Back to the common law. Jurisdiction and judgments if there’s a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

 

 

On 13 Sept 2018 the UK government stated that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, it would repeal most of the existing civil judicial cooperation rules and instead use the domestic rules which each UK legal system currently applies in relation to non-EU countries. This is due to the lack of reciprocity from EU Member States that would pertain after ‘exit day’.

So, for the bin, would be:

The 2012 Brussels Regulation (Recast). Back to common law. The return of the anti-suit injunction to protect London arbitration agreements from suits commenced in EU states.

The Enforcement Order, Order for Payment and Small Claims Regulations: which establish EU procedures for dealing with, respectively, uncontested debts and claims worth less than EUR5,000

The EU/Denmark Agreement: which provides rules to decide where a case would be heard when it raises cross-border issues between Denmark and EU countries, and the recognition and enforcement of civil and commercial judgments between the EU and Denmark

The Lugano Convention: which is the basis of our civil judicial relationship with Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.

Most of the Insolvency Regulation, which covers the jurisdictional rules, applicable law and recognition of cross-border insolvency proceedings, although the EU rules that provide for the UK courts to have jurisdiction where a company or individual is based in the UK will be retained.

In addition, last year shipping minister John Hayes told members of the UK Major Ports Group that the hated 2017 Port Services Regulation will be “consigned to the dustbin” in the UK due to Brexit.

 

Staying out of the bin will be Rome I and Rome II on choice of law in contract and non-contractual matters. No reciprocity is involved with these regulations.

The Government intends the UK to accede to the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements in its own right and anticipates that the convention would come into force across the UK by 1 April 2019. This is somewhat of a surprise as article 31 (a) provides the convention to come into effect for each state ratifying it on the first day of the month following the expiration of three months after the deposit of its instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. So, 1 July 2019.

The Convention does not apply to: consumer or employment contracts; insolvency; carriage of passengers or goods; maritime pollution; anti-trust/competition; rights in rem in immovable property, and tenancies of immovable property; the validity, nullity or dissolution of legal persons, and the validity of decisions of their organs; various matters concerning the validity or infringement of intellectual property rights; the validity of entries in public registers; arbitration and related proceedings

 

 

 

Multimodal transport and jurisdiction for cargo claims

It’s hardly news when the ECJ follows its advocate-general. But it has just done so in Zurich Insurance and Metso Minerals [2018] EUECJ C-88/17. If goods are carried multimodally from Finland to England by an English carrier, and stolen in England (as they always seem to be), Art.7(1) of Brussels I Recast says the contract fell to be performed in either England (destination) or Finland (origin) and the owner can sue in either at his option. Just as with air transport: flightright GmbH v Air Nostrum (C-274/16) [2018] EUECJ 274/16. And … that’s it. For comment on the Advocate-General’s opinion, see our blog here.

 

EU anti-suit injunctions don’t rule — OK?

Confirmation from Males J today in Nori Holdings Ltd & Ors v PJSC Bank Otkritie [2018] EWHC 1343 (Comm)  of what we all suspected: you can’t injunct EU / Lugano proceedings in support of arbitration. The facts aren’t that interesting. Essentially an ailing Russian bank was seeking to undo the effects of a debt restructuring agreement entered into with a number of its borrowers and their sureties, members of the O1 group. To that end it sued in Russia and Cyprus. The present claimants, borrowers and sureties, sought anti-suit injunctions on the basis that the claims were the subject of valid arbitration agreements. It got injunctions in respect of the Russian proceedings; we say no more.

As for the Cypriot proceedings, the bank understandably invoked West Tankers Inc v Allianz SpA (Case C-185/07) [2009] ECR I-00663 and its holding that any intra-EU anti-suit proceedings unacceptably infringed EU full faith and credit under the then Brussels I, not to mention EU courts’ powers to decide on their own jurisdiction. The claimants countered, as might be expected, with the slightly curious remarks of the Advocate-General in the Gazprom OAO case (Case C-536/13) that suggested Recital (12) in Brussels I Recast had cast doubt on the West Tankers holding. Males J subjected the reasoning of the Advocate-General to searching scrutiny at [84]-[99]. His conclusion, though judicious, was pretty blunt: the Advocate-General was simply wrong. There was no room for any inference of an intent to depart from West Tankers.

So now we know. Professors may have lost a useful examination question: but for the rest of us, we know where we stand. And a good thing too.

Jurisdiction in EU multimodal transport cases

Goods are carried multimodally from Finland to England by an English carrier, and stolen in England. If the owner wants to sue the carrier, where is the contract performed within Art.7(1) of Brussels I Recast: England, Finland or both? The Advocate-General has just given an opinion in Zurich Insurance v ALS Ltd (area of freedom, security and justice) [2018] EUECJ C-88/17: it is the place of loading or discharge, at the claimant’s election. Hence the claimant there had the right, whatever the English defendant said, to sue in Finland.

This must be right. It has always been accepted that the place of discharge is competent. In Rehder v Air Baltic Corp (C‑204/08) [2009] E.C.R. I-6073; [2009] I.L.Pr. 44 and flightright GmbH v Air Nostrum (C-274/16) [2018] EUECJ 274/16 this was held to be the position as regards transport of passengers; and understandably the view was expressed that there was no reason to regard the transport of things any differently.

Good, but not surprising, news for cargo owners and insurers. Still, it’s nice to know.

Direct actions against liability insurers. Port of Assens v Navigators Management (UK) Ltd – the sequel.

 

Following the Court of Justice’s interpretation of art. 13(5) of the Brussels I Regulation, reported in this blog on July 13 2017, the matter came back before the Danish Supreme Court. The CJEU had found that an agreement on jurisdiction in an agreement between an insurer and a policyholder is not binding on an injured party who wishes to bring an action directly against the insurer before its home court or before the courts for the place where the harmful event occurred. On 9 October 2017 the Danish Supreme Court found that the CJEU judgment did not contain any reservations to the effect that, for this to apply, the injured party must be regarded as an economically or legally weaker party in this particular case.

Accordingly, under the Brussels I Regulation the Port of Assens would be entitled to bring an action before the Danish courts, if it was permitted to bring an action directly against the insurance company under the national rules applicable to the case. The claim was most closely linked to Denmark so this issue was to be settled under Danish law. Section 95(2) of the Danish Insurance Contracts Act thus applied and the Port of Assens was correct in bringing the action in Denmark. The Supreme Court remitted the case to be heard on its merits before the Maritime and Commercial Court.

Non-exclusive jurisdiction under Brussels I Recast: a logical but odd result.

Cockerill J’s decision last month in UCP Plc v Nectrus Ltd [2018] EWHC 380 (Comm) may well encourage some lawyers to groan further about the effects of EU law on questions of jurisdiction. The background was a corporate dispute of spectacular dreariness: suffice it to say Nectrus alleged UCP owed it several million, while UCP had a claim for damages against Nectrus arising out of the same events. The relevant contract contained a non-exclusive English jurisdiction clause. Nectrus sued in the Isle of Man: a month or so later UCP sued in England. Nectrus sought to argue forum non conveniens to remove the hearing to Douglas. UCP argued that the English court not only should not but could not decline jurisdiction. It observed that the court had jurisdiction under Art.25 of Brussels I Recast, and that the limited lis alibi pendens provisions in Arts.33 and 34 were not applicable (since they only affected jurisdiction under Arts.4, 7, 8 and 9 and not jurisdiction by virtue of agreement). Cockerill J agreed, following dicta from Popplewell J in IMS SA v Capital Oil & Gas Industries [2016] 4 WLR 163  and the IISTL’s own Peter Macdonald-Eggers QC in Citicorp Trustee Company Ltd v Al-Sanea [2017] EWHC 2845 (Comm). Logical, certainly, in the light of the acepted interpretation of Brussels I. But it does have the effect that a non-exclusive jurisdiction clause now means not so much “You can, but don’t have to, sue in England” as “You can sue me outside England, but if you do I can still insist on proceedings taking place here.” Not quite the same thing, most lawyers will (one suspects) conclude.

Want to stymie a judgment creditor? It’s not as easy as you think.

English courts aren’t best pleased when they give judgment, only to find someone busily trying to frustrate the claimant’s efforts to collect on it. Last year, in JSC BTA Bank v Ablyazov [2016] EWHC 230 (Comm) (noted here on this blog), Teare J very rightly decided that an elusive judgment debtor’s pal was liable in tort to the judgment creditor when he helped the debtor shuffle his assets around in an elaborate “now you see them, now you don’t” exercise. Yesterday, in Marex Financial Ltd v Garcia [2017] EWHC 918 (Comm), Knowles J carried on the good work. Marex had got judgment in England for some $5 million, plus the usual freezing orders, against a couple of BVI companies controlled by SG, a globetrotting businessman. SG thereafter took care to avoid the UK, instead taking steps to spirit away the English assets of his companies to a web of entities in far-flung jurisdictions where it was difficult, if not impossible, for Marex to track them down. Marex thereupon sought permission to sue SG out of the jurisdiction, alleging a tort committed in England. What tort? In so far as SG might be deemed to have acted with the companies’ consent, inducement of breach of contract (i.e. the implicit contract by the companies to pay the judgment debt); and in so far as the companies hadn’t consented and hence he was in breach of duty to them, causing loss to Marex by unlawful means. Knowles J agreed with both limbs of the argument, swiftly disposed of a forum non conveniens point, and allowed service out, thus giving Marex at least a decent chance of getting paid.

Good news, therefore, to judgment creditors. Moreover, while this was a non-EU service out case, note that so long as any relevant monkey-business took place in England, its reasoning will apply equally to EU and EEA-based defendants under Brussels I and Lugano, because the tort “gateway” has been interpreted similarly in both cases since Brownlie v Four Seasons Holdings Inc [2015] EWCA Civ 665; [2016] 1 W.L.R. 1814.

So good luck and good hunting.

Exclusive jurisdiction: where is the obligation not to sue to be performed?

A nice point of potential importance in conflict of laws: see AMT Futures Ltd v Marzillier & Ors [2017] UKSC 13 today. If someone in Germany has a contract with you providing for exclusive jurisdiction in England and they nevertheless sue in Germany, do the English courts have jurisdiction under Brussels I to hear your claim for damages? Against the other contracting party, clearly Yes. But what if you want to sue a third party for bankrolling the action and thereby inducing the breach of the obligation? Is the harm suffered by you suffered here within Art.5.3 (Art.7.2 Recast)? No. The relevant obligation is to be construed as an obligation to refrain from suing in Germany, not an obligation to sue in England if you sue at all.

Another interesting point raised in the case was whether entertaining an action for breach of the obligation not to sue in Germany was itself contrary to the full faith and credit ethos lying behind the Brussels regime (as denied in West Tankers v Allianz [2012] EWHC 854 (Comm)). The SC refused to grasp this hot potato: perhaps wisely, since it may well not matter after Brexit.

The proper place to sue: holding companies, etc

Another transnational tort claim against a UK holding company on the lines of Chandler v Cape plc [2012] EWCA Civ 525; [2012] 1 WLR 3111 was dealt with today by Laing J: see AAA v Unilever Plc [2017] EWHC 371 (QB). Employees and others connected with a sub-subsidiary of Unilever in Kenya  suffered political violence at the hands of thugs after the 2007 Kenyan election. They sued not only the Kenyan company involved (essentially the Brooke Bond tea operation), but Unilever, alleging failure by it as holding company to make sure its local operation took care to protect them. Unilever sought to get rid of the action, on the basis of (a) Act of State (since the actions, or rather inactions, of the Kenyan police were in issue); (b) forum non conveniens; and (c) case management grounds. The attempt failed. On (a) it had to founder since Belhaj v Straw [2017] UKSC 3; [2017] 2 WLR 456 and nothing more needs to be said. On (b) her Ladyship was forced by Brussels I Recast, Art.4 and Owusu v Jackson [2005] QB 801 to refuse a stay, even though most of the connections were with Kenya, and indeed there were fairly clear indications that the claimants were only suing Unilever here in order to be able to sue the Kenyan subsidiary in the English rather than the Kenyan High Court. What is more significant is the decision on (c), the case management argument. Unilever relied on a throw-away line of Coulson J in Lungowe v Vedanta Resources Plc [2016] EWHC 975 (TCC) at [84] to argue that there might be a stay if there was no serious issue to be tried between the claimants and Unilever. But even though it was found that there was indeed no serious issue to be tried between the claimants and Unilever, Laing J refused to go down this road, regarding it as an unjustified attempt to sideline Owusu v Jackson in the absence of pending proceedings abroad such as would justify a stay under Brussels I Recast, Art.34. The only way Unilever could get rid of the action was by showing, in the old-fashioned way, that it was bound to fail.

This is an unfortunate result for defendants sued on dubious causes of action in England, if only because it is much more time-consuming and expensive to show that an action must fail than to argue that it is being brought in the wrong place. One suspects that this will add to the pressure on the government to include in its Brexit shopping-list a wholesale revision of the Brussels I provisions on jurisdiction. Indeed, if this were done, one attraction of companies setting up shop here would be precisely the protection against inappropriate lawsuits that the current EU law pointedly fails to give.

English law and jurisdiction post-Brexit

Evidence has recently been given to the EU justice sub-committee of the House of Lords that Brexit may scare off foreign businessmen from choosing English law and jurisdiction in favour of the Netherlands, Germany or Singapore. Sir Oliver Heald, Justice Minister, has pooh-poohed the idea. We suspect that, even discounting political hype, Sir Oliver may well be correct. Provided that arrangements are made for mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments between the UK and EU – something in all parties’ interests, even if the preservation of the whole of Brussels I is not – it is difficult to see how Brexit will change anything.