Spain v The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd  EWHC 142 (Comm) reports on the CMR (case management conference) re what promises to be interesting litigation. A Spanish judgment concerning liability for the pollution damage caused when the vessel PRESTIGE broke in two off the coast of Spain in 2002, needs to be enforced in the UK. Brussels I’s (Regulation 44/2001) contestation of recognition is involved: particularly Articles 34(1) and (3).
At 2 Teare J summarises the story so far:
The parties have been in dispute about liability for many years. Criminal proceedings were brought against the master of PRESTIGE in Spain in 2002 and, after the conclusion of the investigative stage of the proceedings, civil proceedings were brought against the master, the Owners of PRESTIGE and the Club, as liability insurer of the Owners, in 2010. (I am told that in addition to Spain there are some 264 other claimants.) In 2012 the Club commenced arbitration proceedings in London against Spain and in February 2013 obtained an award from the sole arbitrator Mr. Alistair Schaff QC which declared that, as a result of the “pay to be paid” clause in the policy the Club had no liability to Spain. In this court Spain challenged the jurisdiction of the arbitrator but the court (Hamblen J. as he then was) held in 2013 that the arbitrator had jurisdiction. Later that year the court in La Coruna dismissed the civil claim against the master, Owners and Club but convicted the master of the crime of disobeying orders by the Spanish authorities to accept a tow of the vessel. In 2015 the English Court of Appeal upheld the decision of Hamblen J. In 2016 the Spanish Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court in La Coruna and held that the master had been seriously negligent and that the Owners and Club were liable for the damage caused. In execution proceedings in Spain, the court in La Coruna declared the Spanish State entitled to enforce a claim up to approximately €2.355 billion against the defendants in the Spanish proceedings and declared the master, Owners and the Club liable in respect of the claims, although subject (in the case of the Club) to a global limit of liability in the sum of approximately €855 million.’
Thus the Club has an arbitration award in its favour but Spain has a judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court in its favour. Spain obtained an order from Master Cook pursuant to which the Spanish judgment was registered so that it could be enforced here against the Club. The Club seeks to appeal from that order. One of the grounds on which it seeks to appeal is that the Spanish judgment is irreconcilable with the judgment of Hamblen J. and the Court of Appeal (A34(3) BI). Another ground is that recognition of England is contrary to the public policy of England (A34(1)).
This particular CMS concerns disclosure requirements: the Club’s seeking of disclosure from Spain is resisted by the latter on grounds that is clashes with BI’s intention of swift recognition.
One of the issues on which disclosure is sought, is Spain’s position under the insurance title of BI: “Are the English Judgments not qualifying judgments within article 34(3) because the English Judgments conflict with Section 3 of Chapter II of the Brussels 1 Regulation ? In particular …(b) Is the respondent [Spain] entitled to rely on the exclusive rules for jurisdiction in Section 3 of Chapter II. In particular: (i) Is the respondent [Spain] a qualifying party that is entitled to the protective rules in Section 3 ?” Reference is made to Aspen Underwiting: the Club states that it is necessary for Spain to show that it is a member of the class protected by Section 3, which (per Aspen Underwriting, GAVC] excludes “professionals in the insurance sector or entities regularly involved in the commercial or otherwise professional settlement of insurance related claims who voluntarily assumed the realisation of the claim as part of its commercial or otherwise professional activity”. Aspen Underwriting in the meantime (Teare J’s judgment was issued in January; it has been in the blog queue) has been varied by the Supreme Court.
It will therefore be necessary, submitted counsel for the Club, for Spain to disclose documents which show “the class of business” conducted by it. If it is a member of the relevant class it can rely on section 3. If it is not, it cannot.
The second class of document of which disclosure is sought is very different and relates to the public policy defence. Did the Spanish Courts refuse to allow the master to participate in an underwater investigation of the strength of the vessel’s hull and refuse to disclose the results of the investigation (so that there was a breach of the master’s right to equality of arms and to be able to prepare a defence) or were the results disclosed to the master in sufficient time to allow him to prepare his defence. The Club therefore seeks disclosure of the documents relating to that question held by Spain. Here Teare J at 21 assumes that Spain’s evidence can be expected to support its case and to rely upon the documents which show when the results were disclosed to the master and in what terms. If the evidence does not deal with this issue then Spain will be unable to advance its factual case. ‘I therefore consider it very likely that no disclosure under this head will be required. In the unlikely event that it is required a focused application can be made after Spain has provided its evidence.’
The Order eventually imposes a timetable for exchange of evidence (including expert reports) and later settlement of disclosure issues should they arise. Hearing in principle in December 2020.
This could turn out to be a most relevant case.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124, Heading 126.96.36.199, Heading 2.2.16.