The Prestige litigation before the CJEU. A tricky Opinion on court-sanctioned arbitral awards as judgments under Brussels Ia.

I give background to Collins AG’s Opinion in C-700/20 The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Limited v Kingdom of  Spain here. The Court of Appeal nota bene in the meantime has held that the High Court should have never referred, as I report here.

Does an English ‘Section 66’ (Arbitration Act) judgment, which confirms an arbitral award is enforceable in the same way as a judgment in ordinary, qualify as a judgment under the recognition and enforcement Title of Brussels Ia? If it does, the Spanish judgment contradicting the award is unlikely to be recognised.

The case at issue in essence enquires how far the arbitration exception of Brussels Ia stretches. Does the arbitration DNA of the case once and for all means any subsequent involvement of the courts is likewise not covered by Brussels Ia (meaning for instance that it must not have an impact on the decision to recognise and enforce an incompatible judgment issued by another Member State in the case); or should the  involvement of the courts in ordinary be judged independently against the Regulation’s definition of ‘judgment’.

The case therefore echoes the High Court’s later intervention in the infamous West Tankers case, and the recent CJEU judgment in C-568/20 J v H Limited (on third country judgments).

(44) the 1958 New York Convention does not come into play in the proceedings for the reason that those proceedings do not involve, as Article I(1) of that convention requires, the recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award in a State other than that in which that award was made: the award was made in the UK.

The AG suggests a broad scope of the exclusion, seeking support in the Jenard and Schlosser Reports. He also confirms the exclusion of arbitration has the effect, in particular, of making it impossible to use that regulation to enforce an arbitral award in another Member State by first turning it into a judgment and then asking the courts of the other Member State to enforce that judgment under Chapter III.

However, in the case at issue he suggests the proceedings are not caught by the arbitration exception, for 3 reasons:

(53) the notion of ‘judgment’ needs to be interpreted broadly;

(54) CJEU Solo Kleinmotoren instructs that for a finding to be a ‘judgment’,  ‘the decision must emanate from a judicial body of a Contracting State deciding on its own authority on the issues between the parties’;  that is the case here for (55) the S66 court does not rubberstamp; it discusses and settles a range of substantive issues between the parties;

(57) there is no requirement that a court must determine all of the substantive elements of a dispute in order to deliver a judgment that satisfies the purposes of that provision; reference here is made to CJEU C-394/07 Gambazzi (see the Handbook 2.576).

In the view of the AG (62) A1(2) is not determinative as to whether a judgment under the recognition and enforcement Title comes within the scope of the Regulation. Those provisions, he suggest, were enacted for different purposes and pursue different objectives: they aim to protect the integrity of a Member State’s internal legal order and to ensure that its rule of law is not disturbed by being required to recognise a foreign judgment that is incompatible with a decision of its own courts. A1(2) on the other hand is firmly part of the free movement of judgments rationale of the Regulation (and limitations thereto).

I think the CJEU judgment could go either way and if I were a betting man (which I am not) I suspect the Court will not follow and instead will take the same holistic approach towards protecting the application of Brussels Ia by the courts in ordinary, as it did in CJEU West Tankers. By the very nature of s66 (and similar actions in other Member States), the ‘issues between the parties’ are different in actions taking place entirely in courts in ordinary, and those in arbitration awards which are subsequently sanctioned (in the sense of ‘approved’) by a court. The latter proceedings do not discuss ‘the issues’ between the parties. They only engage a narrow set of checks and balances to  ensure the soundness of the arbitration process.

Neither do I follow the logic (63) that if the UK were not allowed to take account of the s66 judgment in its decision to recognise, it would mean that Member States would have to ignore all internal judgments with res judicata in an excluded area, including insolvency, social security etc., in favour of other Member States judgments ‘adjudicating upon the same issue’ (63): if they truly adjudicate upon ‘the same issue’, the judgment of the other Member State will be exempt from Brussels Ia. This is unlike the case at hand which clearly did involve a Spanish judgment on a subject matter covered by the Regulation. The arbitration exemption is the only exemption that relates to a modus operandi of conflict resolution: all the others relate to substantive issues in conflict resolution.

Commercial arbitration enjoys a peculiar privilege in the CJEU’s view on ADR (see CJEU Komstroy). I do not think however the Court will give it a forum shopping boost in the context of Brussels Ia.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, ia 2.120.

 

One Reply to “The Prestige litigation before the CJEU. A tricky Opinion on court-sanctioned arbitral awards as judgments under Brussels Ia.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: