Brussels Ia and arbitration. The Prestige aka London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Limited v Spain. Time for the EU to decide its direction of travel on commercial arbitration.

I have a bit of catching up to do with the blog and I shall start with the case that is currently also being discussed over at the EAPIL blog. The CJEU has held in C-700/20 London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Limited v Spain (re: the Prestige oil spill). I have further background and links to the English judgments that preceded the reference in my review of the AG Opinion. In that review, I predicted the Court would probably not follow its Advocate General and I should have betted on it for the Court, in Grand Chamber no less, did indeed largely not follow its Advocate General.

Had it been up to the Court of Appeal, the case should have not been referred at all, and given the consequences of the CJEU’s judgment, the referral may come to be regretted.

Essentially, the question at issue is whether 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 (the case is formally subject to its predecessor, the Brussels I Regulation – see here for a BI- BIa table of equivalence which will make reading of the judgment easier)? If it does, the Spanish judgment contradicting the award is unlikely to be recognised.

Of note is that 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, despite his broad interpretation of the arbitration exclusion in the case at issue, suggests the proceedings are not caught by the arbitration exception, for reasons I discuss in my earlier post. The Court disagrees all in all in succinct terms.

It is worth relisting the 3 issues which the High Court is unsure about, followed by the CJEU’s answer to each:

First, whether a judgment such as its judgment given under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996 qualifies as a ‘judgment’, within the meaning of Article 34(3) of Brussels I, where that court has not itself heard all the substantive merits of the dispute which had been heard by the arbitration tribunal.  Secondly, it has doubts whether a judgment falling outside the material scope of BI  by reason of the arbitration exception may nevertheless be relied on to prevent recognition and enforcement of a judgment from another Member State pursuant to Article 34(3).

Answering these together, the Court [44] kicks off with a curt reference to a fairly unqualified statement in CJEU Rich [18]: ‘the Contracting Parties [to the Brussels Convention, GAVC] intended to exclude arbitration in its entirety, including proceedings brought before national court’.  Further support is found in the 4th (!) para of recital 12 of Brussels Ia, referring specifically to recognition and enforcement proceedings as being excluded from Brussels Ia: [the Regulation does not apply] ‘nor to any action or judgment concerning the annulment, review, appeal, recognition or enforcement of an arbitral award.’

With reference to CJEU Gazprom, the Court [45] notes that the lex causae for recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards is national law, including the international law obligations the Member State may have adhered to. As noted however, the New York Convention does not apply to the recognition of the award at issue.

[48] ff the CJEU however concedes, partially with reference to earlier case-law, that judgments on issues carved out from the Regulation, may nevertheless qualify as a ‘judgment’ as meant in Article 34(3) [‘a judgment shall not be recognised’ ‘3. if it is irreconcilable with a judgment given in a dispute between the same parties in the Member State in which recognition is sought’]. This is mostly meant to protect Member State’s internal legal order and ensure that its rule of law is not disturbed by the obligation to recognise a judgment from another Member State which is inconsistent with a decision given, in a dispute between the same parties, by its own court.

This recycling of a carved-out subject-matter, via the enforcement title remains awkward to me, and is a similar back-door entry into BIa as for ex-EU judgments in C-568/20 J v H Limited.

[54] the Court then makes a leap which is reminiscent of its effet utile (safeguarding the overall objectives of the Brussels regime) approach viz anti-suit and arbitration in CJEU West Tankers : ‘the position is different where the award in the terms of which that judgment was entered was made in circumstances which would not have permitted the adoption, in compliance with the provisions and fundamental objectives of that regulation, of a judicial decision falling within the scope of that regulation.’

[59] it lists the two cardinal sins under Brussels I which the award, had it been a judgment covered by the Regulation (but surely it is not!), would have committed: it would have infringed ‘two fundamental rules of that regulation concerning, first, the relative effect of an arbitration clause included in an insurance contract [here the CJEU refers to Assens Havn, GAVC] and, secondly, lis pendens [here, [64] ff, the Court finds the lis pendens conditions would have been met had the two sets of proceedings both been included in the Regulation, GAVC].’

This whole construction requires a parallel universe being built next to BIa (or it is effectively nonsense, as prof Briggs puts it).

[71] the CJEU formulates an instruction for courts faced with request for arbitral awards:

It is for the court seised with a view to entering a judgment in the terms of an arbitral award to verify that the provisions and fundamental objectives of Regulation No 44/2001 have been complied with, in order to prevent a circumvention of those provisions and objectives, such as a circumvention consisting in the completion of arbitration proceedings in disregard of both the relative effect of an arbitration clause included in an insurance contract and the rules on lis pendens laid down in Article 27 of that regulation

The UK courts not having so verified, [72] ‘a judgment entered in the terms of an arbitral award, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, cannot prevent, under Article 34(3) of Regulation No 44/2001, the recognition of a judgment from another Member State.’ As Gilles Cuniberti notes, this instruction, effectively to arbitral tribunals (for if they ignore them, their award risks becoming unenforceable) to verify lis pendens requirements  is at odds with CJEU Liberato, and an extraordinary extension of the BIa rules to arbitral tribunals.

Thirdly, is it permissible to rely on Article 34(1)’s orde public exception as a ground for refusing recognition or enforcement of a judgment from another Member State, on the basis that such recognition or enforcement (of the Spanish judgment) would disregard the force of res judicata acquired by a domestic arbitral award or a judgment entered in the terms of such an award. Here, the CJEU [74] ff answers that the issue of the force of res judicata acquired by a judgment given previously is already exhaustively dealt with under Articles 34(3) and (4) of Brussels Ia and cannot therefore be resurrected under the ordre public exception.

The judgment is concocted reality, but not one which surprises me as I already indicated in my post on the AG’s Opinion. It is time the EU have a fundamental reflection on its relation with commercial arbitration. Treated with odd deference in the discussions on investor-state dispute settlement (think: CJEU Achmea, Komstroy etc) yet seriously obstructed in the case-law on the Brussels regime.

Geert.

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

One Reply to “Brussels Ia and arbitration. The Prestige aka London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Limited v Spain. Time for the EU to decide its direction of travel on commercial arbitration.”

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