Done but not dusted. Sophocleous v Foreign Secretary (historic human rights infringement): common law conflicts history (double actionability, tort) at the Court of Appeal.
 EWCA Civ 2167 Sophocleous v Foreign Secretary et al is a good reminder that conflicts rules past have a tendency not to be so easily forgotten. And in the case of the English law, one or two of them may well be revived post-Brexit (with the usual caveats). Judgment in first instance was  EWHC 19 (QB) which is reviewed here.
Longmore J: ‘The common law private international rule used by the courts to determine liability in an English court in respect of foreign torts (usually referred to as the double actionability rule) was prospectively abolished by the Private International Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1995 (“the 1995 Act”) for all torts except defamation. But it casts a long shadow because section 14(1) of the 1995 Act expressly provides that its provisions do not apply to “acts or omissions giving rise to a claim which occur before the commencement” of the relevant Part of the Act. The 1995 Act has itself been largely superseded by the provisions of the Rome II Convention (sic) but that likewise only applies to events occurring after its entry into force.
Claimants seek damages for personal injuries sustained in Cyprus, as a result of alleged assaults perpetrated in Cyprus by members of the UK armed forces, seconded British police officers and servants or agents of the then Colonial Administration. The appeal relates to alleged torts committed during the Cyprus Emergency sixty years ago between 1956 and 1958. Accordingly the old common law rule of double actionability applies. In the last edition of Dicey and Morris, Conflict of Laws published before the 1995 Act (12th edition (1993)) the double actionability rule was stated as follows in rule 203:
“(1) As a general rule, an act done in a foreign country is a tort and actionable as such in England, only if it is both
a) actionable as a tort according to English law, or in other words is an act which, if done in England, would be a tort; and
b) actionable according to the law of the foreign country where it was done.
(2) But a particular issue between the parties may be governed by the law of the country which, with respect to that issue, has the most significant relationship with the occurrence and the parties.”
The last element is known as the “flexible exception” – of note is that the exception can apply to the whole of the tort of only part of the legal issues it provokes: depecage, therefore, is possible.
In fact whether Cypriot law is lex causae is first of all relevant for determining whether the claim has exceeded the statute of limitation: again in the words of Longmore J: ‘the Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984 (“1984 Act”) governs limitation in claims where the law of any other country is to be taken into account. Section 1 provides that where foreign law falls to be taken into account in English proceedings that includes the foreign law of limitation, unless the law of England and Wales also falls to be taken into account, in which event the limitation laws of both countries apply, the effective limitation period being the shorter of the two. However, section 2 provides an exception: where the outcome under section 1 would conflict with public policy, section 1 is disapplied to the extent that its application would so conflict. By section 2(2) the application of section 1 conflicts with public policy “to the extent that its application would cause undue hardship to a person who is, or might be made, a party to the action or proceedings …”. It is therefore necessary to determine whether foreign law falls to be taken into account; this has to be determined in accordance with rules of private international law.’
To settle the issue the locus delicti commissi needs to be determined (the double actionability rule is only relevant where the tort is actionable according to the law of the foreign country where it was done). This is clearly Cyprus: at 21: ‘..there is only one tort. If that tort was committed by the primary actor in Cyprus, the fact that a person jointly liable for the commission of the tort was elsewhere when he gave the relevant assistance makes no difference to the fact that the tort was committed in Cyprus.’
On whether the flexible exception for determining lex causae as a whole applies (reminder: here relevant only for the issue of limitation), Longmore J disagrees with Kerr J, the judge in the first instance case at the High Court. The flexible exception remains an exception and must not become the rule. At 56 (after lengthy reflection of various arguments brought before him): ‘In the case at issue there are no “clear and satisfying grounds” required by Lord Wilberforce at page 391H of Boys v Chaplin for departing from the general rule of double actionability. There is a danger that if the exception is invoked too often it will become the general rule to give primacy to English law rather than law of the place where the tort was committed. That would not be right.’
And at 63, he agrees with Kerr J that the flexible exception does not apply singularly to the issue of limitation.
Conclusion: both the law of Cyprus and the law of England and Wales apply for the purpose of determining limitation. The remainder of the issues are to be held later.
Fun with conflicts – albeit evidently on not a very happy topic.
Popplewell J held in  EWHC 822 (Comm) Reliance v India in April. This post therefore is not a claim to speedy reporting (Allen & Overy have excellent review here). Rather, a quick note on the various implications of the holding in wider context.
The Act of State doctrine (in its narrow sense) essentially holds that courts should not question the validity of acts taken by a foreign government within that government’s territory.
Claimant (at 110) ‘submitted that even if non-justiciable in an English court, (one of the relevant claims, GAVC)…is arbitrable; the basis for the doctrine of foreign act of state, to the extent that it applies, is that one sovereign state should not sit in judgment on the acts of another; unlike a court, an arbitral tribunal is not an organ of a sovereign state; therefore its determination of the validity of the conduct of a sovereign party would not entail one sovereign calling into question the conduct of another; because the rationale for the foreign act of state doctrine does not apply to arbitration, what would in court be a non-justiciable issue can nevertheless be adjudicated upon by arbitrators.’
Popplewell J disagreed in what I understand to be a first formal finding on the subject: at 111 and in discussing relevant authority:
‘whilst some aspects of the foreign act of state doctrine have as their basis the exercise of “judicial self-restraint” (leading to some suggesting it is an expression of comity, GAVC), those are not the aspects of the doctrine which are relevant to the current issue… the principle that the validity and effectiveness of legislative and executive acts of a sovereign state in relation to property within its jurisdiction is not justiciable..is a hard-edged principle of English private international law, and (the majority of authority suggests, GAVC) that its rationale derives from the very concept of sovereignty which recognises the power and right of a state to determine the property rights of those whose property is situate within its territory.’
At 113: ‘there is no good reason why the principle should be any less applicable in arbitration than in litigation before an English court. It does not depend upon the tribunal itself being an organ of a sovereign state or exercising sovereign functions: it depends upon a general principle of English private international law which recognises the sovereignty of nations within recognised spheres, a principle to which arbitration tribunals, no less than courts, are required to give effect when applying English private international law principles.’
The case is an excellent illustration of the now very diverse and not always integrated international dispute resolution landscape. A case like Reliance could have conceivably ended up in BIT arbitration – which as readers will know has its own extensive challenges with domestic regulatory autonomy and the space for investment tribunals to challenge the legality and at the least the proportionate impact of States exercising sovereign regulatory functions.
This leaves two further dispute settlement channels: the use of the courts in ordinary and the use of ‘standard’ commercial arbitration (outside the BIT context), which is what was employed here. As the judgment shows, the former (courts in ordinary) have kept some control over the latter.
Lucia Raimanova and Matej Kosalko signal that classic choice of law rules combined with contractual party autonomy empowers parties to steer the litigation away from issues that a party might wish to avoid: particularly, by opting for the most interesting lex contractus (and, I would add, potentially varying same en parcours de route, to respond to changes in case-law or statutory law), and by having the State concerned sign away its right to invoke the Act of State doctrine (much like the similar contractual surrender of sovereign immunity).
International litigation is seldom confined to singular lines of analysis.
An essay about the European narrative. A long read – well worth it.
Brexit and Trump have opened up a new world of understanding that I hitherto grasped but was unable to define. For the past ten years many, myself included, were aware something was amiss. We knew that media coverage of the EU in the UK was based on lies and misleading information. For years euperspectives has been calling for a new European media to counter the underlying current of resentment, mockery, irrational hate and quite frankly downright ignorance towards the EU at the heart of the British media and in influential political circles. I tried in vain to draw a link between negative media coverage and the potential of great harm to the EU and ordinary citizens. Not very successfully. Like a patient who complains of chronic back-pain but who in the absence of a medical diagnosis is told their symptoms are all in the head so too my…
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I called Bobek AG’s Opinion in C-337/17 ‘solid’ – by which I also implied: convincing. Is the actio pauliana by a Polish company against a Spanish company, which had bought immovable property from the former’s contracting party, one relating to ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast?
Bobek AG Opined it is not. The CJEU today held it is. I disagree.
Firstly, the second chamber, at 29 ff, repeats the inaccurate references in Valach and Tunkers, that (at 30) ‘actions which fall outside the scope of [the Insolvency Regulation] fall within the scope of [Brussels I Recast].’ This oft repeated quote suggest dovetailing between the two Regulations, a view which is patently incorrect: readers can use the tag ‘dovetail’ or ‘arrangement’ (for ‘scheme of arrangement’) for my view on same; see e.g. Agrokor.
Having held (this was not seriously in doubt) that Brussels I Recast is engaged, the Court then takes a much wider view of the Handte formula than advocated by Bobek AG. The Court at 37 refers to Granarolo, merely in fact to emphasise the requirement of strict interpretation of the jurisdictional rules which vary Article 4’s actor sequitur forum rei’s rule. At 43 follows the core of its reasoning: ‘By [the pauliana] the creditor seeks a declaration that the transfer of assets by the debtor to a third party has caused detriment to the creditor’s rights deriving from the binding nature of the contract and which correspond with the obligations freely consented to by the debtor. The cause of this action therefore lies essentially in the breach of these obligations towards the creditor to which the debtor agreed.’
The Court does not refer to Ergo, let alone to Sharpston AG’s ‘centre of gravity’ test in same, however it would seem that this may have influenced it. Yet in my view this is way too extensive a stretch of the Handte or Sharpston AG’s Ergo formula. Litigation in the pauliana pitches the creditor against the third party. It would take really quite specific circumstances for Handte to be met in the relation between these two. That a contractual relation features somewhere in the factual matrix is almost always true.
For a comparative benchmark, reference can be made to Refcomp where the Court took a very limiting view on subrogration of choice of court.
The Court’s formulation at 45 is entirely circular: were the creditor not able to sue in the forum contractus, ‘the creditor would be forced to bring proceedings before the court of the place where the defendant is domiciled, that forum, as prescribed by Article 4(1) of Regulation No 1215/2012, possibly having no link to the place of performance of the obligations of the debtor with regard to his creditor.’ Indeed: because the pauliana does not mordicus have to links to that place; it is not because it might not, that a forum contractus has to be conjured up to secure these links.
The Court then quite forcefully and seemingly without much hesitation identifies a specific forum contractus (unlike the AG who had suggested that that very difficulty supports his view that there simply is no forum contractus to speak of): at 46: ‘the action brought by the creditor aims to preserve its interests in the performance of the obligations derived from the contract concerning construction works, it follows that ‘the place of performance of the obligation in question’ is, according to Article 7(1)(b) of this regulation, the place where, under the contract, the construction services were provided, namely Poland.’
The initial contractual obligation between creditor and debtor therefore creates crucial jurisdictional consequences vis-a-vis third parties whose appearance in the factual matrix presents itself only very downstream. That, I would suggest, does not at all serve the predictability which the Chamber (rightly) emphasises at the very outset of its judgment as being the driving principle behind its interpretation.
I am not convinced by this judgment. (And yes, I am being polite).
The Singapore Prime Minister’s nephew made remarks in a Facebook post, which were allegedly contemptuous of the judiciary. When he made those remarks, he was located in the US, where he intends to stay (and work). The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) wants to serve the summons on him in the US. Under what circumstances can this be done and what is the impact of a procedural law seemingly assisting the AGC in serving the summons, but which would have to be applied retroactively in the case at issue?
The Court of Appeal proceeding will be one to look out for.
Committeri v Club Med. The Court of Appeal parades CJEU precedent to distinguish contract from torts.
 EWCA Civ 1889 Committeri v Club Med , appeal against Dingeman J’s findings in  EHWC 1510 (QB) featured in a recent resit exam of mine, slightly later reporting therefore. Dingeman J’s analysis was confirmed by the Court of Appeal.
Mr Committeri lived and worked in London. He was injured when climbing an ice wall in Chamonix in France in 2011. He brought proceedings in England against Club Med and their insurers: they had provided the relevant travel and accommodation pursuant to a ‘team-building’ contract with the appellant’s employers, a Bank. The claim is pleaded by reference to that contract and Article L211-16 of the French Code de Tourisme (which imposes strict (safety) liability upon the providers of tourist accomodation: une obligation de résultat); contrary to English law which foresees in une obligation de moyens).
French law has considered that “proper performance of the contract” in a package holiday setting requires the absolute safety of the consumer, so that (unless the exceptions in the Code apply) when there is an injury on a package holiday the organiser will be liable.
The central issue is the proper characterisation of that claim. If it is a contractual claim then English law applies (the lex contractus agreed between the Bank and Club Med) and it is common ground that it will fail. If it is properly characterised as a non-contractual claim, French law applies and it is agreed that it will succeed.
At 52 Coulson LJ summarises the modus operandi per the European precedents as follows:
‘(a) The mere fact that a contracting party brings a civil liability claim against the other party does not by itself mean that the claim concerns “matters relating to a contract” but it will be sufficient if the conduct complained of may be considered a breach of contract (Brogsitter ) or if the purpose of the claim is to seek damages, the legal basis for which can reasonably be regarded as a breach of the rights and obligations set out in the contract (Brogsitter ).
(b) Only an obligation freely consented to by one person towards another and on which the claimant’s action is based is a ‘matter relating to contract’ (Ergo ).
(c) The classification of an obligation for the purposes of Rome I or Rome II depends on the (contractual or non-contractual) source of that obligation (Amazon, AG’s opinion ). A contractual obligation implies at the very least an actual and existing commitment (Amazon ).’
I would have added what I called Sharpston AG‘s ‘pedigree’ (one of my students seems to have mistakenly noted this down as ‘Paddy Pee’), ‘ancestry’, or ‘centre of gravity’ test in Ergo.
At 53: ‘On an application of all or any of those principles, it is clear that the pleaded strict liability claim can only be characterised as a contractual claim. …That contract is the source of the relevant obligations and imposed the necessary commitments. To put it another way, to use Judge Waksman’s words in AXA ( EWHC 3431 (Comm), the contract was not “a stepping stone to the ultimate liability of [the respondent but] the basis for the obligation actually relied upon…”.
A very useful reminder of the relevant precedents.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124.