focused on the then understood threefold test for a duty of care set out in Caparo Industries plc v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605 and, in particular, whether there was sufficient proximity and whether it would be fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care. This was incorrect in the light of this court’s decision in Vedanta, where Lord Briggs had stated [49] “the liability of parent companies in relation to the activities of their subsidiaries is not, of itself, a distinct category of liability in common law negligence”.

The appellants recast their case based on Vedanta with the following four routes:

(1)              RDS taking over the management or joint management of the relevant activity of SPDC;

(2)              RDS providing defective advice and/or promulgating defective group-wide safety/environmental policies which were implemented as of course by SPDC;

(3)              RDS promulgating group-wide safety/environmental policies and taking active steps to ensure their implementation by SPDC, and

(4)              RDS holding out that it exercises a particular degree of supervision and control of SPDC.

Apart from corporate material from the Shell group there was also the evidence of Professor Jordan Siegel who produced an expert report in 2008 in litigation in the United States involving RDS’s immediate predecessors as SPDC’s parent companies. He considered that these documents showed that “The Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies tightly controls its Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC. This control comes in the form of monitoring and approving business plans, allocating investment resources, choosing the management, and overseeing how the subsidiary responds to major public affairs issues.” He summarised various corporate documents that post-dated his 2008 report and explains that, “there has been no material change in the senior management of the Shell Group’s ability to tightly control SPDC” since that report. Hes tated that the role of the RDS ExCo is “fundamentally the same” as the predecessor Committee of Managing Directors.

Apart from the error of conducting a mini-trial, there were two other errors of law alleged by the appellants.

The first alleged error is in the Court of Appeal’s analysis of the principles of a parent company’s liability in its consideration of the factors and circumstances which may give rise to a duty of care. The second alleged error is in the court’s overall analytical framework for determining whether a duty of care exists in cases of this type and its reliance on the Caparo threefold test.

The approach of the Court of Appeal had to be considered in the light of the guidance subsequently provided by this court in Vedanta. To the extent that the Court of Appeal indicated that the promulgation by a parent company of group wide policies or standards can never in itself give rise to a duty of care, that was inconsistent with Vedanta.  At para 52 of Vedanta Lord Briggs said that he did not consider that “there is any such reliable limiting principle”. He pointed out that: “Group guidelines … may be shown to contain systemic errors which, when implemented as of course by a particular subsidiary, then cause harm to third parties.” This is what the appellants have described as Vedanta route (2).

Secondly, the majority of the Court of Appeal may be said to have focused inappropriately on the issue of control. Simon LJ appears to have regarded proof of the exercise of control by the parent company as being As Lord Briggs pointed out in Vedanta, it all depends on: “the extent to which, and the way in which, the parent availed itself of the opportunity to take over, intervene in, control, supervise or advise the management of the relevant operations … of the subsidiary.[49]” Control was just a starting point for that question. Lord Hamblen stated:

“The issue is the extent to which the parent did take over or share with the subsidiary the management of the relevant activity (here the pipeline operation). That may or may not be demonstrated by the parent controlling the subsidiary. In a sense, all parents control their subsidiaries. That control gives the parent the opportunity to get involved in management. But control of a company and de facto management of part of its activities are two different things. A subsidiary may maintain de jure control of its activities, but nonetheless delegate de facto management of part of them to emissaries of its parent.” [147]

A specific example of a case in which a duty of care may arise regardless of the exercise of control was provided by what the appellants have described as Vedanta route (4), based on what Lord Briggs stated at para 53:

“… the parent may incur the relevant responsibility to third parties if, in published materials, it holds itself out as exercising that degree of supervision and control of its subsidiaries, even if it does not in fact do so. In such circumstances its very omission may constitute the abdication of a responsibility which it has publicly undertaken.”

The Supreme Court then went on to consider whether these errors were material to the decision of the Court of Appeal.

It held that the case set out in the pleadings, fortified by the points made in reliance upon the RDS Control Framework and the RDS HSSE Control Framework, established that there was a real issue to be tried under Vedanta routes (1) and (3).  It was not necessary to make any ruling in relation to Vedanta routes (2) and (4), and the Court preferred not to do so given that the pleading has not been structured around such a case, although it observed that there was currently no pleaded identification of systemic errors in the RDS policies and standards.

Lord Hamblen concluded [154]:

“Whilst I consider that the appellants’ pleaded case and reliance on the RDS Control Framework and the RDS HSSE Control Framework is sufficient to raise a real issue to be tried, that conclusion is further supported by their witness evidence, as summarised when setting out the appellants’ case above, and, for reasons already given, the very real prospect of relevant disclosure being provided. That prospect is specifically borne out by the evidence of Professor Siegel and the identification of some of the most likely documents of relevance in the Dutch proceedings.”

Prefering, generally, the analysis of Sales LJ  to that of the majority of the Court of Appeal he noted observations of Sales LJ at para 155 that it was significant that the Shell group is organised along Business and Functional lines rather than simply according to corporate status. This vertical structure involves significant delegation

The appellants argued that the Shell group’s vertical organisational structure means that it is comparable to Lord Briggs’ example of group businesses which “are, in management terms, carried on as if they were a single commercial undertaking, with boundaries of legal personality and ownership within the group becoming irrelevant” (para 51).  How this organisational structure worked in practice and the extent to which the delegated authority of RDS, the CEO and the RDS ExCo was involved and exercised in relation to decisions made by SPDC were very much in dispute, as apparent from the witness statements. It wa also an issue in relation to which proper disclosure was of obvious importance. It clearly raised triable issues.

Things don’t go well for Shell. Dutch Court of Appeal finds it liable for pipeline spills in Nigeria

The Dutch Court of Appeal has held that Shell Nigeria is liable for two pipeline spills in Oruma and Goi that took place between 2004-05. Shell had argued that the spills were caused by sabotage, so-called ‘bunkering’. Under Nigerian law, which was applied pursuant to the Rome I Regulation, the company would not be liable if the leaks were the result of sabotage. However, the court said that Shell had not been able fully to prove the causes of the spill. Although the parent company Royal Dutch Shell was not found directly responsible, the court ordered it to install a leak detection system on the Oruma pipeline, the source of several spills in the case – a finding of great interest in the ongoing debate about tort and multi-national companies..

Another case involving pipeline spills in Nigeria, Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell, came before the UK Supreme Court last June. A previous UK case involving spills in the Bodo area was settled in 2015.

Swiss Responsible Business Initiative. Result of Sunday’s referendum

On Sunday the Swiss voted in a referendum on a proposal for extra territorial liability for Swiss companies liable for human rights violations and environmental damage committed by their subsidiaries. The proposal gained 50.7% of popular vote but only gained 8.5 of the required 12 regional majorities across Switzerland’s cantons. A majority of both the popular vote and cantonal vote is needed for an initiative to pass and so the proposal was rejected. The Swiss Parliament will now adopt the Government’s counter-proposal which is limited to reporting and issue-specific due diligence without liability rules.