Lamesa Investments v Cynergy. Rome I-like ‘mandatory law’ provisions applied to US secondary sanctions.

Update 30 June 2020 the decision was upheld upon appeal,[2020] EWCA Civ 821, albeit for different reasons. Not much was added to the Rome discussion other than that the chancellor did not subscribe to the view that ‘mandatory’ had to be seen in a Rome /lois de police sense (at 35).

A long overdue post I fear (I hope in the next week and a half or so to turn to draft posts which for all sorts of reasons have gotten stuck in the queue, finally to be published) on Lamesa Investments Ltd v Cynergy Bank Ltd  [2019] EWHC 1877 (Comm). Latham and Watkins have had background for some time here.

The case concerns a standard clause in an English law governed contract on ‘mandatory law’ as an excuse for contractual non-performance. Here, the clause (in a (credit) facility agreement) read: clause 9.1: (party is not in breach of the agreement if) “… sums were not paid in order to comply with any mandatory provision of law, regulation or order of any court of competent jurisdiction”.

“Regulation” was defined in the Agreement as including “any regulation, rule, official directive, request or guideline … of any governmental, intergovernmental, or supranational body, agency, department or of any regulatory, self-regulatory or other authority or organisation”.

Lamesa argued that Cynergy could not rely on clause 9.1 because:

  • provision of law” meant a law that applied to a UK entity, acting in the UK, that had agreed to make a sterling payment pursuant to a contract governed by English law; and
  • mandatory” meant that the relevant law made it compulsory for Cynergy to refuse payment

‘In order to comply’ was the focus of discussions, in particular whether there was any territorial limit to it. Pelling J took a flexible approach, holding that Cynery could not reasonably be expected to have excluded the only type of sanction which it could have reasonably foreseen, namely secondary sanctions imposed by US sanctions law (at the time the parties entered into the Facility Agreement, Cynergy was aware that it was possible that US sanctions would be imposed on Lamesa).

Of interest to the blog is the brief reference to Rome I (and the Convention), at 23:

‘It was submitted on behalf of CBL and I agree that English lawyers during the period the FA was being negotiated and down to the date when it became binding would have understood a mandatory law to be one that could not be derogated from. The context that makes this probable includes the meaning given to the phrase “… mandatory provision of law …” in the Rome Convention 1980 and the Rome 1 Regulation on Choice of Law. It was not submitted by CBL that the construction for which they contend applies by operation of either regulation. It submits however and I accept that they provide some support for the submission that lawyers at the relevant time would have understood the effect of the word “mandatory” to be as I have described. It goes without saying that it was not open at any stage to either party to dis-apply the US statutes that purported to apply secondary sanctions by their agreement, nor did the parties attempt to do so either in the FA itself or afterwards.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 3.2.8.3.

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