Angola v Perfectbit et al: Residual English jurisdiction continues to be impacted by Owusu.

My reporting on [2018] EWHC 965 (Comm) Republic of Angola v Perfectbit et al is a bit overdue – the case came to my attention again recently in the context of a non-EU brief and I am grateful to Allen & Overy having reported it at the time: please refer to their summary for an overview of the issues and decision (concise summary reads ‘Despite an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Angolan courts, the High Court was satisfied that England was the appropriate forum to hear a claim by the Republic of Angola and Angola’s central bank against several English and non-EU defendants.’).

In short, the EU’s anchor defendants mechanism (Brussel I Recast, Article 8(1) cannot be used to establish jurisdiction against a non-EU defendant: residual conflicts rules apply. However Bryan J at 124 re-emphasises the extended effect of Owusu in cases such as these at issue:

‘The passages I have quoted were quoted by the Court of Appeal in Lungowe v Vedanta Resources plc [2017] EWCA Civ 1528[2017] BCC 787 at paragraphs [114] and [115] with approval. Simon LJ (with whom Jackson and Asplin LJJ agreed) at paragraph [113] also referred to the following observations made by the editors of Dicey and Morris:

“113. At paragraph 12-033, the editors of Dicey note the classic exposition of Lord Goff’s forum non conveniens test in the Spiliada case, but add: Lord Goff could not have foreseen, however, the subsequent distortion which would be brought about by the decision of the European Court in Owusu v Jackson. The direct effect of that case is that where proceedings in a civil or commercial matter are brought against a defendant who is domiciled in the United Kingdom, the court has no power to stay those proceedings on the ground of forum non conveniens. Its indirect effect is felt in a case in which there are multiple defendants, some of whom are not domiciled in a Member State and to whom the plea of forum non conveniens remains open: it is inevitable that the ability of those co-defendants to obtain a stay (or to resist service out of the jurisdiction) by pointing to the courts of a non-Member State which would otherwise represent the forum conveniens, will be reduced, for to grant jurisdictional relief to some but not to others will fragment what ought to be conducted as a single trial … There is no doubt, however, that the Owusu factor will have made things worse for a defendant who wishes to rely on the principle of forum non conveniens when a co-defendant cannot.” ‘

In short, against non-EU defendants whose case is anchored with an EU (England and Wales) defendant, forum non conveniens remains open but has become more unlikely. One issue perhaps under-considered by the English courts is Brussels Recast Article 34’s juncto recital 24 impact of exclusive choice of court in favour of a third State (neutralising Owusu for those specific circumstances) – not powerful enough perhaps in the case of a multitude of defendants.

Case goes to trial.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.4 (International impact of the Brussels I Recast Regulation), Heading 2.2.14.5.2.

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