The November 2015 draft Hague ‘Judgments’ project. A powerful potion or a cauldron full of jurisdictional spells?

The November 2015 draft ‘Judgments project’ of the Hague Conference on private international law, otherwise known as the draft convention on the recognition and enforcement of judgments relating to civil and commercial matters, is a very ambitious project which at the same time risks exposing some of the inherent weaknesses of the modus operandi of the Hague Conference. This is not the right forum for an exhaustive analysis. Rather, with input from other members (Elsemiek Apers in particular) at Leuven PIL institute, I would like to flag some areas of interest. Inevitably, an obvious point of reference is the European Union’s Brussels I (Recast) regime.

First, the text itself. The Working Group’s report, which accompanies the draft, explains the history and development of the text and the various options taken. No need to repeat it here. The approach of the Convention is the same ‘mission creep’ which the 1968 Brussels Convention had to resort to, to enhance the free movement of judgments between Member States. Given that the most widespread reason for refusal of recognition and enforcement (R&E), are accusations of excessive or inappropriate exercise of jurisdiction, one can only truly co-ordinate R&E if one also co-ordinates jurisdiction. The Hague Convention takes this route in Articles 5-6, (Exclusive) bases for recognition and enforcement. Following this co-ordination of jurisdictional rules, Article 7 then limits the ground upon which R&E may be refused.

Of note is that Article 4(2)’s ban on merits review (when assessing the possibility of recognition and enforcement), probably does not extend to judgments issued by default. The Article is not clear on what is meant exactly: the first para of Article 4(2) rules out ‘review of the merits’. The second para suggests ‘The court addressed shall be bound by the findings of fact on which the court of origin based its jurisdiction, unless the judgment was given by default.’ Not being bound by findings of fact does not necessarily entail a possibility for merits review, and the text can probably do with clarification at this point.

Article 5(e)’s special jurisdictional rule for contracts, has been clarified compared with earlier versions, however the text remains subject to plenty of room for debate.

Article 8’s room for refusing R&E when the exclusive jurisdictional rules of the Convention were infringed, or where matters excluded from the Convention were at issue, could in our view do with tidying up. It currently mingles scope for refusal of R&E as such, in the case of infringement of the exclusive jurisdictional rules, with discussion of excluded matters as ‘preliminary issues’ only – a clear reference to the EU’s experience with arbitration. Without editorial perfection, however, this article, in combination with Article 2’s excluded matters, risks similar and protracted debate as was /is the case under Brussels I (and the Recast).

Further, the modus operandi, and institutional consequences of the Convention. As indicated, an exhaustive review of the Convention is not possible here. That is due in large part to the extensive comments which one could address vis-a-vis each individual entry of the text. Rather like in the case of each individual provision of the Brussels regime. In the case of the latter, the CJEU is exercised on a very regular basis with the determination of the precise meaning of the heads of jurisdiction. In the Hague process, there is no such institution. One has to rely on the application of the Convention by the signatory States. At some point, one has to assess whether it is tenable not to have some kind of review process at The Hague, lest one risks the Convention being applied quite differently in the various signatory States. Coupled with the additional lawyer of complication were the EU to accede (which it is bound to; however would it really be progress to create additional layers of differentiation?), the CJEU itself might have difficulty accepting a body of judicial review, where the text to be reviewed borders so closely unto the Brussels regime.

Geert.

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