Roberts: lois de police (overriding mandatory law) in tort under English residual rules.

Update 17 July 2020 appeal against the decision was today dismissed: [2020] EWCA Civ 926. As Bobby Lindsay summarises the outcome: the contribution provisions of 1978 Act are overriding mandatory provisions. Joint wrongdoers’ entitlement to seek, or liability to make, contribution are governed by English law regardless of foreign connections.

A late post (I am slowly trying to mop up my back issues; none of them thankfully going back quite as far as this one) on Roberts v The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen And Families Association & Anor [2019] EWHC 1104 (QB) in which Soole J had to hold on whether the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978 (the 1978 Act) has mandatory/ overriding effect and applies automatically to all proceedings for contribution brought in England and Wales, without reference to any choice of law rules. A tortious and residual private international law (as opposed to Rome I or II) take therefore on similar issues as in the contracts case of Lamesa Investments.

Claimant was born at the Hospital in Viersen, North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany on 14 June 2000. The Hospital provided medical services to UK Armed Forces stationed in Germany, with whom the Claimant’s father was serving, and their families. His claim is that he sustained an acute profound hypoxic brain injury as a result of negligence in the course of his delivery by a British midwife supplied by the First Defendant charity (SSAFA). On his behalf it is alleged that SSAFA and/or the Second Defendant (MOD) are vicariously liable for her acts or omissions.

The Hospital contends that the application of the 1978 Act is subject to choice of law rules, whose effect is to apply German law to a claim for contribution. By the combined effect of the German law of limitation and s.1 Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984 the contribution claim is time-barred; and therefore must fail. SSAFA/MOD accept that, if choice of law rules prevail, the relevant law is German and the claim time-barred. However they contend that the 1978 Act has overriding effect. Since the limitation period under the 1978 Act expires 2 years from the date of judgment award or settlement (s.10 Limitation Act 1980), the claim can proceed.

Rome II is not engaged ratione tempore (it may have varied the outcome).

Soole J first summarises at lenghth the submissions of the parties, including their scholarly references. He then, at 81, reminds us of the common law approach to characterisation (one which we successfully pleaded in a continental court in a trust case recently): ‘the first question in such a dispute is the characterisation (or classification) of the claim or issue in question. Such classification should not be constrained by particular notions or distinctions of the domestic law of the lex fori, or that of the competing system of law, which may have no counterpart in the other’s system; and should be taken in a broad internationalist spirit in accordance with the principles of conflict of laws of the forum’.

He then holds that the questions of lois de police do not justify cutting corners in conflict of laws analysis: one does not jump straight to application of a local act. Rather, one dutifully follows conflicts analysis and then applies the local act only if and to the extent the foreign law impedes it. Then follows at 92 his classification of the act as lois de police indeed (the terminology used here also includes ‘extraterritorial application’ which however suggests a disconnect from the usual conflicts exercise): ‘In my judgment it is implicit from the provisions of the 1978 Act that the statute does have overriding effect; and that the presumption to the contrary is accordingly rebutted. And at 93: ‘I consider that the express references in the 1978 Act to private international law (ss.1(6), 2(3)(c)) support this implication. Parliament having chosen to identify specific circumstances in which choice of law rules are to apply (and the extent of that application) in a claim under the statute, the natural implication is that the availability of this statutory cause of action was not itself to be subject to choice of law rules.’

Most interesting judgment. It is being appealed, with appeal to be heard in April 2020.

Geert.

 

 

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