GDE v Anglia Autoflow. Governing law for agency agreements under the Rome Convention.

Update 26 May 2020 for a Greek SC judgment discussing choice of court v choice of law in agency, and applying CJEU C-159/97 Trasporti Castelleti, see here.

In GDE LLC & Anor v Anglia Autoflow Ltd [2020] EWHC 105 (Comm) (31) the Rome I Regulation does not apply ratione temporis; the Agency Agreement was concluded on about 9 April 2009 which is a few months before the kick-off date of the Regulation (note there is no default rule for agency in Article 4 Rome I in the event of lack of lex voluntatis). Dias DJ therefore turns to the 1980 Rome Convention.

Parties are in dispute as to the governing law of the Agency Agreement by which the claims should be determined. AAL alleges that the governing law is that of Ontario while the Claimants allege that the Agency Agreement is governed by English law. The point is of critical importance because the Claimants concede that, if AAL is correct, their claim is time-barred under Ontario law: although this, as readers know, assumes statutes of limitation are subject to the governing law – which is far from certain: see Jabir v KIK and Spring v MOD.

Parties’ arguments are at 10 and 11 and of course they reverse engineer. In essence (at 20) claimants say that there was an implied choice of English law. Alternatively, if that is not correct, the presumption in Article 4(2) of the Rome Convention, which would otherwise point to Georgia law, falls to be disapplied in favour of English law. The Defendant says that there was no implied choice and that application of Article 4(2) leads to Ontario law. Alternatively, if (which it denies) the presumption in Article 4(2) leads to any other governing law, the presumption is to be disapplied in favour of Ontario.

At 21 ff follows a rather creative (somewhat linked to the discussion of ex officio Rome Convention application in The Alexandros), certainly unexpected (yet clearly counsel will do what counsel must do) argument that essentially puts forward that under the common law approach of foreign law = fact hence must be proven, any discussion of a law as governing law, not suggested by the parties (here: the laws of (the US State of) Georgia) that is not English law (which clearly the English curia does ‘novit’), cannot go ahead. At 22 Dias DJ already signals that ‘once the wheels of the Convention had been put in motion, they could not be stopped short of their ultimate destination. The idea that the process dictated by the Convention should be hijacked halfway, as it were, on the basis of a pleading point was, to my mind, deeply unattractive.’

At 31 she sinks the argument. I think she is right.

Having at length considered the facts relevant to the contract formation, discussion then turns again to the Rome Convention with at 105 ff a debate on the role to be played by factors intervening after contract formation with a view to establishing [implicit, but certain: see at 117 with reference to the various language versions of the Convention and the Regulation essentially confirming the French version] choice of law or closest connection. (Dias J refers to the Court of Appeal in Lawlor v Sandvik Mining and Construction Mobile Crushers and Screens Ltd, [2013] EWCA Civ 365[2013] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 98 where, at paragraphs 21-27, it pointed out that the common law approach frequently blurred the distinction between the search for the parties’ inferred intention and the search for the system of law with which the contract had its closest and most real connection).

At 120: the hurdle is high: choice of law implicitly made must have nevertheless been made: ‘The court is not looking for the choice that the parties probably would have made if they had turned their minds to the question.’ at 122: In the present case the evidence established that there was no reference by the parties to the question of governing law at all. Choice of court for England (discussed ia with reference to Rome I and to Brussels Ia Article 25) does not change that. At 160 ff therefore follows the discussion of Article 4 of the Rome Convention, leading to a finding of the laws of Ontario as the lex contractus under Article 4(1). Article 4(5) does not displace it.


(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.4, Heading 3.2.6.

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