Thank you Jan Jakob Bornheim for flagging Gray v Hurley  EWHC 1636 (QB), in which as he puts it, ‘there is a lot going on’. Judgment is best referred to for facts of the case. On 25 March 2019 Mr Hurley commenced proceedings against Ms Gray in New Zealand. On 26 March 2019 Ms Gray issued the claim form in the present action and obtained an order for alternative service.
Of interest to the blog is first of all the matrimonial exception of Brussels Ia, nota bene recently applied by the CJEU in C-361/18 Weil. Article 1(2)(a) Brussels Ia (Lavender J using the English judges’ shorthand ‘Judgments Regulation’) provides that it does not apply to matters relating to: “…rights in property arising out of a matrimonial relationship or out of a relationship deemed by the law applicable to such relationship to have comparable effects to marriage.”
There is no EU-wide harmonisation of the conflict of law rules for matrimonial property. The UK is not party to the enhanced co-operation rules in the area and Lavender J did not consider any role these rules might play in same. Rome I and Rome II have a similar exception as Brussels Ia and at 111 Lavender J takes inspiration from Recital 10 Rome II which states that this exception “should be interpreted in accordance with the law of the Member State in which the court is seised.” Discussion ensues whether this is a reference to the substantive law of the court seized (Ms Gray’s position; English law does not deem their relationship to have comparable effects to marriage) or the private international law rules of same (Mr Hurley’s position; with in his view residual English private international law pointing to the laws of New Zealand, which does deem their relationship to have comparable effects to marriage). Lavender J does not say so expresses verbis but seems to side with the exclusion of renvoi: at 115: ‘I do not consider that the relationship between Ms Gray and Mr Hurley was a relationship deemed by the law applicable to such relationship to have comparable effects to marriage.’ Brussels Ia’s matrimonial exception therefore is not engaged.
Next, the application of the exclusive jurisdictional rule of Article 24(1) is considered. Ms Gray’s claim here essentially aims to establish her full ownership of the ‘San Martino’ property in Italy. Webb v Webb is considered, as are Weber v Weber and Komu v Komu (readers of the blog are aware that A24(1) cases often involve feuds between family members). Lavender J concludes that Ms Gray’s claim essentially is like Webb Sr’s in Webb v Webb: Ms Gray is not seeking an order for the sale of San Martino (and it does not appear that the right of pre-emption would be triggered by a judgment in her favour, as it would be by an order for sale). Nor is she seeking to give effect to her existing interest in San Martino. Rather, she claims that Mr Hurley holds his interest in San Martino on trust for her.
Application of Article 25 choice of court is summarily dismissed at 131 ff: there was choice of court and law (pro: Italy) in the preliminary sales and purchase agreement between the seller and Ms Gray. However, this clearly does not extend to the current dispute.
Next comes the application of Article 4’s domicile rule. Was Mr Hurley domiciled in England on 26 March 2019, when the court was seized? Article 62(1) Brussels Ia refers to the internal law. Application is made by Lavender J of inter alia  EWHC 160 (Ch), Shulman v Kolomoisky which I also included here; he also considers the implications of CJEU C-327/10 Lindner, and eventually decides that Mr Hurley was not domiciled in England, however that Lindner should be read as extending to the defendant’s last known domicile in a case where the Court: (1) is unable to identify the defendant’s place of domicile; and (2) has no firm evidence to support the conclusion that the defendant is in fact domiciled outside the European Union. This is a very relevant and interesting reading of Lindner, extending the reach of Brussels Ia as had been kickstarted by Owusu, with due deference to potential New Zealand jurisdiction (New Zealand domicile not having been established).
Final conclusion, therefore, is that Ms Hurley may rely on Article 4 Brussels Ia. Quite what impact this has on the New Zealand proceedings is not discussed.
Interesting judgment on many counts.
(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2 practically in its entirety.