Al Assam v Tsouvelekakis. Yet another lengthy forum non conveniens discussion, keeping the case in E&W and not Cyprus.

Al Assam & Ors v Tsouvelekakis [2022] EWHC 451 (Ch) shows the way many claims involving EU Member States facts or defendants are likely to go, until the novelty of newly found forum non freedom wears off perhaps: with intensive forum non conveniens-based jurisdictional challenges.

The defendant is domiciled in England and Wales. The claimants are the settlors of 2 Cypriot trusts who claim for the losses suffered in connection with the trusts’ investments. The trusts were both established under the International Trusts Law of the Republic of Cyprus.

As in Klifa v Slater, the forum non test, following Spiliada and VTB v Nutritek, [12] involves two limbs: Under limb 1 of the test, the Defendant must establish that the courts of Cyprus are both (i) “available” and (ii) are clearly or distinctly more appropriate than the English courts as a forum for determining the dispute. If the Defendant can establish that limb 1 of Spiliada is satisfied, it becomes necessary to consider limb 2. Limb 2 requires a consideration of whether, even if the courts of Cyprus are an available forum that is clearly or distinctly more appropriate for the trial of the action than the courts of England, justice nevertheless requires that a stay of the English proceedings should not be granted.

On availability, there is a bit of to and fro and each other’s Cypriot law legal experts, particularly on the territorial jurisdiction under residual Cypriot rules. However the conclusion [26] is that the Cypriot courts are ‘available’.

Obiter, Richards DJ discusses whether if there is no availability under Cypriot law, there might be availability if there is a submission to jurisdiction and/or an agreement /choice of court.

Discussion here was first whether A26 Brussels Ia could remedy the lack of territorial jurisdiction under Cypriot law. Unlike A25 choice of court, A26 does not include language making the defendant’s domicile in the EU a precondition for its application. At [32] the conclusion for the purpose of these proceedings is that there is a real risk that the Cypriot courts will not have jurisdiction on the basis of A26.

The discussion then [33ff] turns to the Cypriot courts being the clearly or distinctly a more appropriate forum with the conclusion being in the negative.

Helpfully, and suggested by counsel, the judge puts the following structure to the analysis:

a) personal connections ([39]: defendant’s residence in England remains a relevant factor pointing towards the English courts being the appropriate forum);

b) factual connections (held: correspondence between the parties will be of more relevance than the physical location of parties in Cyprus);

c) evidence/convenience/expense (conflicting factors here but none leading overwhelmingly to Cyprus);

d) applicable law (most likely Cypriot law for many of the claims however ia given the similarity with English law, this is not an overwhelmingly relevant issue [56] and some Swiss law will have to be applied anyways); and

e) the “overall shape of the litigation”, held [59] not to be Cypriot.

Limb 2, the requirements of justice, is considered obiter under two angles [61]: delays and the possibility of statutes of limitation kicking in. On the delays, [67] comity and caution to express chauvinistic views upon a friendly jurisdiction argue against a finding of unavailability of justice on this ground, particularly as the experts’ views on this were inconclusive; the possibility of statute of limitation is held [68] largely to be of the claimants’ own making (ia because they had started but discontinued proceedings in Cyprus. Limb 2 therefore, had it mattered, would not have been satisfied and had limb 1 been met, a stay of the proceedings in England would have been ordered.

Geert.

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