EWCA Civ 768 BNP Paribas v Trattamento Rifiuti Metropolitani Spa engages the issue of apparently competing jurisdiction clauses under Article 25 Brussels Ia. The appeal against Knowles J’s findings at the High Court was dismissed.
The issue raised on the appeal is whether the judge was correct to conclude that the claims for declaratory relief sought in the Claim fall within an English jurisdiction clause (EJC) contained in a swap transaction between the parties and not within an Italian jurisdiction clause (IJC) contained in a financing agreement (an ISDA Master Agreement) between them – further facts are best read in the judgment.
At 44 ff Hamblen LJ first considers two preliminary issues: (i) the relevance of Italian law and (ii) the relevant “dispute” or “disputes”. On (i), expert Italian opinion was considered however rejected essentially as being overkill: Where the applicable law of the contract is foreign law, questions of interpretation are governed by the applicable law. In such a case the role of the expert is not to give evidence as to what the contract means. The role is “to prove the rules of construction of the foreign law, and it is then for the court to interpret the contract in accordance with those rules” (authority cited: Lord Collins in Vizcaya Partners Ltd v Picord  UKPC 5) and ‘The task of the English court is merely to inform itself of any relevant different principles of construction there might be in the foreign law and, armed with such information, look at both jurisdiction clauses and decide whether the English claim falls within the English clause. That should be a comparatively straightforward exercise.” (Longmore LJ in Savona). At 54: ‘The primary rule is Article 1362 of the Italian Civil Code, under which the literal meaning of the words must be considered. It is only if that meaning is not clear that one goes on to consider later Articles, although they may be used as a cross check.’ ‘[A]lthough the Italian jurisdiction clause was governed by Italian law, the judge was entitled to approach the task of interpreting the EJC and the IJC by reference to English law relating to the interpretation of such provisions, concentrating on the meaning of the words used in their relevant context’: at 55.
On the ‘relevant dispute’, at 56: ‘The interpretation of the scope of a jurisdiction clause falls to be considered at the time that jurisdiction agreement is made, at which time there will be no “dispute” unless, which is not this case, it is an ad hoc agreement relating to existing disputes.’ At 59: ‘Where proceedings are commenced in this country in reliance on an English jurisdiction clause and a jurisdictional challenge is raised, the issue of whether the clause may be so relied upon is to be answered by reference to the claim in relation to which those proceedings have been issued.’ At 61: ‘The answer to this question cannot change by reason of subsequent events, such as a defence raised or a subsequent set of proceedings, like the Italian Claim.’ (Follows reference to CJEU C-214/89 Powell Duffryn Plc v M Petereit).
Applied to the case at issue and having established that English law (of contractual interpretation and the ordinary meaning of the words) applies, Hamblen LJ summarises authority as follows (at 68; authority omitted)):
(1) Where the parties’ overall contractual arrangements contain two competing jurisdiction clauses, the starting point is that a jurisdiction clause in one contract was probably not intended to capture disputes more naturally seen as arising under a related contract.
(2) A broad, purposive and commercially-minded approach is to be followed.
(3) Where the jurisdiction clauses are part of a series of agreements they should be interpreted in the light of the transaction as a whole, taking into account the overall scheme of the agreements and reading sentences and phrases in the context of that overall scheme.
(4) It is recognised that sensible business people are unlikely to intend that similar claims should be the subject of inconsistent jurisdiction clauses.
(5) The starting presumption will therefore be that competing jurisdiction clauses are to be interpreted on the basis that each deals exclusively with its own subject matter and they are not overlapping, provided the language and surrounding circumstances so allow.
(6) The language and surrounding circumstances may, however, make it clear that a dispute falls within the ambit of both clauses. In that event the result may be that either clause can apply rather than one clause to the exclusion of the other.
At 69 ff this leads in casu to a finding of fairly clear distinct application in light of the clear contractual set-up between parties. At 77 this is supplemented by a straightforward finding of which relationship is relevant for which choice of court clause. Like the High Court, the Court of Appeal concluded that the two jurisdiction clauses governed different relationships and did not materially overlap.
At 112 Longmore LJ adds that the Court’s interpretation ‘accords with the objects of the Regulation of: (i) allowing the claimant easily to identify the court before which he may bring an action and the defendant reasonably to foresee the court before which he may be sued; and (ii) enabling the court seised to be able readily to decide whether it has jurisdiction, without having to consider the substance of the case.’
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.