Eastern Pacific Chartering v Pola Maritime. How an application for lis pendens awakens the Brussels Convention (as between the UK and Gibraltar).

Eastern Pacific Chartering Inc v Pola Maritime Ltd [2021] EWHC 1707 (Comm) is a highly unusual case which shows that dormant Conventions can be awoken from their slumber.  I merely dabble in EU external relations law, I am no expert in it. The application of that law in the context of private international law is an issue I have tasked one or two students with – let’s just say they find it challenging.

On the specific issue at hand, parties agree that consequential to the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 (Gibraltar) Order 1997, matters of jurisdiction between the E&W Courts and the Supreme Court of Gibraltar are governed by the Brussels Convention 1968 and that this remains the case notwithstanding Brexit. That core issue of external relations law pre and post Brexit is therefore not sub judice. One imagines that had it been, it could have led to extensive to and fro, among others within the context of the UK having revoked the 1968 Convention per the jurisdiction and Judgments Exit Regulations SI 2019/479, and of the Withdrawal Agreement.

In July 2020, claimant had a ship arrested in Gibraltar, with the purpose to serve as security for claims under a charterparty between both, claims that were to be brought in London, consistently with an exclusive jurisdiction clause in the charterparty. Roberston DJ classifies that action as one for provisional measures under Article 24 Convention (35 of the Brussels Ia Regulation).  The legality of that arrest (which ended upon claimant releasing it) continues to be disputed (ia viz the actual ownership of the ship).

Claimant (not domiciled in a 1968 Convention Contracting State) now sues  in E&W (pursuant to the choice of court) Defendant (domiciled at Cyprus) for outstanding monies. In current proceedings it applies to dismiss and strike out that part of the Defendant’s counterclaim at the E&W courts which seeks to advance claims in tort based on the alleged wrongful Gibraltar arrest.  In essence claimant submits that the High Court court has no jurisdiction to try the Defendant’s tort claims and should decline jurisdiction in favour of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar.

After a swipe [18 ff] at both parties having engaged, without court approval, experts on Gibraltarian law (which, she holds, bear no relevance for the jurisdictional issues anyways), Roberston DJ proceeds to discuss the lis pendens issue.

Defendant’s primary case is that, on the facts of this case, Article 17 Convention (A25 BIa) applies to confer jurisdiction, because the exclusive jurisdiction clause is broad enough to cover the tort claims. The Defendant’s fallback position is that, if that is wrong, the Court nevertheless has jurisdiction in respect of its counterclaims, not on the basis of A5(3) Convention (the Claimant (defendant on the counterclaim) not being domiciled in a Convention State) either because that necessarily follows from the Claimant’s decision to litigate its own claims here, or because Claimant has taken steps since service of the Defence and Counterclaim which waived any right to object to jurisdiction in respect of the counterclaims.

The discussion revolves around the contractual and statutory interpretation of the action radius of choice of court. This also involves the classic issue of tort claims between contractual parties (compare Wikingerhof) with the judge opting for the one stop shop approach (distinguishing ia Ryanair Ltd v Esso Italiana Srl [2015] 1 All ER (Comm) 152): 42: ‘there is a clear causal connection [between the contractual and tort claims, GAVC], which seems to be sufficient for the purposes of a clause worded “in connection with“.’ In conclusion: [52]: ‘whether damages are recoverable for an allegedly wrongful arrest made in seeking security for claims under the charter, ..is a claim “in connection with” the charter’ hence the E&W courts have jurisdiction. [39]: this ‘allows a single accounting, as regards the overall financial position of the parties as a result of the legal relationship created between them by the charter, and their dispute about what rights and obligations properly flow from that legal relationship.’

Obiter jurisdiction on the alternative grounds, under English residual rules, is also accepted (with the interesting note of the absence, in the Convention, of a gateway for counterclaims, in contrast with Brussels I and Brussels Ia).

Coming then to lis pendens under Article 21 Convention, this is dismissed. [70] The arrest claim plainly does not involve either the same cause of action or the same object as the Defendant’s tort claims seeking to recover damages for wrongful arrest, which are advanced solely by way of counterclaim in E&W. The factual and legal foundation for that counterclaim needs, on any view, to travel substantially beyond the matters the Claimant relies on for its own cause of action and the object of the counterclaim is to recover damages.

Neither [73] is an acknowledgment of service in the Gibraltar arrest proceedings does not amount to a submission to that jurisdiction which would preclude the Defendant from raising its distinct tort claims in E&W.

A stay on ‘related proceedings’ (Article 22 Convention) is also rejected for the reasons listed at [83]. Core reference here is Research in Motion v Visto [2007] EWHC 900 (Ch).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 1 Heading 1.7, Chapter 2 para 2.375, 2.469.

One Reply to “Eastern Pacific Chartering v Pola Maritime. How an application for lis pendens awakens the Brussels Convention (as between the UK and Gibraltar).”

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