SCOR v Barclays. High Court dismisses application for stay on the basis of Article 30 BIa (related actions). Leaves the Euroeco /Privatbank discussion unsettled.

In SCOR SE v Barclays [2020] EWHC 133 (Comm), claimant SCOR is a reinsurance company incorporated in France. Covéa, a shareholder of SCOR, made an unsolicited offer to acquire a controlling shareholding in SCOR. Barclays was one of Covéa’s financial advisors and prospective lenders in relation to the Offer. The English proceedings, and related French proceedings, all concern French law claims brought by SCOR against Mr Derez, who was one of its directors, Covéa, and Barclays in connection with the Offer. It is alleged by SCOR that Mr Derez disclosed to Covéa and to its advisors, including Barclays, confidential information, which he obtained in breach of duties he owed to SCOR, and that the information was misused in relation to the Offer.

SCOR has commenced three sets of proceedings: On 29 January 2019, direct criminal proceedings in France. On the same day, the proceedings in England against Barclays. On On 6 February 2019, French proceedings against Monsieur Derez and Covéa. Concealment of breach of trust is the running theme in all 3 proceedings.

An application to stay the French Commercial Court proceedings, which had been made by the Claimant, had been dismissed.

Hancock J had two issues to decide under Article 30 Brussels Ia (at 6). The first was whether the French criminal proceedings, which were first in time, were related to the English Commercial Court action. The second was whether the High Court, as the Court second seised, should stay these proceedings, it being accepted that it had the power to do so under A30. The parties were agreed that, although the civil proceedings which formed part of the criminal action were an “adjunct” to the criminal part of the proceedings, they were nonetheless civil and commercial proceedings within the meaning of the Regulation.

Authority discussed includes of course CJEU C-406/92 The Tatry, however quickly attention focussd on the issue of ‘expediency’ in Article 30. Claimant pointed out that there had been a debate in the authorities as to what was meant by “expedient, with some authorities taking the line that this meant possible or capable, and others suggesting that the relevant synonym was “desirable” ‘. The Court of Appeal in Privatbank v Kolomoisky [2019] EWCA Civ 1709, which I discuss here, settled the issue in the direction of ‘desirable’. However Hancock J then discussed counsel’s reference to Euroeco Fuels (Poland) Limited and others v Sczezin and Swinoujscie Seaports and others [2019] EWCA Civ 1932 which at the time (December 2019) I called at most a ‘lukewarm’ application of Privatbank on this issue.

Hancock J leaves the discussion hanging for in his words at 15, ‘it is uncertain whether expediency in this context is to be treated as meaning desirability, or whether it is a jurisdictional requirement of the grant of a stay that the two cases can in fact be heard together: see Privatbank and cases cited therein, on the one hand, but compare the Euroeco decision on the other. I do not need to decide this question in this case, since my decision would be the same whichever test is applied, and I propose to consider the matter by reference to the test as set out in Privatbank.’

Yet at 24-25  he holds ‘on the basis the application of the test in Sarrio, as interpreted in later cases including in particular Privatbank, that the French criminal proceedings and the English proceedings are related. I move on to consider the exercise of my discretion on this basis.’ Yet ‘Of course, if the actual test is that which may be suggested by the Euroeco case, then the proceedings would not be related, and I would have no discretion to exercise.’

Here I do not follow. No proper decision is made on the authority or not of Privatbank or Euroeco (the latter suggested by counsel for the defence (fellow Bruges Stefan Zweig alumnus) to be at most per incuriam).

At 28 ff then follows a most relevant discussion of the wide nature or not of the discretion to issue a stay, once it has been established the cases are related (Hancock J at 31 deciding at that there is no presumption for a stay in favour of the applicant) deciding at 43 that there is no compelling reason for the stay, on the basis of the factors outlined there, with which I agree.

This is again a most relevant case. The relatedness or not of cases is a most, most crucial issue, including of course in an Article 33-34 context.

Geert.

(Handbook of EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.

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