National Bank of Kazakhstan v Bank of New York Mellon. Branches’ activities, Article 7(5) Brussels I Recast and engagement of Article 30.

In [2017] EWHC 3512 (Comm)  National Bank of Kazakhstan v Bank of New York Mellon, Article 7(5) makes a rarish appearance, as does (less rarely) Article 30. Popplewell J summarises the main facts as follows.

‘The Second Claimant is the Republic of Kazakhstan (“ROK”). The First Claimant is the National Bank of Kazakhstan (“NBK”). The Defendant is a bank incorporated in Belgium with a branch in, amongst other places, London. Through its London branch it provides banking and custody services to NBK in respect of the National Fund of Kazakhstan (“the National Fund”), pursuant to a Global Custody Agreement dated 24th December 2001, (“the GCA”). The National Fund has been the target of proceedings brought by Mr. Anatolie Stati and others, (“the Stati Parties”), who are seeking to enforce a Swedish arbitration award against ROK for a sum, including interest and costs, in excess of US$ 500 million. The Stati Parties obtained attachment orders from the Dutch court and the Belgian court, which were served on the Defendant (“BNYM”). BNYM, after taking legal advice, decided to freeze all the assets comprising the National Fund, which it holds under the GCA, on the basis that it was bound to comply with the Belgian and Dutch orders, breach of which would expose it to the risk of civil liability for the amount of the Stati Parties’ claims and criminal liability in Belgium and the Netherlands.’

Effectively therefore the London Branch of a Belgian domiciled bank, has frozen claimant’s assets which it holds in London (although the exact situs is disputed), on the basis that it wishes to prevent exposure to BE and NL criminal proceedings.

Parties arguments on jurisdiction are included at 41 and 42 of the judgment. Core to the Brussels I Recast jurisdictional discussions is Article 7(5) which provides

“A person domiciled in a Member State may be sued in another Member State: […]

(5) as regards a dispute arising out of the operations of a branch, agency or other establishment, in the courts for the place where the branch, agency or other establishment is situated;’

Beyond Case 33/78 Somafer, to which the High Court refers, there is little CJEU precedent – C‑27/17 flyLAL is currently underway. Popplewell J at 53 refers to Lord Phillips’ paraphrasing of Somafer in [2003] EWCA Civ 147  as a requirement of ‘sufficient nexus’ between the dispute and the branch as to render it natural to describe the dispute as one which has arisen out of the activities of the branch.

At 54 he holds there is such nexus in the case at issue, particularly given the management of the frozen assets by the London branch, and the very action by that branch to freeze them. This is quite a wide interpretation of Article 7(5) and not one which I believe is necessarily supported by the exceptional nature of Article 7.

As to whether the English and Belgian proceedings are ‘related’, providing an opportunity for the English proceedings to be halted under Article 30 of the Recast (lis alibi pendens), the High Court refers at 57 ff to C-406/95 The Tatry to hold that there is no risk of conflicting decisions in this case: the argument specifically being that even if the issues addressed are the same, they are addressed in the respective (English, Dutch, Belgian) proceedings under different applicable laws (in each case the lex fori on sovereign immunity). I do not find that very convincing. The risk of irreconcilable outcome is the issue; not irreconcilability or not of reasoning. In the same para 60 in fine in fact Popplewell J advances what I think is a stronger argument: that the issue whether the National Fund was used or intended to be used for commercial purposes, requires to be determined or addressed in the English proceedings, with the result that there is no risk of conflict.

Article 30 not being engaged for that reason, obiter then follows an interesting discussion on whether there can be lis alibi pendens if the court originally seized had no jurisdiction under the Regulation: here: because the Belgian and Dutch proceedings are arbitration proceedings.

Does Article 30 apply to Regulation claims where there was a related action in a Member State in which the related action did not itself come within the Regulation? Referring to the new Article 34 lis alibi pendens rule for proceedings pending ex-EU, ex absurdum, would there not be an odd lacuna if Article 34 required a stay where there were related non-Regulation foreign proceedings in a third party State and the position were not to be the same for equivalent foreign proceedings in a Member State? I do not believe there would be such lacuna: the Article 34 rule applies to concurrent proceedings which are in fact in-Regulation, except international comity requires the EU to cede to foreign proceedings with a strong (typically exclusive) jurisdictional call. For intra-EU proceedings, the comity argument holds no sway – mutual trust does.

Like Poplewell J however I reserve final judgment on that issue for another occasion.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11, Heading 2.2.14.

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