Confession time: when teaching the general conflicts course I tend to simply say about Article 71 of the Brussels I Regulation (unchanged in the Recast): ‘it’s complicated’. I have also briefly flagged the Article in my posting on Nickel and Goeldner. I suppose I should not be quite so shy in addressing the relationship even in an introductory conflicts class for, essentially, it is not that complicated at least form a hierarchical point of view. Article 71 mirrors Article 351 TFEU which states that any rights or obligations arising prior to the TFEU shall not be affected by it unless the agreements are not compatible with the TFEU. At stake therefore is a review by the courts whether international agreements between the Member States prior to the creation of the EU, are compatible with the TFEU.
In BAT Denmark v Kazemier and BAT Switserland v Essers, the United Kingdom Supreme Court had to carry out this exercise vis-a-vis the 1956 CMR Convention – the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road. As Steven Baker notes, Lord Mance kicks off his judgment with the rather delightfully accurate ‘Cigarettes attract smokers, smugglers and thieves’. Tobacco manufactuters are also of course active litigators hence providing us with repeated opportunity to review case-law on a wide variety of contractual and other matters.
In the two appeals, one container load was allegedly hi-jacked in Belgium en route between Switzerland and The Netherlands in September 2011, while another allegedly lost 756 of its original 1386 cartons while parked overnight contrary to express instructions near Copenhagen en route between Hungary and Vallensbaek, Denmark.
The consignors (two of BAT’s corporate vehicles) are claiming against English main contractors who undertook responsibility for the carriage and against sub-contractors in whose hands the cigarettes were when the alleged losses occurred. The carriage was subject to the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road 1956 (“CMR”), given the force of law in the United Kingdom by the Carriage of Goods by Road Act 1965.
English law and English jurisdiction are said to offer the advantage that such duty and/or taxes are recoverable in a CMR claim against carriers, which is not the case in some other jurisdictions (at 4).
Citing (and reading in a particular way) CJEU precedent, in particular Nipponkoa Insurance Co (Europe) Ltd v Inter-Zuid Transport BV (DTC Surhuisterveen BV intervening), C-452/12, the Supreme Court held (at 57) that CMR represents a balanced jurisdictional régime adopted across a wide-range of some 55 states, only half of which are Union member states. It did not regard its tailored balance as impinging on any of the principles of Union law which the CJEU would have it check against.
CMR applies therefore and under relevant English application, neither of the defendants can be sued in England.