Axis Corporate Capital v Absa. On poorly worded choice of court and the possibility of anti-suit to protect Brussels Ia jurisdiction against non-European proceedings.

Axis Corporate Capital UK Ltd & Ors v Absa Group Ltd & Ors [2021] EWHC 225 (Comm) is a good illustration of choice of court and law clauses that are a gift to conflict of laws practitioners. Choice of law and in particular choice of court was as Calver J put it [35] ‘somewhat poorly worded’. This is what the clauses look like in the various (re)insurance agreements [36 ff]

The primary reinsurances contain the following provision: “Any disputes concerning the interpretation of the terms, conditions, limitations and/or exclusions contained in this policy is understood and agreed by both the Reinsured and the Reinsurers to be subject to England Wales Law. Each party agrees to submit to a worldwide jurisdiction and to comply with all requirements necessary to give such court jurisdiction.”

The excess reinsurances contain the following provision: “Any dispute concerning the interpretation of the terms, conditions, limitations and/or exclusions contained in this policy is understood and agreed by both the insured and the insurers to be subject to England and Wales. Each party agrees to submit to the jurisdiction of England and Wales to comply with all requirements necessary to give such court jurisdiction. In respect of claims brought against the Insured and indemnified under this policy, as more fully described herein, the choice of law applicable is Worldwide and the choice of jurisdiction is Worldwide.”

Thirdly, the ARR [aggregate retention reinsurance, GAVC] contains the following two provisions: “Supplemental Clauses … “Policy Interpretation, Jurisdiction and Service of Suit Clause.” And then: “Choice of Law and Jurisdiction. “Any dispute concerning the interpretation of the terms, conditions, limitations and/or exclusions contained in this policy is understood and agreed by both the (re)insured and the (re)insurers to be subject to England and Wales. Each party agrees to submit to the jurisdiction of Worldwide to comply with all requirements necessary to give such court jurisdiction.”

The policy interpretation, jurisdiction and service of suit clause, which is specifically referred to as a supplemental clause, provides as follows and was contained in a schedule: “Any dispute between the Reinsured and the Reinsurer alleging that payment is due under this reinsurance shall be referred to the jurisdiction of the courts of the England and Wales and the meaning of this reinsurance policy shall be decided by such courts in accordance with the law of England and Wales.”

Claimant submits that, on the proper construction of the reinsurance contracts, the defendants were obliged to submit to and to submit any dispute arising under or in connection with any of the reinsurances contracts to the exclusive (A25 BIa imposes exclusive choice of court in principle: [56]) jurisdiction of the English courts. Calver J agrees that that is the case with a high degree of probability (this is an interlocutory stage). Generali Italia v Pelagic features as authority. Note the ‘worldwide’ reference in some of the clauses means that parties agree that all courts worldwide should ensure that the dispute be referred to the English courts.

The formulation in the excess reinsurance agreements, include what is construed as a carve-out of worldwide jurisdiction, which is non-exclusive, for claims brought against the insured and indemnified under the excess reinsurance. This is taken by the judge to mean that for all other claims, choice of court for E&W is, a contrario, exclusive.

At 81 ff, the judge grants an interim anti-suit injunction against proceedings in South Africa. The very possibility for this is not discussed at all (possibly as a result of the nature of the proceedings). It is not established that anti-suit to protect jurisdiction of a court in the EU, against that of courts outside the EU, is at all possible. In Gray v Hurley the Court of Appeal suggested it is not possible within the context of A4 BIa, yet referred to the CJEU where the case was withdrawn. This might become a contested issue.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.24, para 2.296 ff.

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