Motacus Constructions v Castelli. Choice of court, English lois de police and interim measures under the Hague process, post Brexit.

Motacus Constructions Ltd v Paolo Castelli SpA [2021] EWHC 356 (TCC)  to my knowledge is the first case post-Brexit that shows how a jurisdictional discussion that might have been settled swiftly under Brussels Ia, leads to a lot more chewing over under 2005 Hague Convention (on choice of court) principles. It may not be ‘important‘ in terms of its impact on authority (this is a first instance judgment; and it may be overly enthusiastic in engaging with the issues) yet it nevertheless is a good illustration of what was left behind.

The Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Act 2020 has given the 2005 Convention force of law in the UK.

The ‘Governing Law & Dispute Resolution’ clause (clause 19) of a contract between contractor and subcontractor re a London hotel provided ‘This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of Italy’ and for all disputes to ‘submitted to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of Paris, France’. A payment issue ensued and the contractor started classic English construction sector adjudication proceedings despite the aforementioned clause: the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 is overriding mandatory law /loi de police /loi d’application immédiate in England and Wales [3]. To address cash flow problems in the construction industry, and the shortcomings of the traditional litigation process in serving the needs of the construction industry, Parliament decided there should be a short-form process of adjudication producing binding, and readily enforceable, decisions [25].

The UK has not made a reservation under Hague 2005 viz contracts in the construction sector  [18] (compare the EU’s reservation viz insurance contracts).

Sub-contractor actively took part, yet declined to make the necessary payment which the adjudicator’s decision had instructed. Adjudication enforcement proceedings were started on 12 January 2021. Sub-contractor challenged the enforcement proceedings, arguing the proceedings could only be commenced in Paris under the choice of court.

Claimant’s case is that the High Court should accept jurisdiction and enforce the adjudicator’s decision, notwithstanding the exclusive jurisdiction clause, in light of the provisions in either A6(c) or A7 Hague 2005. It submits that it would be manifestly contrary to the public policy enshrined in the 1996 Act, or alternatively it would be manifestly unjust, to refuse to enforce an otherwise enforceable adjudicator’s decision in reliance on clause 19 of the contract. In any event, it is argued, the enforcement of an adjudicator’s decision is the enforcement of an interim measure of protection. It falls outside the scope of Hague 2005 and so the defendant cannot rely on its provisions.

A6(c) Hague 2005 provides that a court of a contracting state (in this case the UK) other than that of the chosen court (in this case Paris, France), “… shall suspend or dismiss proceedings to which an exclusive choice of court agreement applies unless – (c) giving effect to the agreement would lead to a manifest injustice or would be manifestly contrary to the public policy of the State of the court seised. 

A7 provides that: “Interim measures of protection are not governed by [the Hague] Convention. [That] Convention neither requires nor precludes the grant, refusal or termination of interim measures of protection by a court of a Contracting State and does not affect whether or not a party may request or a court should grant, refuse or terminate such measures.”

Spiliada, Fiona Trust, The Eleftharia etc. are all discussed in what looks like a bonfire of the CJEU authorities. The impact of Italian law as lex contractus, for the construction of the choice of court clause (under BIa this would have to be French law) is also signalled, but not entertained for this is an application for summary judgment in which, in the absence of proof of Italian law, its contents are presumed to be the same as English law [51].

Hodge J at 54 declines the suggestion of A6(c) ordre public. ‘Manifest’ requires a high burden of proof, no reservation has been made and there is no good reason why the parties should not be held to the bargain that they freely made when they incorporated clause 19 into their construction contract.

At 56 ff however claimant’s arguments on interim measures having been carved out, does lead to success: it is held that an application for summary judgment to enforce an adjudicator’s decision is an interim measure of protection within A7 Hague 2005. ‘The concept extends to any decision that is not a final and conclusive decision on the substantive merits of the case…The function of the adjudicator’s decision is to protect the position of the successful party on an interim basis pending the final resolution of the parties’ dispute through the normal court processes (or by arbitration).’ [57] The summary judgment application before the High Court has that same DNA: ‘What is before this court is not the underlying dispute between these parties but whether an interim procedure and remedy have been followed and granted.’

Interesting. Geert.

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