Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco: on ‘Civil and commercial’ in Brussels I, and choice of court transfer

Postscript 8 November 2016 the Court of Appeal held differently – thank you Maria Joao de Matias Fernandes for flagging: with more emphasis laid on the reorganisation Directive, the Court of Appeal held that the choice of court clause had not been transferred and that no prorogation of jurisdiction to the English courts could otherwise be established.

In Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco SA, the High Court first of all had to consider the scope of the Brussels I Regulation on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’.  This issue came up following the restructuring of a Portuguese Bank and the role of the Portuguese Central Bank, under its statutory powers, in the transfer of liabilities to a Bridge Bank, ‘Novo Banco’. [For the facts of the case see the judgment itself and see also Christopher Bates’ review, which first alerted me to the case. Mr Bates also reviews the issue of mutual recognition under the Bank Recovery Directive].

Hamblen J (soon to move to the Court of Appeal) in my view justifiably rejected Novo Banco’s arguments that the claim was not civil and commercial, given the statutory intervention of the Central Bank. With reference to the traditional line-up of CJEU precedent (see most recently Fahnenbrock, absent from the High court’s judgment; and Sapir, which does feature heavily) he held that the nature of the claim, in spite of the factual intervention of the Central Bank, is one in debt, which is a claim based on private law rights conferred by the relevant Facility Agreement and a civil and commercial matter. A novation of the Facility Agreement would not change the nature of that claim; nor does a statutory transfer.

Having decided that the claim falls under the Regulation, the High Court subsequently had to decide whether Novo Banco was subject to the choice of court, in favour of the English court, part of the Facilities Agreement. As this is a transfer of claims and not a contractual chain, Refcomp does not apply (Hamblen J did not refer to it). The matter needs to be decided by the lex causae, here the lex contractus: English law. Upon consideration of the various arguments, the High Court held that the choice of court clause had so been transferred together with the original claims.

Finally, the Court rejected a stay on ‘case management’ grounds (see Jong and Plaza for earlier applications).

The case shows how some of the core considerations of Brussels I can create a lot of argument, indeed.

Geert.

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