Team Y&R v Ghossoub. Choice of court and third parties.

In [2017] EWHC 2401 (Comm) Team Y&R v Ghossoub, Laurence Rabinowitz QC discussed a number of issues, most particularly anti-suit in the context of an exclusive jurisdictional clause (anti-suit not granted). He summarised the applications as follows:

‘The first application, brought by the claimants to the anti-suit claim, is for an interim injunction seeking to restrain Mr Ghossoub, the defendant to those proceedings, from pursuing related proceedings commenced by him in Hong Kong against four of those claimants until the trial of the anti-suit claim. The second application, brought by Mr Ghossoub as defendant to the anti-suit claim, seeks to set aside two orders made by the Court related to service on him of the anti-suit claim. The first, made by Phillips J dated 20 May 2015, granted permission to serve the anti-suit claim out of the jurisdiction. The second, made by HHJ Waksman QC sitting as a High Court judge dated 8 September 2016, granted permission to serve the claim form and other documents by an alternative method of service. The third application, brought by Mr Ghossoub as defendant to the defaulting shareholder claim, in effect mirrors his application in the anti-suit claim to set aside the service out and service by an alternative method orders.’

Anti-suit would be aimed at courts ex-EU hence the Brussels I antimony against them (per Gasser, among others) does not apply. Incidentally, I do not think that necessarily needs to exclude any EU /CJEU grip on the substantive issue at all: in the current, Recast Regulation, neither party needs to be domiciled in the EU for choice of court to be made in favour of a court established in the EU. This does create an EU interest in the issue of third-party impact of choice of court, and consequently on the use of anti-suit to support or reject such impact.

Now, at para 78 ff Mr Rabinowitz considers the issue of third parties. Not at issue is whether choice of court is binding upon, or may be invoked by such parties (in EU law considered eg in Refcomp, Profit Sim, Assens HavnLeventis). Rather, whether an exclusive jurisdiction clause should be understood to oblige a contractual party to bring claims relating to the contract in the chosen forum even if the claim is one against a non-contracting party. This would support the idea of ‘one-stop shopping’ which is prevalent eg in English law albeit mostly vis-a-vis the various litigious relations between two and the same parties.

One can see merit in obliging parties bound by choice of court, to bring all related claims to one and the same court. Except of course, as Mr Rabinowitz points out, third parties are quite likely to be in a position to be able to bring the case before a different court, thus putting the contractual party at a disadvantage; moreover, even if the contractual party does bring the claim to the courts at England, these may not in fact have jurisdiction: in such circumstances, insisting on third-party proceedings to be brought before the English courts becomes silly. (My words, not Mr Rabinowitz’).

Taking these and also the entire contractual context into account, the High Court holds that choice of court in the contract at issue does not extend to claims against non-contracting third parties, and dismisses anti-suit.

Take your time to read the judgment: it gives very good context to what to some might seem like a very awkward starting point.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9.

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